Foothills Performing Arts offers a play for the people who begin Christmas decorating in November, as well as for the people who say, ‘Bah! Humbug.’
by Abigail Taylor
LENOIR, N.C. – Last night was the opening night of Foothills Performing Art’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” at the theatre company’s new home, the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. With a large audience of all ages, the cast and crew were electrified by the warm response and standing ovation. This staging, adapted and directed by Mark and Beth Woodard, breathes new life into Charles Dickens’ beloved story. And now I must stop and disclaim, this writer is one of those cast members. During what we theatre folk like to call “hell week,” the short amount of time in which the techies polish off the show and the kinks are all worked out, I realized I’d written nothing about this performance because I’d been so busy the past month running to Cookout every night after rehearsal and slipping into a corndog-and-stage-adrenaline induced coma, before getting up and doing it all over again. Luckily, I found a small window of time to ask director Mark Woodard his thoughts on the production.
As someone who gets easily annoyed by anything Christmas-themed until after December 15, I found Mark’s responses especially inspiring. He told me, “A Christmas Carol is an important piece of the fabric of how we think and feel about the most cherished of Holidays. It is a tradition as deep and meaningful as any during the Christmastime. The secret to its endurance lies in the clarity of its message. It’s the message of Christmas. And in a much larger sense, it’s a message about what it means to be a human living amongst other humans.”
“A Christmas Carol” holds a special significance for Mark. He has a long history with Dickens’ classic as theatre. It was the second play he was ever a part of and he’s been involved with dozens of productions since. According to him, it’s a deeply personal story. On the uniqueness of this specific production, he explained, “Having been involved in so many interpretations of this story, I needed to find cast members who would inspire me to look at moments and scenes and characters with a fresh eye. So I made some unconventional choices. That gamble has paid off, I think.”
And I personally couldn’t agree more. I’d never read or seen A Christmas Carol in full before auditioning for the part of Belle. I’ll also add, devoting my time to singing Christmas Carols all the way back in October was something I really had to think about. Mark and Beth reminded us the night before opening that it’s easy to get tired of all the Christmas cheer when putting on such a production. Yet, this story is so much more than carols, as Mark had explained. And the whole cast feels it too. We all felt it as we watched from backstage, the first time with lights and fog machine, the moment Ebenezer Scrooge (brilliantly played by Yulson Suddreth) transforms into a man with an urgency to love and give. There’s an indescribable thing that happens when you finally see a show come together, and then there is a whole other thing when the story itself reaches into your soul. It’s a story worth telling, from the haunting cries of the Ghost of Jacob Marley (played by Chris Kerley), to the last, sweet utterance of a prayer from Tiny Tim (played by Auguste Thielemann).
“I always feel that it’s somewhat on me, as a director to reach out specifically to people who are experiencing the story I am telling for the first time. They may even be experiencing the theatre for the first time! So I want them to be entertained, of course, but I also want them to leave feeling somewhat enriched. And if we do our job well and speak the words truthfully, then it doesn’t matter if it’s the first time or the fiftieth that an audience member is experiencing a story. We can make it fresh in their eyes, as well,” Mark told me.
From the stage on opening night, as we sang our final song to the audience, I couldn’t help but scan the room for faces. (This is kind of a no-no; don’t tell Mark.) In the very front, I caught a glimpse of a young girl, not 6 or 7. Her eyes were bright and joy-filled, as she sang along. I think I can speak for many of my other cast members when I say, this is why we do theatre. I’ll let Mark wrap it up:
“I am extremely grateful and proud of the work this extraordinary group of people have put into this production. I can’t wait until we get to share it with our friends, family and community.”
I don’t think you want to miss this one. Merry Christmas.
Abigail Taylor is a member of the board at Foothills Performing Arts.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016.
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