Posts Tagged Charles Dickens

VISIT THE GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO (AND CHRISTMAS!)

VISIT THE GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO (AND CHRISTMAS) WITH THE MYSTERIOUS OLD RADIO LISTENING SOCIETY’S RECREATION OF THE 1939 BROADCAST OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL 

Gathering around the radio to listen Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was a treasured annual tradition from the 1930s to 1950s. This year, Park Square Theatre and the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society will present recreation of the 1939 Mercury Theatre broadcast of this holiday masterpiece, along with an interactive reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas, in which children – of all ages – are invited to create the sound effects, or foley as they call it in radio lingo. THE 1939 MERCURY THEATRE ON THE AIR – A CHRISTMAS CAROL will be shared on Zoom Dec 11, 12 and 13 and will be available for streaming through December. Dim the lights and join your loved ones, near or far, to tune in to the true meaning of Christmas. 

Adults will appreciate A Christmas Carol for its redemptive themes, while children are captivated by the familiar holiday trappings and the opportunity to be gently scared by a reassuring ghost story,” says Society company member Joshua English Scrimshaw. Ghost stories are traditional around the holiday time in England,” chimes in fellow company member Eric Webster. This story, howevercomes with the powerful feelgood ending of redemption. It’s about hope that things can change  people and circumstances, Webster added. “We all need hope that things can change for the better.

Three white men in Santa hats and Christmas sweaters holding vintage records.

The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society is left to right: Eric Webster, Joshua English Scrimshaw, and Tim Uren.

Since taking what was a monthly on-stage residency to Zoom, the group has performed adaptations ranging from Agatha Christie to Bram Stokerrecreating lost radio episodes (Scrimshaw’s Peter Lorre impression is spot on) and even writing their own original scripts. Until now, these shows have been audioonly radio dramas for the audience to listen to, but A CHRISTMAS CAROL takes it a step farther. “This will be us in our homes performing on zoom,” says Webster. “We do all the characters and all the foley and then edit it together. You’ll be able to watch us perform it, not just hear the audio of our performance.” 

As for why to tackle Christmas Carol, Webster exclaims, “It’s right up our alley! It’s a ghost story, and fits into our wheelhouse of suspense, crime and horror stories from the golden age of radioPlus, The Mercury Theater and Lionel Barrymore’s performance of Scrooge was  fantastic, and Orson Welles’s adaptation is one of the best ever done. 

Of course, some modifications will be made to adapt and translate the 1939 radio version to a 2020 Zoom production. For example, “Music – we don’t have a full orchestra like they had,” says Webster. “We have four actors playing all the parts, where they had one actor per character.  Other than that, we are staying as true as possible to the original broadcast.” And one more important thing, notes Scrimshaw, “for the sake of both variety and parity, we cast Shanan Custer in a number of roles traditionally played by men.” 

As Park Square enters a partnership with SteppingStone Theatre for Youth, the theatre wanted to bring a family element to the production. Webster has already released a video teaching young people (or anyone who wants to join in the fun) how to create a range of sound effects from “a clatter” to “reindeer on roof” using common household items. Ticket holders will receive a script with cues, and before each zoom performance, the company will perform a live reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas with prompts for the audience to use their new skills to create the sound effects themselves.  

As for how the audience can expect to feel after the show, Webster is enthusiastic. “Joyful!  Hopeful! You can’t help to examine your own life after A CHRISTMAS CAROL, to check in to make sure you are holding on to what really matters in life – family and friends. That’s the true spirit of Christmas. 

Members of The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society include local theatrical favorites: Eric Webster (Shade’s Brigade), Shanan Custer (2 Sugars, Room for Cream), Joshua English Scrimshaw (Comedy Suitcase) and Tim Uren (Ghoulish Delights). Online technical support by Aaron Fiskradatz. 

TICKET PRICES: All Tickets $30. Intended for a single-household. Tickets are on sale at www.parksquaretheatre.org 

The ticket office is temporarily closed due to corona virus. Please email tickets@parksquaretheatre.org with questions. 

