ACTRESS #3: The First Spirit, Rose, The Third Spirit
ACTRESS #4: Fan, Grace, Abby, Greed, Girl
STORY of the PLAY
Ten actors bring to life this fresh, fun and lively adaptation of A Christmas Carol where you’ll meet Mr. Bentley, learn about the letters Scrooge wrote to his sister Fan, and find out who Mr. Newbury is. You’ll still find all the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future along with Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Jacob Marley, Old Fezziwig, Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and the love of Scrooge’s life, Belle. There are some new scary bits, a few good laughs, a tender moment or two, and some surprises! It’s a fresh take on an old tale sure to thrill young and old alike.
The script is also available at The New Play Exchange as are several of my other scripts including Death and the Psychiatrist and What the Dickens!
So, you know the old philosophical question, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?”
Well does it?
There are sound waves. But the noise only registers if there’s something to hear it, right? Although you could argue that the waves themselves are sound and therefore the tree does make a noise regardless of there being someone there to hear it or not.
And that question has me wondering about thought. And in particular thought put into the form of writing. So, If I write a play, for example, and no one reads it, does the play exist? Because plays and novels are meant to be shared. Diaries not so much.
Although, if you go to your grave having written a diary all your life and you don’t destroy those diaries before you die you know darn well those diaries will probably be read, or portions of them anyway, after your death. You know that. You have to be conscious of that. So, is a diary really just for you? Or is it some form of justification for you life choices that you leave behind as a record so that people know what you did and why? A record of your triumphs and failures with explained motivations. And chances are if you’re famous, it will be analysed by scholars. Entire books will be written about your diaries, and letters, and how they relate to your life and work. Assumptions will be made. Conclusions drawn. And careers made.
Did you know Charles Dickens was a prolific letter writer? He was. And yet “In September of 1860, behind his home at Gad’s Hill Place… He gathered “the accumulated letters and papers of twenty years” and set them ablaze in his backyard.”* What an amazing thing to do. To free yourself from what you’ve said. Because what we’ve said in the past does not necessarily reflect who we are right now. We evolve and change. Or at least, I hope we evolve. But still, I wonder what motivates a man to destroy twenty years of correspondence?
He did this ten years before his death. He died at the age of 58. In fact, he died on June 9th the day I wrote my previous blog entry about – working on my small cast version of A Christmas Carol. Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered June 9th was the anniversary of his death, or perhaps it’s just one of those freaky accidents where someone with a jar of peanut butter runs into a guy with a bar of chocolate. Who knows, perhaps his spirit was with me as I worked on a story that he long ago sat down and wrote and shared with the world. And that brings me back to our original topic. The sharing of words. If Charles Dickens had never shared his stories would they exist? What if instead of burning his letters he had burned all his work – assuming of course non of it had been published. What a loss for the world, but the world would not know about it, and therefore it would be as if they had never been written.
So, maybe what we’re talking about isn’t whether or not something exists but instead we’re talking about to what extent something exists. So, if I write a play or a song and choose not to share with anyone other than myself and God, so to speak, then it does exist but just for me and the holy spirit. But it doesn’t exist for anyone else and if it gets destroyed and no other person or supernatural being hears it or sings it or knows about its existence – it is gone forever. Just like us eventually.
But until that inevitability we can continue to write. We can continue to tell stories. And maybe, if we’re lucky some of those stories will live on beyond our own time.
So, a number of the plays I’ve written have to do with Christmas. I love Christmas. I always have. I just really like the festive fun. You know the lights and the decorations and the presents and the feeling of good will that invades the season. In fact, people who know me well know that politically I’m a strong supporter of the Christmas Party. I mean who doesn’t like a good Christmas party?
Anyway, I like Christmas. And I’ve always loved A Christmas Carol, particularly the Alistair Sim 1951 film version. That’s been my favourite for years. That is, until last December when I saw the production of my own adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Carriage House Theatre in Cardston Alberta. That’s my new favourite. I sure hope Alistair will forgive me.
Anyway, several of my plays, as I’ve mentioned, have to do with Christmas.
