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A Color Conscious "A Christmas Carol" At Nevada Conservatory Theatre

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Courtesy: UNLV

Delius Doherty (as the Ghost of Christmas Present) and Wesley Mann (as Ebenezer Scrooge) in the Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”

If you think about Christmas movies that have endured through the years – you might think  “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Holiday Inn” or Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story.” Or, maybe “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

But the story that many people come back to on stage and screen, again and again, is the enduring adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” based on the 1843 Charles Dickens story. Ebenezer Scrooge is an elastic character who can be portrayed in so many ways.

For instance, the 1951 movie Scrooge was played by Scottish actor Alastair Sim. Jim Backus, in 1961, was unmistakable as a Mr. Magoo Scrooge on NBC-TV.  Bill Murray in the 1988 movie, “Scrooged.” Murray played Scrooge as a ruthless, but funny, network TV executive. 

“Scrooged” used what’s now called color-conscious casting when it cast Alfre Woodard as Murray's overworked and underpaid secretary. The practice has become common on stage, too. 

Director Chris Edwards. Chris was the artistic director at the Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV until this past summer. He’s now at the Actors' Shakespeare Project in Boston.

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He came back to UNLV to direct a production of “A Christmas Carol,” which uses color-conscious casting, which is not the same as color-blind casting, which he explains means ignoring a person's race or ethnic background.

Instead, color-conscience casting is asking that all the actors bring all of who they are to the stage.

“I told the cast come to the table how you sound," he said, "Don’t try to neutralize your sound or come to a standard sound be who you are and let that also be a part of the story we’re telling.”

For instance, the Cratchit family in the production is Latino and speak a combination of English and Spanish.

“The Ghost of Christmas Present is a nine-foot Nigerian drag queen," Edwards said, "To hear the story from their perspective is very interesting as well.”

Edwards said when adapting an adaption of the play by playwright Barbara Field he wanted to hear voices that people don't think of when they think of the holiday classic.

“That was really interesting to me to see what voices are we not able to hear in a Christmas Carol because of the way that we’ve produced it in the past,” he said.

But Edwards believes the themes in Charles Dickens work translates easily to our time and although the characters he created are specific they're not specific to race or ethnicity. 

"When you think of Dickens it is hard to separate out the culture of Victorian England but really the play is about class and economic status and he writes a character so crisply and specific but he never really writes him to say, ‘this character has to be Caucasian or this character has to be of Russian descent,” Edwards said.

The production wraps this weekend.

Guests

Christopher Edwards, artistic director, Actors' Shakespeare Project/Boston

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