REFLECTIONS & REVELATIONS
by Janet Allen, Margot Lacy Eccles Artistic Director
Directing A Christmas Carol this season holds many revelations and reflections for me. As one of the first projects I worked on as a dramaturg at IRT in 1980, it feels very much like coming full circle in this, my final season at the IRT. The Dickens story, and this adaptation in particular, hold a big place in my heart. It was created by my first IRT mentor, artistic director Tom Haas, from whom I learned more than I can ever name about the power of spoken language, the power of simple staging, and the irreplaceable power of the electric connection made between actors and audiences.
Tom believed that actors could easily switch from neutral narration to character dialogue, sometimes within a single line; that actors could play many roles with only basic costume changes and magnificent acting; and that audiences would listen attentively and move along with the story effortlessly, thus inviting an experience that brings the book to life in a way that other forms cannot. And audiences and actors have continued this remarkable sharing of Dickens’s words, characters, and story in more than 30 productions at IRT since then.
Of course, many things have changed since that first IRT production. There were years with a single lead narrator (sometimes even dressed as Dickens himself), or with a group of lead narrators (a sort of Everyman band of Victorian workers). One memorable year, we introduced the cheeky tradition of English Christmas Pantomime by having a Queen Victoria–clad male actor as Christmas Present (not our most popular experiment). The play has changed shape and length from two hours to 90 minutes and back, depending on the year, replacing or removing a handful of scenes that various directors have deemed less or more expressive. In COVID, we readapted the script for a smaller cast, and that distilling revealed yet more facets of this timeless gem.
Throughout the years, there have been many constants. Our desire to gather adults and children—separately in public performances or student matinees, as well as together in family groups—has always been our goal. This is a story best shared inter-generationally, where the youngest to the oldest can gently lift their own takes on the story and learn from one another’s viewpoints. It also serves great purpose in the Central Indiana community, as a much-loved holiday tradition, a steady beacon for gathering and reflection, reminding us of the essential values of the holiday season: generosity, forgiveness, and charity to those less fortunate, removing the blinders that make us self-absorbed, reaching out to others with warmth and care.
Almost every year we opine that our world has never needed this story more. In times of world crises, war, economic challenges, political upheavals, and clamorous social concerns, the story’s medicinal power endures. We add now the call to heal, following (or still living in) a worldwide pandemic that has forever altered our world, making us all the more divided, all the more self-absorbed.
So again, with new vigor, we pose to ourselves and our community: how can Scrooge’s change of heart be taken into our own lives? As we go along on Scrooge’s journey toward redemption, we witness his long-closed heart crack and open, that he might celebrate with his family and show generosity to the Cratchit family. The story works both as a holiday entertainment and as an allegorical call to all people to examine the Scrooge-like tendencies we cling to, and to take time to remedy our own hearts and actions through the transformational power of the theatre.
Thanks for joining us for IRT’s 50th anniversary telling of Dickens’s 179-year-old classic, A Christmas Carol.
The IRT produces top-quality, professional theatre that engages, surprises, challenges and entertains people throughout their lifetimes, helping to build a vital and vibrant community.
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