There’s my comedy, What the Dickens!which is about the Pine Tree Players disastrous production of a Christmas Carol. It’s also a love story. So maybe it’s more romantic comedy that Christmas comedy. Either way it’s a lot of fun and a runner up in the 2017 McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Award.
Then there’s my large cast adaptation of A Christmas Carol which received it’s world premiere at the Carriage House theatre in Cardston Alberta in December 2017 which I mentioned above.
And then there’s my comedy Under the Mistletoe which is about romantic possibilities in the Candy Cane Suite at the Prairie Dog Inn Regina on Christmas Eve. I’m still working on that one. Act Two is done. Act One still needs work.
So, you’d think I’d be tired of writing about Christmas and thinking about Christmas and that I’d be especially tired of writing about A Christmas Carol, but you’d be wrong. I’m not tired of it. In fact, I’m working on my long planned, but many years delayed, small cast adaptation of A Christmas Carol. You see since I already wrote a large cast version doesn’t it make sense to create a small cast version?
Now, by small cast, I’m not talking about three or four. I’m talking about six men and four women. That’s ten. Ten isn’t considered all that small these days. In fact, a lot of small professional theatre companies would consider a play with ten actors to be too big to produce. But when you compare my large cast version of A Christmas Carol – which requires anywhere from twenty-five to fifty performers – I think I can call my adaptation only using ten actors a small cast, don’t you?
So, how did I do it?
Well, I didn’t change the text all that much. Yes, I cut a few of the roles and doubled up some of the others. But these were mostly minor characters. You know a business man, a Cratchit kid, a recasting of a male role to female. What’s different in this small cast version is the production concept and the fact that I’ve set it up so that particular actors play particular roles in the story. I mean that’s nothing new to theatre and it’s nothing new to me. My one act comedy 500 bucks and a pack of smokes is an eight character play that’s meant to be performed with two men and one woman.
And my play Stories from Langford is a seven character six monologue two person play meant to be performed by one man and one woman. And part of my solution for staging a smaller cast version of A Christmas Carol comes from how Stories from Langford is staged. Basically in Stories from Langford, both actors are on stage the entire time, but only one of the actors is performing at any given time. The other actor sits quietly at the back of the stage waiting until it’s their turn to do a monologue. They are surrounded by a few costume pieces, some props, and maybe a set piece or two.
Well, that’s the same production concept I’m using for my small cast version of A Christmas Carol. So, basically downstage is the performing space and upstage are props and set pieces and costumes and places for the actors to sit when not playing a part. All the magic happens in front of the audience. An actor who plays multiple roles simply changes costume or wig before moving down to play a scene. Actors move set pieces in and out. They perform special effects or make additional sounds to enhance a scene. If there are musicians amongst the troupe then they could add music if desired to particular moments of the play. Much of that invention will be determined by the performing space and talents and abilities of the performers and so it makes for great theatrical possibilities. And lots of productions do this. And it works. Because it is clear in intent. Here we have ten actors playing thirty roles.
The only role that remains constant is Scrooge. Scrooge is in every scene and so one actor to play them all…no wait I mean the opposite of that. There’s one actor who plays Scrooge, and five other actors including one younger male actor to play Tiny Tim and various children who play all the other male roles – you know Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, and Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner, and of course Mr. Bentley. But wait – you say – “Who the hell is Mr. Bentley?” I’m afraid Mr. Bentley is my addition. He’s a new character – not unlike Scrooge – a man of business – who believes that profit and gain are the sole purpose of life. And then there are four other actresses including one younger actress to play Fan and various other female children who play all the other female roles – you know Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper, Belle, Scrooge’s fiance, and the ghost of Amelia Earhart. No, sorry that’s a different play.
So, when can we expect all these Christmas plays to be finished and up on your web site?
By Christmas morning, I promise. As long as you’re good and brush your teeth every night.
My small cast version of A Christmas Carol as well as my comedy Under the Mistletoe will be available in a few months, hopefully.
So that’s what I’m working on. I’m also working on relaunching my web site – no this isn’t my web site – I have this blog and I have my blog at jameshutchison.ca.
