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The theatrical holiday tradition of staging A Christmas Carol has moved online this year for obvious reasons. An unintended consequence, however, is that Canadian audiences are now faced with a deluge of Scrooges livestreaming from or recorded in theatres from Victoria to Halifax.
How in the Dickens do you choose? To help in your selection, The Globe and Mail’s theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck interviewed four of the actors grumbling “Bah humbug!” on screens rather than stages this December.
The Scrooge: Sanjay Talwar, in Victoria
Streaming from: Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, bluebridgetheatre.ca; to Dec. 20
The Blue Bridge publicist wrote to me that though this is your first time performing this one-actor A Christmas Carol, you did once play “the Ghost of Christmas Present in the past” – which made me laugh. Whose Scrooge were you haunting?
I haunted the brilliant Michael Therriault in the Shaw Festival’s production. I certainly learned a great deal from working with him – his ability to take the character on a journey and not get ahead of the story was something that helped me enormously for this production.
Most of the stage actors I’m interviewing are already finished their job – their Scrooges are streaming as a recording. What’s it like livestreaming the show every night?
This production was initially intended to be livestreamed and have a small audience at the theatre. That had to change when new provincial guidelines came into effect in B.C. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be on a stage and go on a big adventure every night of the run. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.
Is there something in Dickens’ story that you’ve found resonates particularly this pandemic year?
Many things, but what comes to mind right now is the thought Scrooge has when faced with his own mortality and he pledges to live in the past, present and future. It seems important, when the present seems so overwhelming, that we remember to think back and think ahead while we deal with the challenges happening right now.
The Scrooge: Stephen Hair, in Calgary
Streaming at: Theatre Calgary, theatrecalgary.com, Dec. 11 to 31
You’re the longest-serving Scrooge I’m interviewing – 27 years performing the role. Aren’t you sick of saying “Bah humbug” yet?
I’ve been privileged to speak one of the English language’s most iconic phrases for a long time, so when I get tired of saying it, that will be the day I hang up my top hat and red scarf.
How does the character differ in this adaptation by the talented young playwright Geoffrey Simon Brown that made its debut at Theatre Calgary last season?
Geoffrey’s version is smart, witty, concise, heartfelt and incredibly honest to Dickens’ story. His Scrooge has a humanity I have been searching for, for a long time.
This is your first time in a “filmed digital production” of Carol. Did you miss the live audience filming it?
We ran the piece a few times in the theatre as a straight-through play for the long shots, with only the creative team present. It was a truly emotional experience. When the grind of closeups and cover shots started, the joy for me was replaced with the tedium of filming.
As a veteran Scrooge, what would your advice be to those actors taking on the role for the first time?
Be prepared for the physical and emotional roller coaster of being in a pinball machine eight times a week. But know that you will be loved by thousands, and you will learn just how much “theatre” can touch and change lives.
The Scrooge: Ted Dykstra in Edmonton
Streaming at: Citadel Theatre, citadeltheatre.com; Dec. 15 to 31
You started playing Scrooge in David van Belle’s new adaptation last season – what made you want to play the role, and in Edmonton (since you run The Coal Mine theatre in Toronto)?
The Citadel is a wonderful theatre. I grew up in Edmonton and it will always be my hometown. Doing it last year for all my siblings, nieces and nephews and 90-year-old mom was a highlight for me. I’ve always wanted to play the part, but knew I’d have to wait a while to be the right age. And, sigh, I’ve just entered that zone.
This year, Citadel artistic director Daryl Cloran filmed his production for a recording that will stream. How did that change how you approached Scrooge?
Not character-wise certainly, but performance-wise much more can be told with less. It’s an audience of one instead of an audience of hundreds, and this audience of one can literally be a foot away from your face. So you adjust accordingly.
Most stage Scrooges don’t get a chance to watch themselves. Are you going to stream your own performance with your family?
I don’t normally enjoy watching myself very much, but I do think my kids would enjoy it. We normally watch the Alastair Sim. Tough call!
What would you say to those who say “Bah humbug!” to watching theatre online?
I have yet to watch a pandemic-induced streaming theatre production, so I get it. But if the people who pay to see us do our thing want it, we should respect them and give them what they want, because we would not be here without them. The audience is king.
The Scrooge: Rhys Bevan-John, in Halifax
Streaming at: Neptune Theatre, neptunetheatre.com, until Dec. 31.
This is your fifth year starring in Neptune artistic director Jeremy Webb’s one-actor (plus a puppeteer) A Christmas Carol. Which is your favourite character?
Scrooge himself, as I get to be very playful though his nastiness. He has some lovely serious bits, and his redemption is my absolute favourite.
The show is available as a Neptune At Home online rental this year. What did you change in your performance to be captured for streaming?
There are a couple of moments that I played much smaller for the camera, and anytime I would normally interact with the audience, we’d try to come up with an alternate little gag – we even managed to hide an Easter egg in the show, somewhere!
Is there something in Dickens’ story that resonates particularly this pandemic year?
The story has Scrooge examine his life and see what is actually most significant to him, and what brings him the greatest joy. I think many of us are being forced to go through a similar process, given the restrictions that are put on us. Perhaps we all may come to similar conclusions that Scrooge did – that family, friends, charity, gratitude and benevolence are all what truly matter most.
Interviews have been condensed and edited.