An Inside Look at A Christmas Carol, Part 1

This Christmas season I thought it would be fun to let you know a few of the backstage stories that go into making A Christmas Carol possible.  I will be updating the blog once or twice a week with insights written by those working on the show.  This week we have Terry W. Carpenter our Associate Director at the theatre and also the Director/Stage Manager of A Christmas Carol giving you an inside look at the timetable that keeps A Christmas Carol ticking…

~Travis W. Walter

Belle's Family Christmas

Christmas at Meadow Brook Theatre lasts almost as long as it does at Hallmark stores.  Soon after Labor Day and the start of the new school year, we hold auditions for the children’s roles in the show and find out what new faces are eager to perform with us and which kids from last season may have grown out of their past roles and maybe not yet into a new one.  Soon after that comes singing auditions for the carollers who sing in the lobby before the show and then become the guests onstage at the Fezziwig and Fred’s parties.  This year we were able to use two of our interns with us for the season as the tenors and were lucky enough to have the sopranos, altos and basses from last year return.  Many of the adult roles are played by actors who have been in their roles for several seasons, so we have let them know often as early as springtime that we will be able to employ them again for the holidays. Sometimes one or another isn’t able to accept our offer or has decided to take a role at a different theatre for this time of year, and the returning actors may find themselves shifted around into a new configuration of roles.

By the beginning of October once the first show in our season has been built in the set, costume and prop shops, it’s time for those staffs to bring the “Carol” items out of storage to refreshen, repair and replace as necessary and for the costume shop  alter costume pieces to fit the new cast members.  Well before Halloween rehearsals are underway, since by mid-November we’re already performing matinees for school groups.  This year our performance on the day after Thanksgiving will be the 9th of this season and the 1,158th performance of “A Christmas Carol” at Meadow Brook Theatre.

I’m one of the few now on staff who were here for that 1st performance in 1982 when the set (not the same as we use now) was still being finished behind the curtain while the audience was taking their seats.  I had just closed the show before “Carol” and was about to go into rehearsal with the one to follow.  But my wife Linda had made many of the costumes, so of course I was there on opening night and we knew we’d seen something special.  Neither were born at the time but our sons Adam and Joel saw the show as soon as they were old enough to sit through it.  They each ended up playing Tiny Tim and then other roles in following years until they were too old.  We hosted the out-of-town actors for Thanksgiving dinners for many years, and “A Christmas Carol” became part of our family tradition. I now have stage managed this show nineteen seasons and directed it for five and probably know more about it than anyone except for Reid Johnson, the lighting designer who from his booth has watched virtually every performance even in the seasons when I was working on the show set to open in January – when the scenery, props and costumes go back into storage to wait for the yearly cycle to start all over again.

~Terry W. Carpenter, Associate Director of Meadow Brook Theatre


One thought on “An Inside Look at A Christmas Carol, Part 1

  1. Fabulous, Terry!! I look forward to more of the CHRISTMAS CAROL history.
    My first experience with CAROL was in 1987. I’d played General Cartwright in GUYS AND DOLLS and my best friend, Brian Schulz, was cast as Fred. Having met many of the CAROL actors, I was happy to see the show several times – even from the steps of the theatre on sold-out nights. Now I’ve been a part of the show for 9 years and I can’t think of a better way to spend my Christmas holidays. I hope to be Mrs. Fezziwig and Charwoman till my knees give out.

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