Yes, I’m a man with two blogs. Why would I do that? Because this blog allows me to be a bit more casual. My other blog is a little more focused on being relevant and professional. Which I suppose makes this blog irrelevant and non professional.
So I read the article, and I thought this is wonderful advice. I have to tell others. So, I told my son. I told my dog. He didn’t really care. And now I’m telling you, because considering the events of last week and the whole Rosanne Barr fiasco, we live in a world where a tweet can ruin a career, or at least get a show cancelled. And so these three questions would apply to any form of communication, I would think – tweets, posts, conversations, letters, and even gestures. So what is this three second trick? Well they’re three powerful questions.
According to Bariso, Craig Ferguson said, in an interview, that he asks himself these three questions before speaking.
Does this need to be said?
Does this need to be said by me?
Does this need to be said by me, now?
Not easy to learn and Ferguson joked that it took him three marriages to do so. But when I read these questions I thought, in a world so quick to judge, so quick to tweet, to make assumptions, to assume guilt and motivation without all the facts, wouldn’t it be nice if we just took a moment and pondered what we should or shouldn’t say.
Of course that’s not going to happen. There is rage in the world and people with political agendas and just your good old run of the mill Troll. So, I don’t hold out much hope for a global change, but maybe one or two people will find this advice useful. I know I have. I’ve already used it today.
And so when I asked myself the questions…
Does this need to be said? The answer was no.
Does this need to be said by me? The answer was no.
Does this need to be said by me, now? The answer was no.
And that was it. I didn’t have to answer. I was done. I could go on with my day.
In the past I would have been left pondering what I should say, and how I should say it, and it would be on my mind, and I’d be feeling quite uneasy about it, and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on other things, but with those three questions I immediately knew not to worry about it. You either speak, or you don’t. And if you don’t need to speak it lets you move on with your day. It lets you get on with life and put your energy towards better things.
“We’re all in this world together, and it’s always easier to deal with what life throws at you when you have a good support system. Many of us take our friends and families a little bit for granted. If people walk away from this show and talk about it or go hug a friend, then I’ve done my job.”
Urban Stories Theatre supports local playwrights who write about social justice issues and helps these playwrights go from first draft to finished production. The company is made up of a core group of local artists who oversee all productions and workshops.
Urban Stories and the Knox Theatre Collective are presenting, The Just Acts Youth Edition from June 5th to 8th at Knox United Church. The Just Acts Youth Edition is a showcase for young writers to develop and present their work on stage.
Helen Young is the Artistic Director and one of the founders of Urban Stories Theatre. Her theatre, film, and television work goes back more than 30 years and includes acting, singing, dancing, stunt work, writing, teaching, and directing. I spoke to Helen about her thoughts on theatre’s place in our culture and this year’s festival.
JAMES HUTCHISON: I’m wondering where you think theatre fits into our society and culture now that we have so many other ways of communicating ideas and engaging in conversations with others such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and of course Facebook.
HELEN YOUNG: I think theatre will always be important and necessary, because we need to connect in person. I do and see a lot of theatre, and nothing beats an audience reacting to live theatre. Or leaving the theatre and hearing people discussing what they’ve just seen. I would rather see a live show than a movie. We need human contact, and that’s one of the things that’s driving Urban Stories Theatre to move towards a more socially aware focus starting now.
JAMES: People go to the theatre to be entertained, but they also go to be enlightened about some aspect of humanity. However, if a show isn’t entertaining it won’t draw an audience. How do you balance your desire to entertain an audience with your desire to deliver a message?
HELEN: That’s a good question. It’s a fine line to walk. We have a couple of shows that have been submitted that are very dark. They’re good plays about important issues, but a play like that has to be handled very carefully. We try to find a balance with the shows we do. The play fests are a bit easier because we can do a dark play followed by a lighter one, it allows the audience a chance to breathe. But sometimes, a very dark play can take the audience on a journey that they would never normally experience so that’s a good thing. Amanda Wheeler (my voice of reason) and I decide together what plays we will do, so we look at all sides of the play before moving forward.
