• Bringing the Spirits of "A Christmas Carol" to Life

     | Dec 03, 2021
    A Christmas Carol
    Richard Soto as the Spirt of Christmas Present; Maximilian Lalli and ChloeLux Phan and Ignorance and Want and Richard Doyle as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 20 21 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Jenny Graham.

    Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four spirits who aim to change his ways and save him from a lonely, haunted end. Each spirit enlightens Scrooge about what he needs most—from humanity to love to a warning of what could be.

    Michael Manuel

    Michael Manuel as Jacob Marley's Ghost. Photo by Jenny Graham.

    The Ghost of Jacob Marley

    “Mankind was my business!  The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, patience, kindness were all my business!  And now, I cannot rest.”

    • Jacob Marley is the first spirit to visit Scrooge and warn him of his impending visits from the spirits of Past, Present and Yet-to-Come. He is punished to wander the Earth in chains for living a life full of avarice and uncaring attitude towards others. He warns Scrooge not only of what is to come, but what he could become if he continues on his current path. Despite being the only spirit who personally knows Scrooge and the only friend he ever had, Marley is direct and as A Christmas Carol director John-David Keller puts it, “The least friendly.”
    • Marley’s chains represent the selfishness he exhibited in life. He unwittingly forged it through his many careless acts, "I wear the chain I forged in life​. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol) Jacob Marley died seven years before the events of A Christmas Carol.
    • Many adaptations have stayed true to the Dickens descriptions. Although, in the movie A Muppet Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley is split into two characters, Jacob and Robert, played by the heckling duo Statler and Waldof.
    Jennifer Parsons as the Spirt of Christmas Present

    ​Jennifer Parsons as The Spirit of Christmas Past. Photo by ​Jenny Graham.

    Spirit of Christmas Past

    “These are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.”

    The Spirit of Christmas Past is Scrooge’s second visitor ​whom Keller believes, “Is there to reawaken Scrooge’s humanity.” This shows Scrooge who he once was and the moments that led him to be the curmudgeon he is. In the original novel, the spirit is described as a childlike figure with an illuminated head—similar to a candle—that is ever changing in number of arms and legs. The light it emits is often thought to represent the illumination of the mind the spirit presents to Scrooge.

    • Due to the unique description of this spirit, many adaptations have interpreted the look and characterization of the spirit differently.
    • In SCR’s production, the wand the spirit carries acts as a representation of the illuminating light that Dickens describes in his novel. His costume also is from an earlier time period.
    • The Spirit of Christmas Past has been interpreted as elderly men, angelic women, children and even as a cab driver in the movie adaptation Scrooged.
    • In a 2009 movie of A Christmas Carol, the Spirit of Christmas Past is represented faithfully to its Dickens description.
    Richard Soto in A Christmas Carol

    Richard Soto as The Spirit of Christmas Present. Photo by Jenny Graham.

    Spirit of Christmas Present

    “They know me wherever they hum a Christmas tune, or have a Christmas thought, or remember some bygone Christmas Day and the hopes that went with it.”

    Jolly, giant and only able to exist for a single year’s Christmas Day, the Spirit of Christmas Present offers Scrooge the idea of empathy and community. “He shows Scrooge what he is missing. The other aspect of life he needs,” Keller says. The spirit guides Scrooge to both moments of joy and festivity, as well as moments of hardship. At the end of their journey he presents two children to Scrooge, Ignorance and Want. He warns him to beware of them and at the stroke of midnight, the Spirit fades away.

    • The Ghost of Christmas present represents many of the Christmas ideals including generosity, empathy and celebration.
    • He typically is first seen on a throne of a large feast in Scrooge’s home to further illustrate the idea of sharing one’s riches with the community.
    • In Dickens’ novel, the Spirit is able to freely change size and towers over Scrooge when they meet.
    Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

    Rosney Mauger as The Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come. Photo by Jenny Graham.

    Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come

    “Spirit, I know that I, like all men, must die—but not having lived as I have! Not alone, unmourned, so poor in heart.”

    The Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come is a silent specter ​who leads Scrooge on his final journey through a Christmas that could occur if he continues on his path. A cold spirit who is reminiscent of the grim reaper, this Spirit offers Scrooge two forms of grief and, as Keller puts it, “forces him to figure it out on his own.” The final moment with the Spirit thrusts an awakening upon Scrooge and reinforces the idea that he shouldn’t waste time.

    • The Spirit does not utter one single line and simply points Scrooge towards his answers. Keller believes that he “says nothing but at the same time says the most.”
    • In the novel, Dickens does not refer to this character as a spirit or ghost like the previous two. He simply refers to it as a “phantom.”
    • Scrooge is quick to dismiss the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present initially. But when the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come arrives, he is quick to seek its message and even begs mercy from it at the end of their journey.
    • His interaction with the final spirit shows how much Scrooge has learned from his visitors.

    Act now and get your tickets to A Christmas Carol before the spirits visit you!

    Learn more and buy tickets now.

  • What Goes Into Playing The Spirit of Christmas Present In "A Christmas Carol"?

