Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on: A Christmas Carol, Vpstart Crow

By • Dec 6th, 2006 • Category: Interviews

Listen to the talkback discussion at Vpstart Crow, discussing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol [MP3 30:56 8.9MB]. View the show schedule, our review and photos of the show.

Jay Tilley: Thank you so much this afternoon for joining us for our talk back with the audience for Vpstart Crow’s A Christmas Carol. What I want to mention first of all for those of you who are new to Vpstart Crow, we’re one of the few professional companies in the Prince William County/Manassas area. What we do is specialize in the works of William Shakespeare and other theater classics including A Christmas Carol. I don’t believe he’s with us today, but this adaptation of A Christmas Carol was by Stephen J. Cramer. He’s not only the managing director of Vpstart Crow, but he’s also the owner of the Cramer Center. So I want to give Steve a round of applause. We’ve basically been performing his adaptation for the past three years. This is the third year in a row.

I want to just pass the microphone around and let the production team and the cast introduce themselves and then we’ll get to your questions. Of course I forget this every time. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jay Tilley. Not only have I had the pleasure and privilege of performing here several times, but I’m the director of communications here.

Rich Prien: I’m playing Fred, Scrooge’s Nephew. I’m also playing Young Ebeneezer in the past. And the undertaker and a Passerby.

Marcus Lawrence: I play Bob Crachit and the drunk guy at the party.

Alex Perez: I play Fezziwig and I’m also one of the gentlemen. And many others.

Laura Rocklyn: I play Belle, Elizabeth, and the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Molly Kaufman: I play Sara Wilkins and Emily Ludlow.

Molly McChrystal: I play Belinda Crachit and Girl at Fred’s party.

Kathryn Kent Hutchins: I play the Charwoman and Old Belle.

Erin McGuire: I play young Fan, Scrooge’s sister, and Fred’s daughter Fan.

Catherine Nelson Hassett: I play Christmas Past and Martha Crachit.

Penny McKee: I play Martha Crachit. No, Mrs. Crachit, you’re Martha. I’m the mom. Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Dilber.

Joshua Weis: I play Boy Scrooge, Peter Crachit, caroling boy, turkey boy and Ignorance. I just appear on stage I don’t really do anything.

Neil Scartz: I play Tiny Tim and Want and Thomas Hatch.

Cory Eskeridge: Who am I this year? Dickens and Marley. Yeah, that’s right.

Tom Pentecost: I play Scrooge.

James Jones: I play Master Higgins, some random party guy, a miner, Old Joe, and the poulterer.

Zach Arnold: I play Dick Wilkins, young and old, one of the gentleman, Christmas Present, and I think that’s it.

Melissa York Tilley: I am the production manager and the costume designer.

Liz Stock: I’m the Stage Manager.

Carla Okouchi: I helped paint the set black and working back stage.

Carl Brandt Long: I’m the director.

Kelsey Steven: I am lights.

Ray Shotwell: Me and Kelsey both do lights and sound. We switch off every night.

Sallie Willows: I’m the Assistant Stage Manager.

Jay: Who is brave enough, courageous enough. You. Alright, the first question. Does he get any kind of a prize or anything? Actually, wait. There’s one more person here who hasn’t introduced herself. I’ll save her, I’ll spare her We have Miss Christine D. Lange our wonderful artistic director. Just in case you’re wondering. The D stands for Dynomite. So now. The first question. Yes sir?

Audience: Have all of you guys ever been in a play together?

Jay: Excellent question. So the question is: Have you ever been in a play together? So who would like to answer that?

Joshua: This is my first play, well official play. So I’ve not been in a play with anybody else here and sthat’s it.

Carl: I know that a few people have worked together before. I’ve seen them work together before. I’ve seen them act together. I know that a couple of people have done this production in previous years. I think for the most part they are fresh faces to the Cramer Center. I was very happy with how quickly and how well everyone did come together. Hopefully it didn’t look like the first play that they all did together.

Marcus: Me and Cory have been in like three here. Including like the second time doing Christmas Carol. We also did Arsenic and Old Lace here. Jay and me have also done a couple here.