JAMES: You have a play festival coming up called Just Acts Youth Edition. What is the Just Acts Youth Edition?
HELEN: Every year we do the Just Acts Play Fest in February where we invite playwrights to submit short plays on a common theme that changes each year. It has been running for about 8 years now and is very popular. So, we decided to do a Youth Edition for younger writers. UST works with the Encore Junior High Drama Fest each May and we perform the student written plays. Last year we did a show of the plays from the festival. This year we are moving to a more social justice, humanity theme. So, we looked for more socially aware plays and performance pieces.
JAMES: Where did the idea for the festival come from?
HELEN: Young voices are often taken for granted or not heard at all, so we wanted to offer a platform for them to be heard. I have been going to Youth Riot for a few years now and watching the faces of the writers and performers when an audience reacts to a piece they wrote. I wanted to offer another avenue for these creative young artists to express themselves.
JAMES: What was the response to the first year?
HELEN: Our first year we didn’t really have the advertising in place so we didn’t get as many people as we had hoped for. The feedback was very positive and the young writers were thrilled. This year we are more focused on getting the word out and getting more audience feedback.
JAMES: You have two very different offerings this year. First up is The Make Believer Project which is being created and performed by the girls in this year’s festival. What is that show about?
HELEN: The Make Believer Project is a spoken word piece that the girls have been working on with playwright Eugene Stickland over the past few months. They have been journaling and reading the pieces to each other. Eugene put all the pieces on paper and handed them to me. I gave the girls parts to read and divided the show into three parts. So, the show is about their lives and their hopes and dreams. It’s very moving and sometimes a bit hard to listen to.
JAMES: What do you think audiences will take away from the show?
HELEN: These twelve to sixteen-year-old girls have lived through so much in their young lives. As aboriginal girls they are often stereotyped and/or ignored. But they have hopes and dreams and wants and needs just like any other girl. I want audiences to see them and hear their stories. Maybe we’ll think twice before judging someone on their appearance. That’s what I would like to happen, to have people walk away thinking about them as girls first.
JAMES: The second offering is a play you’ve written called, Touch of Grace, which deals with the teen sex trade. How did this project evolve?
HELEN: I have a degree in sociology, and my focus was woman’s correctional facilities. Many of the women I spoke with were forced to grow up too fast. That’s where Grace began, girls growing up too fast and doing whatever it takes to survive. I also focused on the people who help these girls. Social workers who burn out fast. The play doesn’t deal with facts, it deals with an almost mystical sense of love and empathy that Grace has towards others. Something that touches them and allows them to open up their hearts and souls. The people at the group Home need Grace as much as she needs them.
JAMES: What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?
HELEN: We’re all in this world together, and it’s always easier to deal with what life throws at you when you have a good support system. Many of us take our friends and families a little bit for granted. If people walk away from this show and talk about it or go hug a friend, then I’ve done my job.
Urban Stories Theatre and the Knox Theatre Collective present The Just Acts Youth Edition from June 5th to June 8th at 7:30 pm at Knox United Church. (506 – 4th Street SW) Tickets are just $10.00 and available at the door or can be reserved by e-mailing email@example.com.
The Just Acts Youth Edition
The Make Believer Project: A 20-25 minute performance of spoken word, poetry and storytelling. The Make Believer Project gives these young aboriginal girls a much deserved and sorely lacking voice. Written and Performed by Summer 16, Savannah 17, Nicole 17, Gemini 17, Shelby 14, Krisdena 14, Maegan 15, Sapphire 12, Aurora 12, Kailynn 12, Kiara 14, Tamika 15, Rayanna 13, Kaylie 11, Aaliyah 13, Brooke 12, Halona 14, Lyric 11 and presented by The Stardale Women’s Group.
A Touch of Grace by Helen Young is a play that tackles the teen sex trade by showing how the tragedy of a 14 year old sex worker helps a case worker find a sense of hope and belonging. This is a sneak peak at a section of the play. Cast: Belanna Internoscia, Krista Stephens, Adrianna Rabeda- Kowalczak,Emily Sharp, Ben Wild, Brandan Severtson