Through recessions and blizzards and other upheavals, Ebenezer Scrooge has drawn small children and big money to his redemption story in “A Christmas Carol.”Stage adaptations of the tale, which generally run between Thanksgiving and year-end, have been a tradition and a lifeline for troupes big and small, professional and amateur. But now, after decades in which the Dickens classic has sustained them, this year theaters are sustaining Dickens.Gone are the large-cast extravaganzas playing before cheery crowds in packed venues. Instead, theaters are using every contagion-reduction strategy they have honed during the coronavirus pandemic: outdoor stagings, drive-in productions, street theater, streaming video, radio plays and even a do-it-yourself kit sent by mail.Many of these theaters are willingly running the long-lucrative show at a loss — they are hungry to create, determined to stay visible and eager to satisfy those “Christmas Carol” die-hards who don’t want to miss a year.“It’s absolutely an obligation, in the best sense of that word,” said Curt Columbus, the artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, R.I., which has staged “A Christmas Carol” each holiday season since 1977. “The story felt more urgent, and more necessary, than it has in many years.”The financial implications are enormous, especially for those that have opted not to charge at all. Ford’s Theater in Washington last year sold $2.5 million worth of tickets to “A Christmas Carol.” This year, it is releasing a free audio version on its website and on public radio, paid for by corporate sponsorships and donations. “Hopefully it will come back to us in other ways,” said Paul R. Tetreault, Ford’s director.The money “A Christmas Carol” usually brings in allows theaters to perform more challenging work at other times of the year.“This thing has kept American theaters alive for decades and decades,” said Charles Fee, the producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland. “Without ‘Christmas Carol,’ our company would almost certainly have failed.” More
BEN It’s kind of crazy that every twist and turn has somehow worked out for both of us, barring the pandemic. Our first date was at the end of high school. We went to what quickly became our favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, saw a movie and went to this beautiful viewpoint in Orange County. It was a starry night and a kind of quiet, isolated area — it was really romantic. I decided that if we were ever to get married or engaged, it would be cute to propose there. So five years after we started dating, we went back to that viewpoint and I surprised him there — and it was really cute.
MATTHEW It was an easy yes. That was April 2019, and we started planning for the wedding almost within a month. We planned for September 2020. After we found the venue, we started making a guest list and tried to find food and everything else. Our ceremony was going to be on a grassy hill right above the ocean. Since we’re both from Southern California, it would have really captured us. We wanted to keep it casual.
BEN Around March of this year, we heard from my medical school that our quarter would finish remotely, and Matt heard that he would work from home. But at that time it didn’t really seem fathomable that the pandemic could last for months on end, certainly not until the wedding. So in March and into a little bit of April we were still planning, to the point where we had drafts of our invitations. We even had our wedding tasting set up, and we had to cancel that. Around April or May it became pretty clear that it just wasn’t going to be safe.
For us, the wedding was really about celebrating with friends and family of all ages, and we wanted it to be really special. Dancing six feet apart just didn’t seem like what we were going for.
MATTHEW We were able to postpone it one year, but given how this disease has progressed, the only thing that’s certain is the uncertainty. We’ll have to make a decision by maybe May of next year, so hopefully by then we will have made a lot of progress in combating this disease.
One of these days, it will happen. We will have a vaccine, we will be able to resume our lives, I am certain of that. If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s to take stock of what you have and be grateful, because so many people had it so much worse.
BEN I remember the beginning of September, with the date coming by and realizing that that was the day we were supposed to get married. That week was really tough on me and tough on us, but it also came with a new excitement because it’s a whole other year to think about how lucky we are to have each other, a whole other year to celebrate our love. I hope some other couples can find solace in that.
It’s totally OK to have feelings of disappointment and sadness and loss. You lose a big moment. Your friends and family were supposed to come together and shower you with love — literally. But in the grand scheme of things, you have to take a step back and realize that a wedding is just a wedding. It’s the union that binds two people that really matters, and you don’t need a wedding to have that. More
One practitioner describes how Covid-19 and lockdown have affected his work
When not reviewing for Everything Theatre, Nick Myles is a writer and all-round theatre addict. As our reviewers all give their time for free, we’re always more than happy to try to give a little back to say thanks. So when he told us about his latest project, it seemed the ideal time to ask Nick to tell us about how creating a show for online has differed from usual.
