When Fort Wayne Youtheatre was forced to cancel its production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe because of COVID-19, the company’s director of outreach, Christopher J. Murphy, did something that arts professionals grew adept at doing in 2020.
He recalled a production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that former executive director and current artist-in-residence Harvey Cocks presented in 2011.
Murphy thought Cocks’ adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas classic could be reshaped without too much toil into a radio play for the internet age — not to mention, the COVID-19 age.
A Concise Carol
“It’s pretty concise,” Murphy said of Cocks’ hour-long adaptation. “If you look at most movie versions of it, they clock in at about an hour and a half. He has done a really, really nice job of condensing it.”
Cocks wasn’t shy about taking some artistic license when he adapted Dickens’ text, Murphy said.
“Some of the things he took some freedom in actually benefited the fact that we’re doing a radio show,” he said.
For example, instead of eating gruel alone in his house at the beginning of the play, Scrooge goes to a restaurant and banters with a waitress.
In a radio show, restaurant banter is not only more interesting to listening to than gruel slurping, it’s more informative, Murphy said.
The entire 25-member cast of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe agreed to take parts in A Christmas Carol, he said.
That includes the young woman who was set to play the White Witch, Emerson “Emmie” Conner.
Conner is now playing Scrooge.
“Emmie has done quite a few shows for me in the last few years, both at Youtheatre and at the Civic Theatre,” Murphy said. “She is a senior at Carroll High School and is one of the most talented human beings I know.”
The audio-only nature of this production gave Murphy more freedom in casting than he might have otherwise had.
“It just seemed like the fact that we only had to worry about vocal performances made this a really good opportunity to give parts to the people who were most right for them and not have to worry about their gender,” he said.
Murphy thinks listeners will be blown away by Conner’s Scrooge.
“I have been listening to Emmie because we’ve been rehearsing on Zoom this week,” he said. “I will sort of just turn my head away from it and just listen. I think she does such a beautiful job of playing the character that you’re either not going to be aware of her being female or, within 30 seconds, it’s not going to matter to you.”
Another female actor, Kayley White, is playing Tiny Tim.
Focus on Talented Kids
As befits a Youtheatre production, all the roles in A Christmas Carol are being played by adolescents and teenagers save one: local theater stalwart and indisputable grown-up Jim Matusik is the narrator of the show.
Murphy said he concocted this backup plan because he wanted to give these talented kids something to focus on in these turbulent times.
The show will be performed and recorded with no audience at Arts United Center, Murphy said.
“There will be some post-production wizardry,” he said. “The plan is to spend the week after we record it editing it together.”
Murphy hopes to have it posted to the Youtheatre website by Dec. 21.
A Christmas Carol will be free to listen to, but a donation of $20 will be encouraged.