We’re reinventing the holidays this season with A Christmas Carol Reimagined, available for digital download starting December 11, with tickets for socially distanced, in-person film screenings also on sale. Director of marketing and public relations, Lisa Condit, spoke with our president and CEO, Troy Siebels, who has once again worked his magic in adapting the classic Charles Dickens for the stage, this time at Worcester’s BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center. Listen to their WCRN 830AM radio interview below, or read on for highlights. Hank Stolz hosts Behind the Scenes with The Hanover Theatre on Talk of the Commonwealth Fridays at 9am, with replays Saturdays at 1pm. Tune in for more behind-the-scenes content and exclusive news!
Lisa: Everybody knows that this is a year like no other, and typically this is a very special time of year for all of us at The Hanover Theatre because we have our annual production of A Christmas Carol to look forward to. This year, you have been very busy reimagining how we could continue this tradition without being able to use our main stage. Moving this from what we really have been able to brand as the most elaborate production of A Christmas Carol, to this new reimagined Christmas Carol that’s staged at the BrickBox, and there are a lot of differences.
Adpating A Christmas Carol for 2020
Troy: At the heart of it, it’s the same story, and that’s really what’s important about it. You know the production that we’ve done every year for 12 years, it has become such a community-beloved tradition. Twenty thousand people see it each year. Six thousand school students come to see school matinee performances of it. We see some of the same families every year, and we see some new people every year. Certainly, it’s a big part of what we do as an organization, and it is big and elaborate, and it has an element of pageantry to it. I think that this is something festive you can go to as a family and bring people together. The music heightens the emotion behind it. I mean, there’s so many components of it that all go into making it such an emotionally powerful piece, but at the heart of it, it’s a story that resonates today just as much as it did when it was written in 1850.
So, I think when it became clear that we just couldn’t do that, as I said it was about bringing people together, which you can’t do today. It was obvious right away that we couldn’t do a big main stage production. So we thought, “Can you do a small production? Could we do it with socially distant seating?” Well no, because the big production is expensive, and we can’t pay for it that way. “Well, could you do a small production in the new little BrickBox Theater of it for 200 people?” Well, no, 200 people is too many people to bring together. As the months went by from the summer on into the fall, we kept looking for new ways to tell the story and kept revising our plans when it became clear that that wasn’t possible. So, what we ultimately came to is a film.
First of all, I re-adapted the story to a cast of six adults and two kids on a mostly bare stage. Essentially, the premise is that they are performers that were to have done A Christmas Carol, the big show, and they’ve shut down for quarantine. They’ve come back into this empty theatre, and it has pieces of the set for Christmas Carol lying around and has props and costumes and things lying around. They say, hey, we don’t need all the bells and whistles to tell the story, we can do it ourselves with these pieces.
Lisa: Yes, and I was lucky enough to see the filming, which was a total treat for me, because, with the safety precautions, nobody without a COVID negative test and following those safety protocols was allowed in the BrickBox with the actors, because we, of course, needed to keep them safe. One of the things that I really felt is that there were some very familiar faces with the cast members, but they were all giving a new perspective to this.
Casting A Christmas Carol Reimagined
Troy: Our Ebenezer Scrooge is Steve Gagliastro, who is a Worcester native. He has been in this production in other roles for 11 years. He is associate director and he’s our music director. He’s been a big part of the show from an artistic standpoint for a decade and I think that he was about as equipped as anybody could possibly have been to step into this role. I’m really happy with that decision and with the performance he gives. Then there are other Christmas Carol veterans in it, as well.
Part of what we wanted to make sure we did this year is to show diversity in the cast, and to be able to reflect the whole community. Christmas Carol speaks to everybody, and so the cast should reflect that everybody. It is also something that we’re producing this year under the masthead of THT Repertory, The Hanover Theatre Repertory, which is our new arm that we’re creating to produce work in this new BrickBox Theater. Under that arm, we’re really going to prioritize inclusivity and diversity. We have a very diverse cast in every way. I am really proud of that, and I think it does sort of reinforce the universality of the message.
Lisa: I just want to remind everybody, Troy has an excellent, excellent record for picking the future stars. You have picked cast members, especially amongst the children, that have really gone on to some amazing things. I can’t help but think of Tori Heinlein and who knows, maybe these two youth actors will be the next Broadway stars, once Broadway reopens.