Jay: Who else has a question? Yes sir. I saw your hand first so go ahead.

Audience: How long did it take to rehearse?

Jay: Excellent question. How long did it take to rehearse?

Catherine: I think this particular run I think we put it together top to bottom in about six weeks.

Jay: Who else has a question? Yes sir.

Audience: How do they build the set on stage?

Jay: A truly truly excellent question. So lets let our master carpenter answer that.

James: How do we build it? Well, fortunately some of the parts were already put together for us and that saved us a lot of time and effort. But by and large we went out. Got the wood. Drew up the plans for what we wanted. What we wanted being decided by our director and then we built it, piece by piece, stick by stick.

Audience: How long did it take to rememberize the parts?

Jay: That’s another very good question. I’m sure several of our actors can comment on. The question is, how long did it take to memorize lines and Mr. Scrooge, don’t be grouchy when you answer this.

Tom: Each of us up here has a method that we learn over time on how we memorize lines. Some are very very quick at it and others like myself it takes many many days. Line after line. Word after word. Experimenting. Figuring out how the sounds come out of your mouth and into the moment. How the other actors react. So for me, everyday I get up and I start memorizing lines or rememorizing. So today when I got up before coming in I go through the whole play just to get it connected again in my head and then just before going on stage you go through them all again.

That’s because it’s not really about just memorizing. It’s about getting the character and the script into your body. So that when you’re saying your lines you’re not thinking about it any more. The words are just coming out. So the moments then are between the actors. So it is a great deal of work to move. And each of us here puts in a ton of work to figure out what do the words mean. Get them into your head and then move it into your body. It’s quite the experience. You’ll have to try it sometime. We look forward to seeing you next year.

Jay: Yes Ma’am.

Audience: Hi. Besides the new cast, what are some of the major differences between this performance and ones that y’all have done either here or elsewhere on The Christmas Carol in previous years?

Jay: That is actually a very good question. The difference between the past couple years and this year.

Molly: This is my first time working at the Cramer Center and this was the tightest knit cast. I mean no one was fighting backstage. This was the only cast that got along that I’ve ever worked with. The other ones we put up with each other, but we actually like one another and want to be on stage with one another. I think that was the biggest, at least for me doing other shows.

Erin: I was actually in this last year. So it’s interesting to see how other directors wanted to see with their vision and how they make the play actually come together so it’s really different in some ways. But it’s also alike in other ways. A lot of the lines are similar to last years. But it’s different in the entire way it all looks.

Cory: So that is an interesting question. So last year I was Scrooge. As Dickens it is completely different. The whole process is completely different. The director is completely different. The only thing that is the same is a lot of the lines. I don’t know if you saw it at last years or not, but the set is completely different. A lot of the moments are completely different than they were last year. That’s not just the director, but also the characters themselves. Tom played Scrooge differently than I play Scrooge. I was Marley much different than Marcus’ Marley was. He was much scarier than I was. And then to the makeup which I’m glad that I didn’t have to do. Thank you, Carl. It’s completely different. Every show is completely different. A lot of times every show each night is going to be different in some ways.

Carl: I know a lot of people were involved in previous year’s versions of this. I kind of got the sense of what happened last year. I didn’t want to do something totally different, but I didn’t want to do things exactly the same either. So I purposely didn’t let people talk to me too much about what had happened before so that I could approach it from a fresh view point and hopefully, everyone here approached it from a fresh view point without really breaking the tradition of A Christmas Carol at Vpstart Crow and at the Cramer Center. But also not dishing out the same thing that people have seen year after year as well.

Tom: The challenge for me, quite frankly, is that I had an idea of what Scrooge was all about. It was more the Hallmark version. The old cast crouchy over gnarly character. When I auditioned for this and Carl was kind enough to let me try out in front of him. His first comment was, “I know what you’re doing and why, but what I want is less Scrooge and more Scroogey.”

So that was his first direction to me and I knew right then and there this was going to be a challenge. The idea of Scrooge and when we finally started to communicate, which is what actors and directors do a lot, and we’re the extension of his vision. To bring it to life. When I finally asked him one evening straight forward at a conversation, “What are you looking for now?” As I’m trying to work this. He goes, “Just what I’m seeing right now. You’re Scrooge enough right there.” So, thank you. This is going to be easy.

