The Christmas season can sometimes be overwhelming. Pacific Theatre is looking to help alleviate some of the accompanying stress with A Christmas Carol: On The Air, a look back to a simpler time with the classic Scrooge tale presented as a staged radio play.
“The idea is we’re creating this world of an American 1940s radio studio, complete with fedoras and cigarettes, with a cast of actors setting up the studio for a dramatic reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” says writer Peter Church. “Once the on-air light comes on, you watch as these radio actors transform into the story’s characters, but when they are not at their microphones you get a glimpse of what it is like behind the scenes as well.”
Don’t expect any sort of secondary story about the radio actors themselves though, as Church says that is not the point.
“It’s not like one of the actors is late getting to the radio station because of a snowstorm or something as literal as the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge magically finding the Christmas spirit himself,” he says. “It is more like peering into window and seeing the dynamics of putting on a radio play. It really is like being a part of a studio audience.”
By staying away from muddy waters, Church says it allows the Dickens tale to be the focal point, and gives the audience an opportunity to see it on their own terms.
“It allows us to stage this classic story, but without the usual theatrical restrictions,” he says. “We can go to the top of a light house or down into the coal mines, things that would be impossible to do with a staged version. We’re only limited by our imaginations.”
Of course, helping to fill in some of the blanks for the audience are the inclusion of the live Foley artist who creates the sound effects, and the actor’s voices themselves.
“We get to reenact the story, but we’re not locking the audience into a specific characterization,” he continues. “It is like reading the book where you get to interpret many of the design choices for yourself.”
This is not the first time Pacific Theatre has presented one of Church’s radio plays, having brought his adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life to the stage during last year’s holiday season. It is also only two of a number of radio play adaptations that Church has done over the years, a result of having caught the radio bug as a teenager.
“I grew up on the Prairies and there was a radio station that played all the old shows on the radio every night,” he says. “I listened with my dad through junior high and high school and was hooked.”
For Church it was not only a way in which he could escape into his own imagination, it was also the way in which radio plays demands the listener’s active participation.
“I loved being a co-creator of the story as a fourteen or fifteen year old kid who was starting to explore acting and theatre,” he says. “It was, and still is, this fetterless world where you could imagine just about anything.”
A Christmas Carol: On the Air plays the Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12 Avenue, Vancouver) December 4 – January 2. Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.