I sat in my living room with my candles burning, lights dim, and a warm sugary cup filled with flavored tea, as suggested by the production team, and intently listened to the Theatre In The Dark’s A Christmas Carol. In this 70 minute live audio play, I was whisked away into the inhospitable world of Ebenezer Scrooge, guided by only my imagination and a team of talented actors and audio engineers .
Western culture is obsessed with adapting different versions of A Christmas Carol throughout the years, whether through the means of big spectacle plays, large budget films, or even comic books. However, as I’ve grown I’ve found that with every passing year I somehow still love this tale for its striking relevancy even as the holidays and I become more estranged from one another — as I’ve grown older and more cynical, and as they’ve grown more commercialistic and vapid year by year. This A Christmas Carol stays true to the same classic holiday ghost story written by Charles Dickens that has lived on for hundreds of years. This production doesn’t try to change the words, reimagine, or re-adapt the original because it doesn’t need to. It only strips down the well-known story to create a complex radio play that feels like a thrilling tale told around a fire. Theatre In The Dark even encourages its audience to have virtual listening parties for the performance to allow communal connection with others.
With each line about how Scrooge fears the world and how we can make choices that deeply impact others, I was struck by how well this live audio play brings the story back to its roots while remaining just as poignant and relevant to 2020. Reflecting on this past year is stark and cold, not just from the loss of live theatre but from seeing humanity at its worst. We’ve seen people blatantly disregard others at many turns. We’ve seen sadness, and even intense loss. We’ve also had to limit in-person interactions, which begs the question: what are the holidays when it seems like you have nothing? As Scrooge tries to figure out the exact same question, I thought about how different the holidays are this year without the large gatherings, parties, and vacations. While we all have to come to our own conclusions, in the end, Ebenezer decides that he has the power to impact the future of others for the better, as Scrooge says “I will honor Christmas in my heart and live it all year… living in the past, present, and future all at once.” The tale does not excuse Scrooge’s past immoral impacts on the community around him, but instead forces him and the audience to own their mistakes and make up in the best way that they can. For Scrooge, of course, this means redistributing his wealth. Therefore this fantastical ghost story is able to poignantly point out both the flaws and joys of humanity, even today.
This is also due to the audio engineering, which is complexly weaved together and timed to make the story more immersive (Mack Gordon/Corey Bradberry). As an audience member, you hear wind whistling, chains rattling, and various holiday songs which help to strike your imagination, and emphasize the theatre-of-the-mind aspect of the show. As I listened, the story felt alive with each inner breath of the ghosts, or every background strum of guitar (part of the original music created specifically for the play by composer Jake Sorgen). The added sound effects helped; as each ghost brushed into the room with Ebenezer Scrooge, I felt like I was there in the room too. I was another omniscient ghost, watching a person whose humanity had been pulled apart bit by bit, and was now being restored. In addition to the poignantly written tale and expert audio engineering, the themes are improved even more by the exceptional voice acting of the small but mighty cast who often performed multiple characters (Sarah Althen, Corey Bradberry, Kathleen Puls Andrade, and Mack Gordon). It’s quite remarkable that with such a small cast of five people, everyone was in sync with one another and had timed lines out perfectly, as if they were in the same exact room and not on Zoom. These elements all work together to make the play feel more dynamic and lively with each line, which is often hard to replicate in virtual theatre.
A Christmas Carol is a classic because of the ways it shows how we can redeem ourselves from the capitalist and individualistic impulses society forces on us. Theatre In The Dark takes this classic holiday ghost story back to its collaborative and engaging roots, proving that dynamic theatre can be virtually created. Charles Dickens would definitely approve.
(Scrooge) COREY BRADBERRY
(Storyteller/Ensemble) SARAH ALTHEN
(Storyteller/Ensemble) KATHLEEN PULS ANDRADE
(Storyteller/Ensemble) MACK GORDON
(Director/Adapter) Mack Gordon
(Music Composer) Jake Sorgen
(Sound Design) Mack Gordon
(Stage Manager/Sound Engineer) Corey Bradberry