That’s the challenge in all of us here when you have a rather sparse set and a different vision. It’s not the Hallmark vision. It’s more story. It’s more about the emotion and letting the actors really stretch which is what I think Carl was very succesful at doing this time.

Jay: Yes ma’am.

Audience: I was wondering if when you begin a production, like when you begin to go into rehearsal. Do you sit and discuss the times of Dickens and why Dickens wrote the Christmas Carol? I didn’t know because I know basically everyone knows the story. But how come he went and did it I didn’t know whether or not you talked about it at all.

Zach: When we first went into rehearsal we really didn’t actually tackle the question of why Dickens wrote it. I think each of us has our own personal ideas of why Dickens did write it. Whether it be to show that Christmas and this holiday season should be presented year round. Some of it’s kindness, generosity, what not should be presented to every good person you know. Every person you do know. That’s my personal opinion. I’m sure it differs for each one of us.

We all knew that our one goal for this show was to present it as best we could and and with as much idea of Carl’s vision as we could. Because he’s the one who developed the concept of where we’re going with the show. If we hadn’t followed Carl’s vision, we probably would have walked out at intermission to be honest. So to answer your question, no, we didn’t really focus on why Dickens wrote it. We asked question about things that were in the script such as smoking bishop. We had no clue what that was. Aside from practical questions, we didn’t really delve into analytical.

Carl: In an ideal world when we don’t need to put up a production in five weeks, six weeks, where everyone has worked together before and things. That we would have done that. But, unfortunately in the time that most American theaters need to put up productions, there isn’t really a time to do that as a whole. We did pick apart some things in Dicken’s time. The way people would act or move or the things they would have carried with them. The philosophy behind all of that was something that we didn’t really have enough time to tackle. As much as I would have liked personally. I did that on my own and like Zach said, I’m pretty sure everyone else did that on their own to figure out why Dickens wrote the story. What the story’s really about. Not all the various versions of it. This one is very close to, I think very close to what I think Dickens would have wanted it to be.

Penny: I think also for an actor it depends on how you approach your craft and your character. Some people want very much to know everything about the society as it was when Dickens wrote it. What back drop he wrote it in. What were the manners. What were the social customs. Other people want to know, it helps them to know all the different versions that have ever been done. Some people look at it and approach it from a far more emotional thing of, “Ok, Who is this person? What is their back story?” That’s kind of why we have a director because the director has to kind of put all those different approaches together into one cohesive thing. Which I think Carl did very well.

Catherine: All I knew going into it was Dickens began writing in October for publishing by Christmas of the same year. That alone was enough motivation for me. Because if he could could pull together all those characters in that little time. I didn’t know how, but I knew that I should definitely be able to pull together my two characters in that time.

Jay: Ok, yes ma’am.

Audience: This is a great opportunity I think to be able to talk to the cast. I have this question. You make it look so easy. I want to know how many of you actually learned your craft by by just volunteering in community events like this and how many of you have actually gone to some kind of school to be an actor and where did you go?

Marcus: I think I took like one acting class and decided I didn’t want to sit in a classroom anymore and went out on auditions. You just sort of learn by that really. I mean everyone has a different process. Some people feel that a classroom is a more nurturing environment. Some people would choose simply to learn by doing. Or actually would prefer some sort of constructive/negative criticism.

Alex: Different approach from Marcus as well. I went to school, to the National Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts and did a rep theater for two years. Their college program is four years. That was exciting. Prior to that I did seven years of improv. And I’ve got to say improv is great for an actor. If anyone tries it, it’s great for developing characters and what not.

Laura: I’m more similar to Alex in that I went to college and majored in theater and British Literature with a specialization in Shakespeare to tie those two together. I spent a summer at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London studying Shakespeare. So I did a lot of training. Then I came back to DC and joined the National Players which is a company that trains young actors while giving them the opportunity to perform. I sort of took any chance I could get to learn more about what I’m doing.