CALENDAR INFORMATION: 
Dec. 11, 12 at 7:30 pm, Dec 13 at 2:00 pm
Streaming on Park Square’s website Dec 14- Jan 3. 

PHOTOS : download at https://parksquaretheatre.org/media/photos/ 

PARK SQUARE THEATRE. 20 W. Seventh Place, Saint Paul. www.parksquaretheatre.org 

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Joel Sass, the Adapter of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

LONGEST HAMLET: Hamlet is William Shakespeare’s longest play, with over 4000 lines, 20 scenes and 33 characters. Normally, it would take over four hours to perform.

FASTEST HAMLET: In 2008, a 15-minute version was performed by Austin Shakespeare in Texas. That production was called The World’s Fastest Hamlet; and after the show, the four-member cast then did a two-minute Hamlet, followed by a ten-second Hamlet.

PARK SQUARE’S HAMLET: This season, Park Square Theatre unveils a world premiere adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Joel Sass, who is also its director and set designer. With a performance time of two hours 20 minutes, including intermission, and a cast of nine playing multiple roles, it will be performed for general public and student audiences.

Joel Sass has done several adaptations for the stage throughout his career, including William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Pericles for the California Shakespeare Theatre as well as Pericles for the Guthrie. In 2011, he’d adapted Neil Bartlett’s stage version of Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist for Park Square Theatre, following up in 2016 with his adaptation of Dicken’s Great Expectations on our Proscenium Stage. Then he successfully pitched the idea to adapt a shorter version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for Park Square.

“I’ve gotten into the reflexive habit of exploring how to do big stories imaginatively and economically,” Joel said. “Hamlet at 4+ hours may be a great experience, but there are a lot of other ways to approach it by being more selective and creative on the story elements. I also wondered how I could manifest the world of Hamlet with less cast.”

The germ of Joel’s idea actually resulted from his conversation with former Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling who’d wanted to do Pericles but could only afford to hire nine actors. Having successfully explored that possibility for the Guthrie inspired Joel to consider a similar approach for Hamlet.

Joel Sass (second from right) in rehearsal with Hamlet cast members
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“The process of adapting an existing Shakespeare play isn’t as complex as adapting a novel into a play. I already have the dialogue, and now I must decide what comes out and what to change,” Joel explained. “Hamlet is already a play that usually gets some cutting done. The play doesn’t have a definitive version either; there are three or four official versions with variations in plot, language and order of events. I feel that gives me implicit permission to continue to experiment. I needed to decide thematically and plot-wise what I wanted to do to retell the story.”

“I made some obvious cuts. For instance, I chose to lose the geopolitical element between Denmark and Norway, which is not necessary to the heart of the story. And I contemplated this one seriously but decided to take out Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I looked at how the plot flows and felt that the qualities of their relationship with Hamlet could be reiterated in exchanges with other characters. Take the richness implied in their friendship with Hamlet; that could be applied to Horatio.”

Knowing that the play would also be performed for student matinees where the audience may be studying Shakespeare’s longer version, I wondered if Joel had taken that into consideration for his adaptation.

“The value of students seeing theatre is not predicated on exact replication. Theatre is more organic of an experience and art tool than that. Using the tool of theatre is all about how stories are adapted or readapted. What meaning can you get from reinterpreted versions?” Joel pointed out. “The students will know the play enough to know what’s missing. The adaptation will make them more attentive to the material.”

Joel Sass with Kory LaQuess Pullam, who plays Hamlet
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

With a smaller cast playing fewer characters and mixed-gender casting, Joel’s version of Hamlet will also bring an additional dimension for not just student groups, but all audiences, to ponder. What does it mean, for instance, to have the traditionally male Polonius character now be the female Polonia? According to Joel, audiences will get to explore anew characters that they may have thought they knew well.

“I’ve created a very intimate, more contemporary thriller in this adaptation,” said Joel. “I’ve emphasized the psychology of the characters and intensity of their circumstances, which can be more diffused or drawn out in a longer version. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a compelling, universal story that can withstand numerous ways of distilling events and language. We should want to see different versions of Hamlet.”

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