My name is Nick, and I am a theatre-holic. I get my fix any way I can: as an audience member, a writer, a director, a script-reader and a reviewer. Sometimes I’m at a show four or five times a week, and often I fill the spare days with stand-up comedy or the cinema. To say that drama and entertainment have taken over my life would be an understatement.
Of course all that was in the Old Days. Since late February when booked shows started dropping out of my diary like pheasants from the sky at a madman’s shooting party, the arts landscape looks very different. With only television, radio and box sets to feed my habit, the future seemed bleak. As well as all the shows I had expected to see, I had planned three theatre projects of my own for the summer months, all of which have been relegated to the back burner, and may not come to the boil until sometime next year, if ever.
But the creative urge is not easily thwarted. I’ve continued working on stage plays even if their future is distant and uncertain. I’ve switched one short play set in an office conference room (boring!) to a Zoom meeting, which adds a load of comedy potential as angry people are unable to punch each other in person, and “How’s your lockdown?” replaces the weather as the small-talk of choice.
But one project which was actually conceived after the national drawbridge was raised against infection marked a genuine change in direction for me as a writer.
I hadn’t written prose for a long time until I decided to write a Christmas ghost story for We Are Cult – one of the sites I occasionally review for – in 2018. I enjoyed the process, so with no theatres to write for, I thought “I’ll do something in prose about lockdown, and that’ll keep the creative juices flowing…”
That something became The Man in the Window, the story of Marcus, a single gay man who on the first “Clap Our Carers” night notices a neighbour across the road to whom he takes an immediate shine. Despite an almost complete lack of reciprocal interest, Marcus’s imagination begins to build a relationship between the two men…
As I plotted Marcus’s journey and explored his character – exactly as I would if writing a stage play – I began to realise that the most fitting medium for this piece would actually be a film. Marcus had developed a distinctly egotistical voice, the sound of which I could imagine him enjoying, and it occurred to me that a video diary/vlog format would work really well.
I’ve written and directed a dozen or so stage monologues, and my instinct told me that The Man in the Window had the potential to re-create the intensity of that person-to-person relationship between actor and audience. I started to re-write the piece, stripping out the more prosaic passages, and began to think about casting.
I had worked with actor Raphael von Blumenthal a couple of years ago when I cast him in my play Did He Leave a Note? at Stockwell Playhouse (RIP). I knew that this part was well within Raphael’s range, and crucially that he would be a great collaborator as we mined Marcus’s peculiar personality together.
And so a strange rehearsal process began. It was so different but also utterly familiar, in that it was me with a pad and pen watching an actor do their stuff and then giving them notes. The fact that we were on Zoom instead of in the same room was unconventional but actually irrelevant in the end. And the experience of watching Raphael bring this compellingly odd character to life was just as fascinating as any theatre project I’ve taken part in. Throughout, Raphael was superbly intuitive but also receptive to direction, which is the perfect collaborative combination.
Every production hits bumps along the way. We had one run-through during which it became clear that the direction we’d taken in Part 2 jarred against the scenes around it: my efforts to energise this section worked in isolation, but viewed alongside the rest of the film it sounded a discordant note. I panicked a bit, grasping for a solution, while of course concealing the extent of my concerns – directors do not reveal such insecurities to their actors…
I thought we had a mountain to climb, but after a few hesitant notes from me about dialling down the scorn and raising the curiosity, Raphael in the very next take solved the issue completely.
Encountering – and hopefully fixing – these issues as they arise in the rehearsal room is par for the course in theatre. But whereas in the Old Times I would probably have paced about a bit and thrown some possible solutions around, that’s not really an option on Zoom. Probably the main difference with video rehearsing is that its restrictions make the process more focussed.
Whilst addicts like me will inevitably hanker for the return of the intoxicating plethora of theatre we used to have at our greedy disposal, the old status quo seems an impossible dream right now. Some big buildings are re-opening with drastically reduced audiences, which is of course a Good Thing. But what of the Fringe, where dramatists such as myself and thousands of others were used to plying our trade while we hope for that break into the mainstream? It’s difficult to imagine pub theatres and other fringe venues with small, compact seating and intimate stages being able to revive themselves in the near future.
Until that far-off day, film projects and video-rehearsing are part of the theatre community’s New Normal. And I’m happy to say that the experience of creating The Man in the Window and bringing the production to fruition with Raphael has been one of the most rewarding of my career to date.
The Man in the Window (a lockdown love story), written and directed by Nick Myles, performed by Raphael von Blumenthal, is available to watch for free in three easily digestible chunks. More