Molly: I actually took neither of those approaches. I started as a professional clown and mime in Baltimore. I didn’t know anything about auditioning or, yeah I was a carney that’s right. I had no idea about the auditioning process for a typical theater and then I started reading Shakespeare when I was about nine or ten. And I was like, “Oh, this makes sense to me.” I went to auditions. The first play I ever did was a Shakespeare theater and from then it blossomed into this. It was a different approach. Not what I would recommend, but it was an interesting way to get started.

Penny: I planned to be an actress way back when in high school. I did all the high school shows and took classes and had coaching and then went of to college to do something else entirely. After college I went to New York and I trained seriously. I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. Then I did bunches and bunches of workshops. Then I decided I didn’t really want to be a starving actress. I like eating. I went off and I had a life for about ten or fifteen years before I decided to get back into it. I think actually that sort of helped make me a better actress with more confidence.

Tom: I started late. Retired military. Always wanted to take an acting class. Ended up taking one in Washington DC. I received a little bit of support from some instructors to go ahead and try a few scene study classes. From that started auditioning and taking classes as I can between work and productions at Shakespeare Theatre and Wooly Mammoth. I can highly recommend it as a great form of adult therapy.

James: Well I started off in high school. As an army brat I had just moved into the area. I was encouraged by my then english teacher to try out for the school play. I had never done such a thing before. Had no clue what I was getting myself into. Well I’ve I’ve just sort of been in it ever since. I went to college at East Carolina University, studied Technical Theater. Learning all about various backstage positions. Ended up doing a lot of carpentry for a number of years. Now I’m finally getting back to being on stage again.

Zach: I first started off in high school theater because I wanted to meet women, to be perfectly and thoroughly honest. My senior year I went and did a monologue at the Virginia Thesbian conference in Radford. I won which meant I got to compete in Lincoln, Nebraska that summer at the International Thesbian Conference. And so I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m actually kind of good. Maybe I should see if I could train for this.” So I went to the Barter Conservatory which is at Emory and Henry College in southwestern Virginia. I studied there for about three years. And in the summers I did internships at the Barter Theatre. The Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre. And Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama. Each of those three theaters are so different in their approaches and what they do that it was really good all around training. And made me the guy I am today.

Cory: Took a couple classes in high school and then got into Engineering. And just kind of baled out of theater and performance for about ten years. My whole philospophy is that you can study and you can be technically perfect, but if the audience doesn’t feel it, it doesn’t matter. So my approach is just be the character. Be that person that you’re supposed to be and it’ll come through and the audience will feel what they need to feel to make the production successful. So the technical stuff is necessary and you do need to learn it, but you just have to feel it and do it.

Jay: While we still have a little bit of time. One thing I would like to take the chance is let us hear from the production team and hear a little bit of their thoughts. Because frankly as wonderful as this cast is, without a good production team, without people working hard behind the scenes. There are no shows. Period. Let’s start off with Carla and just work our way down.

Carla: I was basically just supporting my fiance in this production which he has done several times. And then I got roped into, “Do you want to build the set? Sure, I’ll paint. How ’bout come back stage? We might need an extra hand. Ok. Well, we might need an assistant stage manger one night. Can you watch and follow? So that’s what I’m here for. It’s a great learning process. I’m typically on stage as a performer and have enjoyed that thoroughly. I’ve played an assistant stage manager in Noises Off! So now I’m actually getting to know what that entails. I’ll hand it to the real stage manger.

Liz: I kind of got asked to do this by a bunch of people. They’re like, “Come do this.” and I’m like “Ok.” I went to college for theater and now I sell tires somehow. This process I’ve been with since auditions. I’ve watched the cast come together. I would say that probably, going back to the earlier question that maybe either three or four of them have either knew each other or had worked with each other. And everyone else out of the sixteen of us or out of the eighteen of us that were here from the beginning haven’t ever worked together. This cast came together and it’s been an awesome experience with everybody. And definitely a learning experience because I also got thrown into lights which I’ve never done and I’m like, “Oh. Ok.” Going to college for theater I had some experience in doing it, but other than that. I’m like, “Ok. this is real.” It’s been a great process and the cast is awesome.

