The Ghost of Christmas Past and Cider Joe: Meet Longtime "Christmas Carol" Actors Art Koustik and Richard Doyle

Beth Fhaner
 | Dec 09, 2019
Cast of A Christmas Carol
The cast of A Christmas Carol with Art Koustik (fourth from the left, with gray jacket, vest and bow tie) and Richard Doyle (center, back, in blue jacket).

The years add up for many longtime cast members in South Coast Repertory’s A Christmas Carol—a production that is celebrating its 40th anniversary to sold-out houses. Actors Art Koustik and Richard Doyle portray some beloved characters in the show; both are founding artists with SCR—meaning they joined the company in its very early years. Read on to learn more about their combined 75 “years” in Orange County’s favorite holiday show.

Koustik,-Art-castNAME:​ ​Art Koustik

Number of Years in A Christmas Carol: 39; he missed one year as he recovered from a motorcycle accident.

Roles: Joe the Cider Man, Ensemble.

What are your favorite memories of A Christmas Carol?
I have too many favorite memories to pick a few! I will say that seeing the new children each year who have been cast in the show is wonderful. To watch their growth, from the beginning until the first audience, is thrilling to see. Their transformation is great. It was particularly fun to watch this transformation in two of my stepdaughters and two nieces in past years. The memories become more precious when prior students from the show come backstage, as adults, with their families.

Art Koustik

​​Art Koustik as Cider Joe.

What has the show meant to you over the years?
Forty years ago, when [Founding Artistic Directors] David Emmes and Martin Benson announced they were planning to do a Christmas show as a gift to subscribers, Jerry Patch was given the responsibility to adapt Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. John-David Keller was assigned to direct and Hal Landon Jr. was to do the role of Scrooge. I was blessed to originate the roles of Mr. Fezziwig and Joe the Cider Man. In 1992, I had a motorcycle accident and almost died. Richard Doyle took over my roles. He had been busy doing shows on SCR’s second stage for the previous three years. By the grace of God, I survived the accident and went on to play the parts in the 1993 production. The show has been very special to me, as I can continue to be a part of the gift we at SCR give our audiences. John-David, Hal Landon, Richard Doyle and I are the remaining founding members of the original Christmas Carol. It has been a glorious run throughout the years with the incredible transforming performance of Hal Landon as the iconic Scrooge. J-D continues to bring the spirit of Christmas to each season. Richard Doyle and I remain true to the play and to our roles as storytellers of A Christmas Carol.

Why do you think this show has resonated so much with Orange County families through the years?
In my opinion, this story resonates with OC families because it speaks to what we all know to be most important—life is not valued by the accumulation of more things, but rather the love of family, friendships, thanksgiving and hope for the future. As SCR has been a family to me, my hope is that SCR will give to its audiences that feeling of love, goodwill and hope.

Is there anything you would go back and tell your younger self about when you were first starting work on A Christmas Carol?
That is difficult. I have enjoyed being a part of A Christmas Carol since the very first day. I guess I would tell myself, “This could be a long, joyous ride, so keep giving and giving and enjoy!!!!”

Doyle,-Richard-CastNAME:​ ​Richard Doyle

Number of Years in A Christmas Carol: 36

Roles: Solicitor, Spirit of Christmas Past, Gentleman.

What are your favorite memories of A Christmas Carol?
For context, I have actually played many different roles in A Christmas Carol. Back in the day, the best-laid plans could run up against a clock and freeway traffic in a pre-cellphone world. While shooting a series episode of “M*A*S*H” in Malibu Canyon, on-set delays put me on the freeway late. [Director]John-David Keller was alerted that I might be late, so he and Hal Landon rehearsed a bit and J-D went on for me as the Solicitor in the first office scene. I arrived while the Marley’s Ghost-Scrooge scene was in progress and got into my Ghost of Christmas Past make-up as Marley was haunting Scrooge. J-D tore off the Past Ghost costume so I could get into it. I stepped into, and out of, the armoire just in time to see Hal’s astonished face. He obviously thought I was still “soldiering” on the “M*A*S*H” set! In the story, Scrooge is apprehensive about who or what this Ghost might be; on this night the character and the actor both got more than they bargained for. The show went on without a hitch. In 40 years, that sort of thing has seldom happened. But, SCR from the beginning has been an ensemble company, so if it did occur, our audiences would most likely never have known.

Richard Doyle

​​Richard Doyle as the Spirit of Christmas Past.

What has the show meant to you over the years?
Like life in general, A Christmas Carol’s effect on me has changed over time. I had a life-altering experience as a soldier in Vietnam in 1967-68. When I returned to “The World,” as we used to call the USA, I had some adjustments to make. SCR and Orange County audiences helped me do that. I admit that initially the Christmas Carol project did not appeal to me as some of the more gritty, challenging theatre projects (on SCR’s old Second Stage—what is now the Julianne Argyros Stage). When I first joined the cast as Fred and the Ghost of Christmas Past, I confess that it was good to have a little extra change in my pocket at Christmastime, with kids and a house payment. But, the experience and my feelings changed. It became, and has remained, a way for me to acknowledge my gratitude to our OC theatre audience for supporting SCR and giving me a life in the theatre. As a dad and granddad (my daughter once auditioned for ​and appeared in this show as Martha Cratchit ), the family aspect of this effort, indeed in all of SCR productions, is in the DNA. Whatever you see at SCR, that group/ensemble’s “Got Your Back”-theme runs through it all.

Why do you think this show has resonated so much with Orange County families through the years?
In the Los Angeles and Orange counties of the ’60s, what was new and trendy and shiny often would get the attention. I think developing traditions in this new OC became important to SCR audiences. They wanted to see challenging theatre and provocative storytelling, but they also wanted to develop some traditional entertainment events. The Pageant of The Masters [in Laguna Beach], which I now narrate, is an example of an enduring OC performing/fine arts legacy. A Christmas Carol became a holiday tradition and its audience grew to include our regular theatregoers who came to see it as part of the mortar of our entertainment and performing arts community. A contributing factor to the growth and staying power of a vibrant community—always look forward but never forget where and what you came from.

Is there anything you would go back and tell your younger self about when you were first starting work on A Christmas Carol?
I would say to a young Richard Doyle, “Rick, you have spent many seasons telling these great audiences stories; now they are assembled to say ‘thank you’. Now, Rick, do like your mom taught you, say, ‘You’re welcome’ and give them a show!”

When audiences leap to their feet, as they have tended to do for decades at the final curtain, it is a celebration of the efforts of literally dozens and dozens of artists and staff over four decades. We share with OC theatre lovers the many joys of the holiday season and a life in the theatre for which I am eternally grateful. The joyous journey continues, as does A Christmas Carol. To be a part of it, just go to the theatre. SCR would be my suggestion, but do go.

A Christmas Carol runs Nov. 30-Dec. 24, 2019, on the Segerstrom Stage. To inquire about standby tickets, call the Box Office at (714) 708-5555. Learn more.