    Brian Robin
     | Dec 02, 2021
    Richard Soto and Richard Doyle rehearse A Christmas Carol
    Richard Soto, on the bed and inset, and Richard Doyle during rehearsal for A Christmas Carol.

    The last time Richard Soto appeared in SCR’s A Christmas Carol was 2004. And it took a medical emergency to get him in the cast.

    Former director John-David Keller called Soto at his Burbank home at 10:30 one morning, telling him one of the cast members had an emergency and asking him to fill in. He needed someone to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge as a Young Man.

    “I dropped everything and got to Costa Mesa in 45 minutes. I did the whole run,” Soto said. “I was running lines on my cellphone driving down. I played that role from 1990-2000, so I believe that’s why John-David called on me, thinking I was very familiar with the role.”

    This year, Soto returns to the cast without a medical emergency. He plays the Spirit of Christmas Present in SCR’s A Christmas Carol. The Orange County holiday tradition runs through Dec. 26 on the Segerstrom Stage.

    “I love being back with the tradition of this production,” Soto said. “It’s great to be back in a different role. I love the role of (Spirit of) Christmas Present. It’s about bringing joy. He is what we feel during that holiday at its best. He’s there to make people feel good. To share the love and laughter and the uplifting feeling during the season is awesome.”

    In addition to that uplifting feeling, the gregarious Soto also relishes playing the mental taskmaster to Richard Doyle’s Scrooge. The emotional balance his character brings, the yin and yang lessons he imparts, brings out Soto’s creativity like few other roles he’s played during a 31-year acting career.

    “I really appreciate the joy and the sternness. I use his own words against him,” Soto explained. “I’m there to show him what you do affects the rest of the world and he has to understand that in making other people feel good, you will feel good. It’s wonderful to be able to find that balance. The challenge and the joy (of this role) is to find the balance between bringing the joy of Christmas and being stern in showing that without that joy, everyone suffers.

    “The challenge of playing this role is seeing it from the audience’s perspective. … If I am the Spirit of Christmas and I share that experience of having a great time, I’m literally giving of myself. I’m sacrificing myself so he (Scrooge) may be saved. I’m trying to focus on that because that’s where you get the gravitas; that’s where you get the moments of realizing he’s not going to exist anymore. He’s going to pass on. … ‘I’ve given everything I can for you. Do something with it.’ My whole goal is (asking him) ‘Who the heck are you and how do I get you to change your ways?’”

    This challenge epitomizes what Soto does in his role as a teacher in SCR’s Conservatory. He teaches Act I: Basic Skills. This allows Soto to bring his acting passion to life while helping students understand what the acting craft entails from the ground up. His role as the Spirit of Christmas Present is literally a heaven-sent example of the process.

    “The biggest challenge for me as an actor in trying to teach students is acting isn’t just simply reciting lines,” he said. “You have to figure out how to make the audience feel what you felt when you first experienced the script: the joy, the sadness, the emotions in what you’re going through. How do I make the audience feel what I felt? I have to bring that to life.

    “How do we best tell the story where the audience just doesn’t hear the story, they feel it?”

    Learn more and buy tickets to A Christmas Carol.
  • SCR Partners With OC Food Bank For Holiday Food Drive

    Brian Robin
     | Nov 22, 2021
    OC Food Bank

    This holiday season, SCR is holding a food drive to benefit the Orange County Food Bank, a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. In a typical year, the food bank distributes more than 23 million pounds of food. They served 1 million people throughout the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 and anticipate the need will continue to grow. SCR’s goal is to collect 300 pounds of food, donated by our staff and audiences.

    The food drive runs during SCR’s production of A Christmas Carol Nov. 27-Dec.26. For every two items donated in the food donation barrel in the lobby, you receive one discount coupon for an SCR production. Take $10 off A Christmas Carol (Dec. 26 performance) and preview performances of Last Stop on Market StreetWhat I Learned In Paris and Clean.

    All non-perishables are welcome, but particular items needed are canned meat/fish, canned fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, dried beans, pasta, rice and cereal.

    Learn about the OC Food Bank.

  • Inside the Costume Shop for "A Christmas Carol"

    Brian Robin
     | Nov 15, 2021

    When it comes to sartorial splendor, A Christmas Carol is in a class by itself. It’s Victorian London-meets-a-large-cast of all ages. And everything that comes with creating, maintaining and fitting the show’s costumes starts in the SCR Costume Shop with Costume Supervisor Amy Hutto.

    A 24-year SCR veteran, Hutto manages the creative chaos that comes with building, fitting and maintaining costumes for 45 roles played by 17 adult actors and 16 children. Some actors play multiple roles and the children's roles are double-cast. For example, Daniel Blinkoff’s Bob Cratchit requires only one costume. But Tommy Beck’s Undertaker/Ebenezer Scrooge As A Young Man requires six. Each costume demands its own fitting and must be built to accommodate all the quick changes, which can happen in as fast as 45 seconds.

