POSTED ON DECEMBER 19, 2012:
Continuing a Classic
Only the Scroogiest won't enjoy it this year
Nearly every Tulsa theatre goer has seen it. Nearly every Tulsa actor you see onstage has been in it. Hell, I was even in it in 2004.
Because American Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol has run for some 35 years, it's become a part of the Tulsa Christmas season. The work, based on the Dickens classic and penned by longtime ATC-ers Bob Odle and Richard Averill, has established itself as a must-do for people in the Tulsa theatre scene.
"There are thousands of actors who have been in this show," said ATC mainstay and this production's director Ed Durnal. "I'm constantly running into people who say, 'I was in that show,' or 'I was a Cratchit kid one year,' so it's a huge diaspora of Tulsa actors, and you know, it has been a rite of passage."
Durnal comes to this, his eighth consecutive year in the director's chair, as happy with the show as he ever was, but not the least bit concerned about things getting stale.
Courtesy/American Theater Company
"I try to start fresh," he said. "There are certain things in terms of the staging that I like and will keep. For one thing, we have a different cast every year, which brings something new to it."
The easy way out would be just to whip out last year's script and notes and re-stage what worked that last time, but Durnal isn't one for that. In fact, he often spoke of the enormity of the job, adding praise for a relative newcomer to the Christmas Carol team.
"The wonderful thing is that for the past two years, I've had Robert Walters as an assistant director, and he's a wonderful director," he said. "He can take scenes off and work them for me, and it just brings so much depth to the show. I also like to have the actors be creative. If I have actors that can bring something fresh to it, that's wonderful. Otherwise, it can start looking like a recording of itself. I like to keep it fresh and try new things."
And to be honest, Durnal's time helming this production has been filled with enough events to keep anything from becoming stale at all, starting with his Christmas Carol debut.
"The first year I directed it, I took it over one week before we opened," he said. "I just remember [PAC lighting god] Tom Poss taking me aside and patting me on the shoulder and saying, 'It'll be better next year.'" He laughed at recounting this, but one got the feeling it wasn't all that funny when it was happening.
"I was hearing things I'd never heard before on opening night," he continued. "It's hard to direct a show when you don't know it all, you know?"
Since then, things have settled down, and Durnal has started to take some ownership of the work.
"We recorded a new instrumental track, maybe five years ago," he said. "Rick Averill spent about a year on it, and I helped out a little on that, and it sounds so much better. And the sound is so good now. We rent wirelesses from the PAC now, rather than use ours that were so much trouble. So it sounds really good."
Add to that better sound a cast of performers who come back in droves to reprise roles, and you've got a recipe for continuing improvement on an already-strong piece.
"Of the principals this year, we've got a lot of returning people. They may be playing different roles, but of the main roles, probably 75 percent of them have done it before, and that's very helpful," Durnal said. "The year we had Anthony Santelmo [more on that in a bit], all of my principals were new, and that was a very difficult year."
The principal most people are concerned with is Scrooge, played again this year by audience favorite Karl Krause, and while he's who many think of when they think of that mean old bastard, he's certainly not the only Tulsa actor to play the part.
Santelmo, the actor Durnal mentioned above, came in to play Scrooge a few years ago when other options were simply unavailable, and he's now one of four Scrooges Durnal has directed.
"Don Miller did it for me, then Karl did it maybe one year or two, but then he injured his back. So one year, we had an actor from New York, Anthony Santelmo, Jr., and he came down and did it on an Equity contract. And John Knippers did it one year, and now Karl is back," Durnal said. "They were all different Scrooges."
All this comes together to create a new version of A Christmas Carol every year -- the kind of new version that merits at least one viewing every season, and hey, that's just good for business.
But Durnal and company don't put business over family, so it stands to reason that often, A Christmas Carol is a family affair.
Courtesy/American Theater Company
"The great thing is the families that have been involved year after year," he said. "We have whole families backstage working crew. It's wonderful, and for ATC, I really feel like it's our outreach to the community."
And an outreach it certainly is. I mean, seriously -- can you think of someone you know who hasn't seen it at least once? Come to think of it, is there more than one degree of separation between you and someone who's been in this show?
There's some dispute about how long the show has actually run, but Durnal tries to lay it out. It certainly hasn't been performed every single year -- at least one year, ATC substituted Peter Pan. But you have to keep going back to the well when it's there, you know?
"There was always a demand for it, so we kept coming back to it," he said. "I think this is the 35th production, but it's been around longer than that."
So when you see this show, at least you know it's been around, as I said earlier, for more than three decades. That's a long time.
But hey, what else would we expect of a classic?
There's still time to catch this one, as A Christmas Carol plays this week, Dec. 19-22 at 7:30pm in the PAC's John H. Williams Theatre, and closes with a 2pm matinee on Sunday, Dec. 23. Tickets are $24, with student, senior, and child discounts, and while they're available at the door, that's only if the show doesn't sell out, which it often does. One would be better served by going to myticketoffice.com or calling the PAC box office at 918-596-7111.
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