Reimaging A Christmas Carol at EMU

. December 1, 2016.
Matthew Webb (L) and Tyler Calhoun (R) get into the Christmas spirits.
Matthew Webb (L) and Tyler Calhoun (R) get into the Christmas spirits.

There are few things more strongly associated with Christmas than the many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This year you can see the local version, Christmas Carol’d, by Michigan playwright, Joseph Zettelmaier.

Running for the first two weekends in December at Eastern Michigan University’s Quirk Theatre, the play will be directed by EMU Theatre professor, Terry Heck Seibert, who acted in the play when it was first produced in 2009 at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network.

Zettelmaier’s script truly and elegantly honors Dickens’ novella. The conceit for this intimate version is that a small group of carolers, acting as a Greek Chorus of sorts, utilizes both humor and pathos to paint Dickens’ classic tale of redemption. They also play the forty some characters interacting with Scrooge throughout the play.

Current: When Christmas Carol’d was at the Performance Network the cast was five actors.
For this production you’ll have seven.
Prof. Heck Seibert: I have added two more actors for two reasons agreed upon by Joe and myself. The first is to give more acting opportunities to students. The second is to help with the flow of the production. In the PN production there were moments that were a tad difficult to execute because a quick change was a little too quick from one character to the next, or we needed one more actor to make a shift from one scene to the next more efficient.

Zettelmaier: I’ve made several little nips and tucks, lines here and there. With the addition of two more performers, the roles were reassigned and that created a lot of room to expand moments.

Seibert: Music was an integral part of the last production; it will be an even bigger part this time. Without giving anything away I want to make good use of some very talented students.

What was the initial inspiration for this adaptation?
Zettelmaier: I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I adore A Christmas Carol. I’m a fan of Dickens in general, but there’s something so elegant and concise about this particular story. I’m drawn to stories about redemption, and it’s hard to imagine a more iconic redemption than Ebenezer Scrooge’s. And while A Christmas Carol wasn’t a constant factor in the Zettelmaier family Christmases, we certainly watched it many times. I still remember with great fondness when my parents took us to see the Goodman Theatre production when I was all of 14-years-old. That was the first stage production of it I’d seen, and it was glorious.

The two of you have worked together on a number of projects before. What are the advantages of that kind of ongoing working relationship?
Zettelmaier: It’s created a sort of shorthand between us. We have a fundamental understanding of what we’re each trying to achieve, and can communicate it quickly and simply. Also, there’s a great deal of trust between us. Terry will ask to tweak a line or change a moment here or there, and I’m always all for it. She’s an incredibly skilled director, and it’s best to let her try things, in my experience.

Catch Christmas Carol’d December 2-December 11.
For tickets, visit emich.edu/emutix.

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