by Tania Thompson
The Story Behind the Photo: "A Christmas Carol" (Sally & Fred)
Actors Melody Butiu and Sol Castillo are South Coast Repertory veterans of both main stage series and Theatre for Young Audiences shows. In 2018, they stepped into the theatre’s longest-running production, A Christmas Carol, in the roles of Fred (nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge) and Sally (Fred’s wife). “Seeing this photo [above] again made me miss being on stage, telling stories in little moments that add up to a bigger picture, and seeing and audience full of families ready to go on a journey with you, whether it was their first or fourteenth time witnessing the show,” Butiu says.
What moment does this depict?
Melody Butiu (Sally): This is during the Christmas party that Fred and Sally throw for their friends and loved ones. Uncle Scrooge, who has declined Fred’s invitation, becomes the topic of conversation and Sally chides Fred for being a bit naïve when it comes to his uncle. She views Uncle Scrooge as miserly, withdrawn and rejecting, but Fred insists on offering up a toast to him and the rest of the party relents. When Sally takes this moment to look into Fred’s eyes, she recognizes that his unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness are the things she loves most about her husband, so she sets aside her reservations to adopt his Christmas spirit.
Sol Castillo (Fred): This was after an exciting game of “Yes and No,” which was always fun for me to remember when to answer Yes or No. This was after Fred tried to convince everyone at the party that his uncle is deserving of love, care and a simple invitation to dinner.
How did you work to make this moment happen?
MB: One of the unique aspects about A Christmas Carol is its storied history. There are cast members who have been in this production for many years, so returning each year to it feels like riding a bike. Sol and I were brand new to the production when this photo was taken (2018) and, while we were pretty much plugged into the blocking [where to stand and when to move], we knew that our unique experiences and chemistry would bring something new to each moment we shared. Working with John-David [Keller, director], we knew he trusted us to fill the moments with a sense of playfulness, a little frustration and, ultimately, connection throughout the scene. The moment captured lasts only a couple of seconds, as it goes right into a waltz, but it says a lot.
SC: I remember Melody, John-David and I wanted to show that Fred still loves Uncle Scrooge very much, even though everyone at the party feels one way about Mr. Scrooge. And Sally supports Fred, even through his willingness to be shunned by his uncle again and again.
What’s the power about this moment?
MB: It think it’s a moment when two people, who may not agree with each other’s perspectives, can pause, let the small things go and know, in an instant, that they have each other’s back. To be seen and loved, even in the three beats before a waltz, can have an impact. I hope our audiences can have that flicker of recognition when they see it.
SC: I felt the power of this moment was that Fred was fully supported by Sally, that she understood his love for his uncle, and that she would always be there for him no matter how long it took to get through to Mr. Scrooge.
Anything else you’d like to say about the show?
MB: Being invited to do A Christmas Carol embodies everything I love about the SCR family, with a sense of joy, community, tradition, giving kids a chance to shine and celebrating the spirit of the season. Seeing this photo again made me miss being on stage, telling stories in little moments that add up to a bigger picture, and seeing an audience full of families ready to go on a journey with you, whether it was their first or fourteenth time witnessing the show. I look forward to sharing stories once again at South Coast Repertory.
SC: Being allowed to do this production was one of the greatest pleasures of my life and career. To be able to tell an uplifting story, to give hope, to work with some of the most amazing talents on, off and backstage, was such an honor. I will never forget my time with this production. I hope I was able to help bring a bit of Christmas spirit to folks who saw it.