    And, because this is Victorian London, each costume often requires upwards of six-plus pieces of clothing. Per role. It takes roughly 40-50 hours to make one suit or one of the ghost costumes from scratch.

    A Christmas Carol is its own special beast,” Hutto said. “It’s challenging and heartbreaking and rewarding all at the same time because our costume designer who designed it 41 years ago (Dwight Richard Odle) died. We’re still using his designs. Almost everyone who works here knew Richard and loved Richard and it’s very important for us to keep his vision going. We can make small changes, but every design decision comes with the conscious decision of wanting to respect Richard’s work and his memory.”

    Hutto oversees a staff of 10, including people brought in just to work on A Christmas Carol—many of them know they’ll return to work on SCR’s holiday tradition next year. Because most of the costumes and accessories will return. Hutto and her staff turned this into a verb: to “Christmas Carol” a garment means making minor adjustments to an existing garment. But at the same time, new faces arrive, the returning child actors grow and the parts never stop moving.

    A Christmas Carol has its own designated room at SCR’s Production Center. Patterns, shoes, scarves, hats and extra fabrics that await their turn on stage are all stored there.

    Hutto and her staff never stop working on A Christmas Carol. She said there’s always a costume or adjustment on the table for whenever there’s a down period during the year. But the heavy work begins in October, which is when the “Bible” is pulled out yet again. That document lists every garment worn in the play, with directions on taking them off and putting them on in a seamless fashion. Every garment is pictured and tracking sheets with the documents outline costume changes, so newcomers to the performance, like Wardrobe Supervisor Kendall Dayton, have a battle-tested reference guide.

    Making and fitting the costumes happen in stages. The men, women and children each have their own table in the costume shop. Full Charge Costumer Laurie Donati, who has been fitting SCR actors for 35 years, oversees fitting/alerting all the men in the play. Lalena Hutton comes in and oversees the women’s costumes. Cutter/Draper Catherine Esera handles the children’s costumes, meaning she is responsible for outfitting 14 of the 16 children and handling upwards of 350 costume pieces.

    “It’s herding cats, but we're a well-oiled machine,” Hutto said. “We try working smart because there are only so many hours in the day. … We’re doing this huge show with 10 people, which I think is really impressive. We put this show together a little differently than other theatrical pieces because we know we’re putting it back together again next year.”

    See that sartorial artistry for yourself. Tickets are on sale for SCR’s 41st annual production of A Christmas Carol, which runs Nov. 27-Dec. 26.

    Learn more and buy tickets to A Christmas Carol.
  • Director Hisa Takakuwa Discusses "A Christmas Carol"

    Brian Robin
     | Nov 12, 2021
    Hisa Takakuwa and A Christmas Carol
    A Christmas Carol Director ​Hisa Takakuwa.

    When it comes to South Coast Repertory’s A Christmas Carol, Hisa Takakuwa defines knowledge. Before taking over as director, she spent 14 years as assistant director to John-David Keller on Orange County’s annual holiday tradition. Prior to that, she performed for 14 years in a variety of roles, including Sally.

    The bona-fides are there. So is Takakuwa’s extensive and celebrated work with young cast members in not only A Christmas Carol, but across many SCR plays. This dovetails with her “regular” duties directing SCR’s award-winning Theatre Conservatory, which she and her staff helped build into a vibrant teaching facility across the acting spectrum.

    Takakuwa understands the storied role A Christmas Carol plays in Orange County. She sat down recently and discussed why A Christmas Carol resonates so much with audiences.

    Tell us about your background with A Christmas Carol and why this is so special for you: 

    Hisa Takakuwa: “I have such a long history with this show and with SCR. I love the original novella, I love the story and I love (Charles) Dickens. I think it’s such an important bridge to welcoming people back into the theatre. It’s an open door to people who might not otherwise enjoy theatre. To be trusted with that responsibility of telling that story is a great gift.”

    What is it like for you to connect with A Christmas Carol’s audience as a director, compared to when you were a performer? 

    HT: “Of all the shows I ever performed, the warmth of the audience and their response to A Christmas Carol is a special feeling. The connection to the audience is really special. It’s great as an audience member and it’s great as a cast member to share in that. I love that we’re part of their Christmas tradition. It’s a big responsibility and an honor and I know we won’t take it for granted this year.”

    You come into the director’s chair with a new Scrooge: Richard Doyle. Tell us what Richard brings to this role

    HT: When we got a chance to work on the audio version last year (due to the pandemic), we had the opportunity to start a conversation on the story itself. Getting to know Richard through the conversations we had, he really views himself as a storyteller. Most actors I know do see themselves as storytellers, but he really puts the story at the center of everything he does. Every decision he makes here connects back to the story and what he wants to communicate to the audience. … Certainly his talent and his range of experience as an artist is exciting. To work with these (SCR) founding members is so moving. That’s an inadequate word here, but it’s so important. … He has wonderful presence, charisma and talent. He’ll be lovely in this role and I think we’ll have some fun.”

    Learn more and buy tickets to A Christmas Carol.