Today’s post is about one of the biggest SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATIONS in my recent career: A Christmas Carol, currently midway through its run at Newnan Theatre Company.
I adapted the script and wrote the songs and incidental music for this seasonal favorite way back in 1980 when I was artistic director for the group, and for many years we performed it annually. Eventually we got tired of the same old thing—though audiences never seemed to—and so we began alternating it with other delights, like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
When I retired as artistic director in 2002 the show fell out of favor but was revived in 2014. I directed it again last year for the first time in many years and had a great time with a large and happy cast. “Oh, Dale,” they chorused, “we love this show! We’re all going to come back next year!”
They didn’t, of course. Instead, at this year’s auditions I had eight little girls and a handful of assorted teens and adults, not exactly the combination I needed. What’s a director to do?
Change it, of course. If some project you’re working on isn’t working, change it.
There was no way to perform my script with the players I had available to me. I could have beat the bushes (that’s a technical term) for additional men, but I was not in the mood—and so I created a new story.
In this year’s version of CC, we first see Natalie and her birthday sleepover party. Natalie’s a little rich girl, and she is not a nice person. She and her worker bees gang up on Jessica, the daughter of her mother’s personal assistant, taunting Jessica for being “poor.” When Natalie melts down because Jessica is holding one of her dolls, Grandfather enters and intervenes.
He offers to tell them a story, and when Natalie demands a “ghost story,” he says,
I have just the story, right here in my pocket. I read it every year, and I’m reading it now. I’ll read it to you.
They sit attentively, and he begins to read: Scrooge & Marley... Marley was dead... From the shadows, costumed figures appear and begin to narrate as well.
As the now familiar story unfolds, the girls grow from passive listeners to active participants in the story (grabbing props and costumes from Natalie’s shelves) until the end, when they confidently join Grandfather in telling how the story ends.
I made the decision knowing full well how awful it might be. How cheesy can you get? Pretty cheesy—the doll shows up multiple times, especially in the Christmas Present Street Scene, when Natalie finds herself playing the street urchin who is given the doll by “Victoria,” played by none other than Jessica. And at the end of the show, Natalie returns the favor by handing over the doll to Jessica. God Bless Us, Every One!
As it turns out, my adaptation of my adaptation worked very well. It lifts the perhaps over-familiar story of Scrooge into another level where we are enjoined to celebrate the power of story in our lives, where the story becomes part of us and we become a part of its telling.
Best of all, it allowed all the little girls to participate—and bonus for directors and stage managers everywhere: they’re all onstage the entire time, so they can’t run around being little girls backstage!
Short version, with the moral: After 30 years of performing a script, I changed it to reflect the facts on the ground. SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.