If the chains you're forging in life are becoming a little cumbersome, try pausing, sitting down in the playhouse and reawakening to the doom and joy of this frantic season. On Friday, Dec. 22, at 8pm for one night only PerSeverance Productions brings a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol to Popejoy Hall (203 Cornell SE) on their annual tour—which hits Texas, Florida and the Southwest, covering more than nine thousand miles before they wrap. From the road (traveling in 3 SUVs and a 26-foot box truck), Scott Severance, the founding artistic director and actor assuming the iconic role of Scrooge, spoke with us about the lasting resonance of Charles Dickens' classic story.
Alibi: What attracted you to this story?
Severance: Dickens' A Christmas Carol is arguably one of the most compelling and iconic tales in all of English literature. The tradition of the holiday and the mystique of a great ghost story combine to make this one of the most frequently performed theater works across the country and the world.
What were the challenges of adapting it for the stage?
The story seems to demand a narrator. … It is also a very male dominated tale, with only Christmas Past, young Belle and Mrs. Cratchit as major female roles. I chose to create a trio of female characters who act as narrators throughout the piece and slip in and out of scenes as the script requires. It is a sweeping romantic saga, traveling through time and space on multiple occasions. A strong and simple storytelling technique is demanded here.
What did you preserve from the book in the adaptation, and what did you put a fresh spin on?
Ours is a pretty traditional re-telling of the tale. It is adapted from a script I wrote several years ago, when I told the story with a modernized slant to appeal to youth actors and audiences. When we decided to take it out on tour nationally, I re-adapted that script back to a more Victorian English period. The language maintains a modern, buoyant feel, often less dense than some of Dickens' more wordy passages. I am told audiences are surprised at how genuinely funny this show is—not in a spoof sort of way, but in simple human comedy. And our treatment of the Ghost of Christmas Past is also unlike any I have ever seen in another production … the lovely woman in white she most certainly is not!
How does it feel to assume the role of Scrooge?
He is exhausting to be sure. I try to plumb the depths of his nastiness, his horror and sadness as he is forced to revisit events of his youth, his thoughtful journey through self discovery, and finally, his unabashed joy and merriment at play's end. Many people have commented on how deeply they felt old Ebenezer's pain at the end of act one, which then makes his redemption so much more satisfying.
What do think this story means to modern audiences?
We are in troubled times right now. People are frightened, angry and confused about finding peace and harmony in this tumultuous political climate. Scrooge represents all of us … our search for honesty and self. We can choose to be like angry Scrooge, bitter and closed off from the warmth and love of those around us, or like happy Scrooge, arms wide open and accepting every ounce of joy he can soak in.
What distinguishes your production from others of A Christmas Carol?
With the help of a 12-foot-tall by 24-foot-wide projection wall and some truly frightening puppets (the Ghost of Christmas Future is a sight to behold), we offer a visually cinematic appeal. We can be whisked from one scene to the next with the touch of a button, complete with falling snow, blazing comets and sunrises. There are 26 different traditional Christmas carols heard throughout this production, both as thematic underscoring and fully realized company song and dance numbers. Because the tale is so familiar, we use every device we know to create as many surprise moments that we can, trying to stay ahead of the audience recognition curve.
What is your highest hope that visitors to the performance might take away at the end of the night?
If I can make our audiences laugh out loud, shed a tear, gasp in glory or fright, and reflect upon the Christmas season and their own loved ones, I feel like I have succeeded.