A New ‘Christmas Carol’

A New ‘Christmas Carol’

TheatreSquared adapts but keeps all the fun


“Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” declares Ebenezer Scrooge near the beginning of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” As 2020 trudges towards its bitter end, surely there are a few of us who find the Christmas spirit as difficult to catch as does the crusty curmudgeon Scrooge. However, TheatreSquared’s brand new retelling of the holiday staple might just be the prescription for the lingering anxiety many are feeling in the face of a global pandemic. After all, say co-adaptors — and T2 co-founders — Amy Herzberg and Bob Ford, the experiences of 2020 were at the forefront of their imagination as they tackled the new adaptation.

James Taylor Odom, who played Scrooge in last year’s T2 production of “A Christmas Carol,” has moved backstage this year to work as associate director with the script’s co-author, Amy Herzberg. (Courtesy Photo/T2)

“We were greatly influenced by many factors in writing this version of the play — the sense of isolation that has been brought into keen focus by this pandemic, the opportunity to look at one’s life and see anew what is most important to each of us and a connectivity with others throughout the world,” notes Herzberg, who also serves as the company’s associate artistic director.

“Our new adaption was prompted by a desire to respond to conditions of the pandemic, by scaling back the cast size from 12 to two,” says Ford, who is artistic director. “But what started out as a necessity became, quite honestly, sheer delight as we, as writers, fell madly in love with these two librarians and the relationship that begins to flower between them. It may be leaner than last year’s version, but it’s got just as much heart — plus a whole new layer of fun as these two lovers of literature figure out how to act out this tale (for example, when one of them plays not only Mrs. Cratchit, but all the Cratchit children). It’s a privilege to know that we can continue to tweak this play as the years go by and discover what most delights our amazing audience. One thing’s for sure, there’ll always be something new.”

While this year’s adaptation still takes place in a Victorian London library, having only two actors in the cast means a great deal of the fun of this performance will be watching them tackle multiple roles.

“The play follows librarians Mr. Heaps and Miss Trilling on Christmas Eve,” says Herzberg. “A blizzard rages outside, a secret is exposed, and, together, the two librarians embark on a journey of discovery and redemption through the words of Charles Dickens’ beloved story. The production features the wonderful Courtneay Sanders Irish and Bryce Kemph, who have graced TheatreSquared’s stage in numerous shows.”

Courtneay Sanders Irish plays librarian Miss Trilling — and myriad other roles — in this year’s T2 production of “A Christmas Carol.” (Courtesy Photo/T2)

While T2 planned on providing audiences with either a live performance or the option of watching a streaming version from the comfort of their own homes, the theater will offer online performances only out of an abundance of caution.

“We held out a great deal of hope that we’d be able to offer in-person performances this December,” says T2 Executive Director Martin Miller. “But with the surge in [covid-19] cases and updated guidance from public health experts, we made the tough decision this week to shift to digital delivery only for ‘A Christmas Carol.’ While we won’t be able to welcome audience members to the theater, we’re excited that many farflung friends and families may choose to stream the show together wherever they happen to be. And we continue to stand ready for a return to in-person performances as soon as circumstances allow.”

This marks the third production in which T2 has offered streaming-only versions. Joanna Sheehan Bell, director of marketing and communications, notes that the theater company was lucky in that it had resources to turn to in order to master this new medium as quickly as possible.

Bryce Kemph plays librarian Mr. Heaps — and myriad other roles — in this year’s T2 production of “A Christmas Carol.” (Courtesy Photo/T2)

“It’s been a fun mix of the talent we had and consultants,” says Bell. “Theater is a brilliant medium that attracts so many artists with different areas of expertise — we were fortunate to have much of what we needed already on our staff. That in-house knowledge combined with our deep networks in the national industry (including some individuals with decades of live television experience) so that we were able to make our streaming plan and implement it in a matter of weeks.”

In fact, the theater’s production of “The Half-Life of Marie Curie,” offered streaming in November, received glowing notices from the playwright, Lauren Gunderson. Gunderson, often called the most popular playwright in America due to the frequency her scripts are produced across the country, posted a rave review on her Facebook page that included screenshots of the T2 production, as well as comments like “Holy crap, that was good. And it was REAL THEATER, Y’ALL. Wow. The actors, directing, design, filming. Just wonderful!”

“While it broke our hearts to have to pivot at the last minute to a streaming-only version, we’ve learned from ‘Ann’ and ‘The Half-Life of Marie Curie’ that streaming can feel truly intimate, personal and theatrical,” says Ford. “I’ve come to really believe in this medium — this new way of experiencing theater — and I think we’ll keep it as an option even after post-pandemic, for those who can’t make it into the theater for whatever reason. This performance has the T2 stamp — a smart and meaningfully heartfelt celebration of our common humanity.”

Bryce Kemph, the Ghost of Christmas Present in last year’s T2 production of “A Christmas Carol,” will share all the roles this year with co-star Courtneay Sanders Irish in a pared-down production that still has “the T2 stamp — a smart and meaningfully heartfelt celebration of our common humanity,” says the script’s co-author, Bob Ford. (Courtesy Photo/Wesley Hitt for T2)


‘A Christmas Carol’

WHEN — Dec. 8-27

WHERE — TheatreSquared via a high definition livestream

COST — $20

INFO — theatre2.org



More Applause

For TheatreSquared

Last month, we reported on a big milestone for Northwest Arkansas’ only professional regional theater, TheatreSquared. The company was chosen for a coveted New York Times “Critic’s Pick” for the online production of “Russian Troll Farm.” The play was fostered and workshopped at T2’s Arkansas New Play Fest this summer and streamed to audiences in October.

This week, more exciting news awaited in the pages of the venerable newspaper: “Russian Troll Farm” is on the New York Times list of “Best Theater of 2020.”

“It took two directors (Jared Mezzocchi and Elizabeth Williamson) and three companies (TheaterWorks Hartford, TheatreSquared in Arkansas and the Brooklyn-based Civilians) to pull it off, but it was a key step forward and a wicked-smart ride,” reads a portion of the paper’s writeup.

Categories: Theater