A Timelessly Fresh Tradition

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Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, there’s no longer any excuse to not dive headfirst into the Christmas season. From holiday music on 106.9 to the festive lights around downtown to the red cups from Starbucks, cultural tradition abounds this time of year, and one of the most locally beloved of those traditions is Actors Theatre of Louisville’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” a play based on the classic book by Charles Dickens. Though it’s played for over 40 seasons and is indeed the second-longest continually running production of “Christmas Carol” in the country, the new life breathed into the production by the massive redesign two years ago has yielded an updated tradition and one that is just as timeless as the original that started it all decades ago.

According to Mark Walston, props director at Actors and props master on “Christmas Carol,” since the redesign, not much has changed on the new production – the update was just the exact face lift the show needed. “I work very closely with the set designer and the director on each production that we do, and this was a case where the set designer  [Antje Ellermann] – her plans for the show were so perfect, which you don’t see very often, that there hasn’t been a lot of change,” he affirms. “It’s just worked out so well that things have not evolved as much as you would think – it’s in a good way. Sometimes with a show, evolution is a good thing, but in this case, I think we haven’t needed to adjust or change too much at all just because everything that she thought about was so right for what we were doing.”

Though there’s a myriad of aspects Walston exalts about the new design – from Scrooge’s bedroom curtain to the bowl of gruel that reveals the face of Marley – he attests that beyond the design of the show, one of the most cherished aspects of producing “Christmas Carol” each year is the reunion of collaborators it hosts. From designers to crew members, coming together for another year of “Christmas Carol” is like a family gathering. Additionally, seeing the younger members of Actors’ Professional Training Company take the stage is particularly special. “Quite a few members of our apprentice company get to be actors in ‘Christmas Carol’ – I think that’s always a great pleasure to see those people get those parts and be a part of it too,” he says. “And this year, there are three or four apprentices from past years who have come back to be in ‘Christmas Carol’ … I think that’s something I always look forward to and that I think makes it feel like a real family – having people back that we know.”

It’s a widespread sentiment at Actors and indeed one shared by “Christmas Carol” Production Stage Manager Paul “Pablo” Mills Holmes, who enjoys seeing the faces of the audience just as much as those of his colleagues. “I really love to look at the kids in the audience – the little kids whose parents came to see ‘Christmas Carol’ and their parents probably brought them,” he shares. “So it’s looking at all the generations sitting in the audience every year that really tickles me.”

As far as a particular aspect to the production itself that Holmes is especially fond of, the towering Ghost of Christmas Future, which, thanks to the redesign, is imposing and haunting like never before, comes to mind. “Over the years, we’ve had several versions of Christmas Future that usually involved being a 9-foot ghost that appears out of nowhere and walks around the stage and guides Scrooge through his devastating future,” Holmes relates. “And when we did the new redesign, Future was the thing that we wanted to be the most shocking and different than anything we’ve ever done before. And so we’ve created this giant puppet that appears and covers the stage – it’s about 22 feet tall and has about a 30-foot hand-to-hand span.”

The new Ghost of Christmas Future is indeed a spectacle – one that must be seen to be believed – as is the entire show. However, the tradition of “Christmas Carol” is much more than that; throughout the years and various updates, the heart has remained the same: It is a classic Christmas story that boasts a powerful and important message of coming together and treasuring what truly matters. “I’m a big Christmas nut,” laughs Holmes, “and this is a great way to celebrate the season. And the story is about as good a Christmas story as you could ask for … I never get tired of it, and clearly Louisville doesn’t either.” VT

“A Christmas Carol” runs at Actors Theatre through December 23. For more information, visit actorstheatre.org or call 502.584.1205.

BY REMY SISK