Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Three posts are in order on fourteen (14) years of history with A Christmas Carol for Two Actors. At Richmond Shakespeare, we’ve loved theatre of the imagination, storytelling, and the craft and profession of acting. Performing this story of an old miser presented with a last chance at reclamation every year has certainly been a labor of love, and it’s thrilling to see veterans and “newbies” in the audience. The veterans always amaze me; by now they know the piece almost as well as we. I think they partly love watching the reaction of newbies, and the return to a familiar piece--- yielding new insights every year---that makes the trip worthwhile.

Many of you know I began performing the story as a solo show for family and friends in 1996.

In 1998, the first year of this two-actor adaptation, Cynde and I opened the show for a rural bank Christmas party in far southwest Virginia. It was a longer show then; admittedly we were still working out the kinks. I was panicky--- forgetting the ever-present, and ever-vital, “Scrooge glasses” in the dressing room. (Much of the story centers on what he can---and cannot---see.) In fact, apart from a couple of experimental years it’s been the same pair of glasses and has always been the same outer-coat: it was donated by Trustee Rita Mattia.). I don’t know if the character exists without that coat.

 Some weren't---but some of the bankers were a bit tipsy, and for a Christmas party, this longer version (which we weren’t sure would work), was all a bit much.

But it's the nearly disastrous transition Cynde never lets me forget.

Picture a raised platform in a large conference room, wider by far than it was deep. Dinner all around on three sides, and we’d just finished with the Ghost of Christmas Past. The transition language is quite similar, and maybe I didn’t quite have it down just yet:
“Scrooge glanced about him for the ghost, but saw it not, and then, as the last strokes of twelve ceased to vibrate, lifted up his eyes, and beheld-----“

From some early days, with Liffick, '02

Cynde’s voice echoed from behind me “Come in, Ebenezer!! Come in and know me better, man!” (It was her next line, I’d nearly skipped the entirety of Christmas Present.) “A solemn phantom” follows the line above, and the draped and hooded Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, itself as clearly an image of the Grim Reaper, Charon, take your pick, glides into the room and finishes the appearance of Spirits influencing Scrooge.

She'd made a great save, and for once I instantly knew what she meant, switching into
“the room was filled with a ghostly light that seemed to come from the adjoining room…”

We learned quite a bit that night, and apart from the glasses and the near time-travel skip of the here and now, the audience was kind and seemed to enjoy themselves.
Next time: perhaps I’ll describe touring the show to the wild winter of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Scrooge in a private Carriage House---in front of a roaring fire, complete with pig on a rotating spit.

Both, however, are stories from Christmases Past, (Click the title label below for older posts on this show) and I’m now thinking very much about Christmas Present. To you and yours, Merry Christmas----we hope you can join us at one of the three final performances, but if not, fond wishes for a happy holiday.


Thespis' Little Helper said...

Cynde is such an incredibly present and generous scene partner. And always good for a save!

Reminds me of the first performance of MUCH ADO many moons ago when I had zipped into RVA, learning my track in two days (with you taking the great load of the Friar beautifully off my shoulders in that five-actor version). I finished a scene, went upstage to my chair and put on my Claudio pieces, only to turn around and see Cynde coming down the house right aisle (at that outdoor performance space at the park) as Don John and realizing that I was supposed to be Borachio. Returned to my milk crate and chair, quickly shifted into the Borachio pieces, turned around, looked at Cynde, knowing full well I had a somewhat lengthy speech, but no idea what the first line was, nor what I was supposed to talk about.

And with a swift and concise, "Where hast thou been, villian?" from Cynde's Don John, she immediately (and completely in character) let me know where I was, who I was, and what the heck I was supposed to say!

One of the most terrifying and thrilling moments I've had on stage.

Kudos, again, to both of you for an incredibly magical theatrical experience.

And thank you again for trusting me with that MUCH ADO and for bringing me to RVA; and for the many times you've trusted me since.

Great things you have done. Thank you.

Grant Mudge said...

Thank you, BC. You've brought amazing work to Richmond, and I couldn't be more grateful.

I had completely forgotten that moment but now that you mention it, of course I remember. A tiny conference room audience due to the rain, perhaps?

Thanks again for your lovely comments. -Grant