Troy: Clara Cochran is a nine-year-old girl from Concord Mass. and she plays Girl and Belinda Cratchit, you know they all play a bunch of different roles. She’s just a constant little performer. She’s like a 25 year old in a 9 year old’s body, she’s so well poised. As a director, she’s so consistent. When she hits something, she is dead accurate every single time. Michael Afriyie is a little boy that we’ve cast is Tiny Tim this year. He’s 8 years old. This is the first thing that he’s ever done. He’s got such an honesty to him. It’s his face, it’s just ease, it’s honest, it’s true, it’s heart wrenching. He is fun to watch; I really love it. I think they both do such a great job.
Community Support Makes Carol Possible
Lisa: And we will have the virtual student matinee available for A Christmas Carol Reimagined. That’s a pretty exciting component to what we’re talking about. I think that the biggest piece of the virtual student matinees and with A Christmas Carol Reimagined is you have been able to pivot to the point where we’re able to offer A Christmas Carol Reimagined to the general public.
I want to make sure that we recognize that we couldn’t have done this without a lot of, in some ways, blind faith in what we’re doing and what you’re doing from our presenting co-sponsors. Our presenting co-sponsors are Assumption University, Bartholomew and Company, The Club at Rockland Trust, Cornerstone Bank and Country Bank. And then there are supporting co-sponsors with Worcester Academy and Worcester State University. Plus our student matinee sponsor is UniBank. They all helped to make sure that we could produce this because there are still costs associated with putting together a theatrical production and then filming it, which is a new frontier for our organization. Talk to us a little bit about that process of making sure that it still feels like that fresh theatrical production, but filmed so that we can have more people enjoy it. We really have made a commitment with our tiered pricing to make this as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. Let’s talk a little bit about the translation to film and the support of the organizations that have made it possible this year for us to subsidize tickets in a big way.
Transitioning from Stage to Film
Troy: I think the transition to film is the way for us to reach audiences this year, but the financial reality of it is that there are still costs to make it happen. There’s just no feasible way for us to recoup those costs through purchase of digital downloads or streaming, so we would not have been able to do it without the sponsors you just mentioned. I think that we are grateful to them, yes, for rolling the dice with us a little bit and having faith in us and what we do and recognizing that this is an important performance at this moment in history. It is an important sort of stake in the ground for us as an organization. Our conservatory has been going strong, but the stage itself, our main stage, has been closed since March, and we’re perhaps halfway through that shut down. We’ve still got a long road ahead of us, but we are still here, we are still vibrant, we are still doing what we can to serve the community. This is a way for us to say that loud and clear, and those sponsors are what makes that possible in terms of artistically the translation to film.
The concept of this being on a mostly bare stage with a small group of actors that all play a bunch of different roles is such that you see some of the quick costume changes, you see them move props in and out, you see them use one item to represent multiple things. It captures the theatricality. It really is successful at making you feel that you’re right there in a theatre watching a live performance. It really does a good job of that and in some ways, it’s got some positives. Everybody’s in the front row. Now you can see the close-up expressions on the actors’ faces, and I think it’s really powerful.
Lisa: And hey, we can rewind if we miss something, or if we want to see something again, and again, and again. I love that! The BrickBox and THT Rep certainly have also been shining stars for us and what we really can do and how we can continue to engage with the community.
One other question, this work is very near and dear to your heart and I know it’s going to be hard for you to answer this question because it’s asking you like who’s your favorite child. But if you had to pick one scene when you were watching that first cut, where you’re like, this is great and in fact maybe it’s even a little bit cooler than you had thought it would ever be seeing it on film, what should we look for when we’re all watching it?
Troy: There are a lot of moments, but you know one thing that I really like is one of the necessities of doing a show with so few actors in a play with so many roles obviously is that they all play many different roles. Sometimes that adds some extra magic and there’s some extra benefit to that. There is one actress who plays both of the Spirit of Christmas Past and Belle, Scrooge’s early love. There’s a moment when she switches directly from one to the next and it really is poignant in a new way. You see the Spirit of Christmas Past unmask herself and she is this figure from Scrooge’s past, I think it has more poignance to it than it than it ever has on the big stage.