A Christmas Carol: 2021
By Princess Kannah and Craig A. Miller
Stories That Give Us Hope
As theatre makers at the University of Idaho, telling stories is at the heart of all that we do, and the holiday season is a time of year rich with stories that, for some reason, can be unpacked again and again with great excitement and joy. For those who love good stories, it might be Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” or perhaps the annual 24-hour-marathon of “A Christmas Story” and still others who tune in yearly to witness a sweet, young Natalie Wood’s journey to believing in Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street.” For us in the theatre, there are many stage adaptations of all these classics – some have even been turned into musicals – and all have some level of success in recreating that nostalgia and sense of good will toward our fellow humans. But, there is one story that the western theatre world has a distinctive proprietary hold over – and a story that, by all accounts, may be the paragon of them all: Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol."
A Christmas Ghost Story
A holiday favorite for sure, “A Christmas Carol” follows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man hardened by life into a ghost of his former self. On one particular Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by his former – and seven-years-deceased – business partner, Jacob Marley, who foretells of the visitation of three spirits: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Together they show Scrooge how his choices in life have affected those around him. This classic follows the journey of Scrooge as he rediscovers his flame for life and rekindles a passion for helping his fellow neighbor, as all humans are called to do. Sometimes written off as a light holiday fare for the whole family, “A Christmas Carol” contains deeper meaning and themes that reach far beyond its propensity for benevolently celebrating the holiday season; it is a call to action, in the form of a ghost story, to the people of its time and ours, past, present, and future. With our production of “A Christmas Carol” we hope to rediscover and explore this ghost story in a refreshed way that holds a mirror up to society, begging for a very personal reflection, holding out the possibility for change and connection for each of us who see this story unfold on stage.
The Dark World of Dickens’ London
Dickens’ London was dark, grimy, and bustling with the factories of the industrial age; it was a grueling and daily life-threatening existence for most of the population. In 1842 a three-year investigation on working conditions in mines and factories in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, called The Report of the Children’s Employment Commission was released to the public. In it, thousands of first-hand testimonies were given about the lack of safety standards in mines and factories. With the rise of industrialization and the development of coal mining, more children began entering the workforce at an earlier age. Children were on average five times cheaper to employ than adults and were expected to work the same hours, which could mean a 14-hour day. The Commission also uncovered many cases in which children had been used to climb into the workings of industrial machinery to clear a jam, sometimes with fatal consequences. Dickens himself was one of these children. As a child he was forced to work in a factory to support his family after his father was arrested and taken to debtor’s prison for nonpayment of his financial obligations, likely to a collector of debts much like our Ebenezer Scrooge. This London – a dangerous London - plays as the backdrop for our production of “A Christmas Carol.”
It is a vast understatement to say that there is huge responsibility and courage involved in staging any production of “A Christmas Carol” let alone staging a world premiere adaptation; let alone that newly adapted production coming on the heels of a 20-month, pandemic-imposed hiatus from live theatre.
Let’s face it, this popular story has been around for better than 180 years, and along the way it has established a long history of audience adoration and expectation that makes creating yet another incarnation of “A Christmas Carol” a bit of a double-edged sword. As theatre artists, we cannot help wanting to embrace and amplify the expectations and the people’s love of the tale, but we also hope to provide a fresh, theatrical look that can help make the action, characters, and message vibrant, accessible, and relevant to contemporary audiences. That is why we are so impressed with and excited for Kendra Phillips’ world premiere adaptation. Phillips, a 2021 Master of Fine Arts playwriting alumna, has managed to embrace the nostalgic Dickensian elements that have made this beloved story so enduring, all while blazing new trails and finding fresh possibilities in what has, in many adaptations, become stale and predictable: a daunting prospect for any playwright, but here, a successful achievement.
The Dream Team: Cast
Our Department of Theatre Arts production of “A Christmas Carol” stars beloved Professor David Lee-Painter as Ebenezer Scrooge, and U of I alumni David Harlan as Jacob Marley. The incredible talents of our graduate and undergraduate programs are well represented by Kalyssa Montoya as Ghost of Christmas Past, Tanya Thompson as Ghost of Christmas Present, Emir Dzaferovic as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Malachi Dodson as Bob Cratchit, Hannah Verdi as Mrs. Cratchit, Lauren Welch as Martha Cratchit/Ada, Nick Hansen as Peter Cratchit, McKinley Kirk as Belinda Cratchit, Teresa Daily as Belle, Shawn Hunt as Fred, Ramsey Marquis as Topper/Belle’s Husband, Avalynn Creaser as Lucy, Princess Kannah as Mrs. Long, Anthony Kirby as Mr. Abbott, Ty Harrington as Mr. Fezziwig, Taylor Telford as Mrs. Fezziwig/Old Sally, Breyden Weygandt as Young Scrooge/Old Joe, Emma Blonda as Fan, Tan Pace Collier as Adult Scrooge, Zachary Warren as Dick Wilkins/Father, and Desiree Hastings as Mother. We also have some community talent getting into the spirit, with Willem Meeuf as Tiny Tim, and a family affair with Kate Pemberton as Alice and Kate’s real-life sons, David and William, and daughter Emma.
The Dream Team: Production
The Production Team also boasts a wonderful mix of collaborators from our training program, faculty, and the professional world: Director: Craig A. Miller. Assistant Director: Miranda Barron. Assistant Director/Music Director: Jeremiah Downes. Dramaturg: Princess Kannah. Stage Manager: Blake Presnell. Assistant Stage Managers: Kari Wilsey & Kevin Baker. Scenic Designer: Brindle Brundage. Assistant Scenic Designers: Harry Blackstone & Daisy Erskine. Costume Designer: Emily Romanowski. Assistant Costume Designer: Nikoe Bechard. Hair/Makeup: Haley Alford. Sound Designers: Craig A. Miller & Lauren Welch. Music Arrangement & Recording: Liam Marchant. Lighting Designer: Robert Eubanks. Assistant Lighting Designer: Paige O’Callaghan. Prop Designer: Emma Blonda. Assistant Prop Designer: Desiree Hastings.
Princess Kannah is a Bachelor of Fine Arts performance student in the U of I Department of Theatre Arts and the production dramaturg for “A Christmas Carol.”
Craig A. Miller is an Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing in the U of I Department of Theatre Arts and the director for “A Christmas Carol.”