Melissa: As the Production Manager I have done that for several productions here. I just come in at the last minute and pick up all the pieces is basically my job. And as the costumer, this is actually the first time I have actually designed the costumes. That was a new experience for me and I’m grateful to have had it. I liked the product and I hope everyone else does.

Sallie: I’ve actually worked on quite a few productions with Vpstart Crow. Most recently I was playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and I got a phone call. Actually it was a voice mail from Carl saying Sallie, would you like to be the Assistant Stage Manager? And I thought, “Oh jees.” Then I thought, “Yeah.” Just tattoo “Sucker” across my forehead again. But I said yes. I’ll do anything for you Carl. And that’s how I got it.

Kelsey: I’ve done a lot of high school technical theater. Carl came to me during my Psychology class and, “So, do you want a job?” I agreed. It’s been a lot of fun. This has been a great experience for me. Getting into my senior year of high school and going to college and getting as much experience as I can. This has been a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed it.

Ray: This is like my second year with actual theater. I was never really into it. My brother’s ex girlfriend got me into it. I’m thankful that Carl gave me and Kelsey the chance to do this. Carl came up to me on my way to lunch. He was like, “Ray. Would you like to do lights for a show?” I’m like, “What?” I’m like, “OK.” “You’re going to learn a new board.” I’m like, “Yeah?” He comes up to Kelsey in her Psychology class. He asked her the same thing and she probably had the same reaction. He comes into my German class and says something to my German teacher. I forgot what. It was weird, but I’m really glad to be here. I’ve worked with Molly before. Everybody else, no. Liz is probably one of the best stage mangers I’ve worked for and I’ve only worked for two.

Jay: I believe we have some closing remarks from our artistic director Miss Lange.

Chrstine Lange: I’ll let Jay sum up total, but one of the things I did want to say was I have a degree in theater also with an emphasis in directing from George Mason. As you’ve kind of gotten a feeling about it. It’s not about your degree. And it’s not about how many classes you take. It’s about how much effort you put into learning. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been on stage or how far you go in terms of going to Broadway or being on the Shakespeare Theater stage. The important thing is to always have the attitude that there’s always something new to learn. That you’re always gaining new information from every experience in your life and then putting that all together.

Everybody was actually very polite. I was actually one of the co-direcors for Christmas Carol last year. So it was very nice of them to just say things were different. We have been using basically the same script for about three years. This year one of the major things was tightening it up a little bit. Getting a somewhat smaller cast. And then Carl’s stylistic choices were very different from what we did last year. But one of the exciting things about doing this kind of show.

It made me think of it when you asked your question, too about why Dickens wrote this show. The reality is it’s a story everybody knows. And the interesting thing is to make it have that same effect that was part of that original intention. And to focus on that whether it comes from having sort of a minimalist stage and sort of consistent minimalist costumes or having a much bigger whiz bang production. It’s really about following through to telling that story and following through on that intent. I think this cast did an amazing job with that too. It’s really exciting to see something so similar yet so wonderfully different. Thqnk you all so much for the work that you’ve done and are continuing to do and thank you all so much for coming.

Jay: Well, I just want to thank everyone again for coming today and joining us for our talkback. I always feel like this is a lot of fun for everyone on both sides of the curtain. It’s a great way to learn about what it takes to put on a show and how much all of us appreciate you the audience because without the audience there is no show. What’s the point of doing it?

I do want to mention in closing that we do have two more weekends left. Fridays and Saturday at eight and Sundays at two. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, cousins. Come again. Bring people with you. Also want to point out on the 10th, Sunday December the 10th we’re going to have a staged reading. It’s part of our staged reading called Upstage. We are promoting original works by local and regional playwrights. We’re going to to a reading of Open Me Carefully which is drama about Emily Dickinson. Admission is free. It’s going to be at 6 o’clock. I think because you enjoyed this show so much, you’re going to want to come back. Then go have dinner. Then come back for the staged reading.

But again thanks again everyone and thanks again to Mike and Laura Clark from And that’s it. Thank you.

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One Response »

  1. Thanks Mike and Laura! 🙂

    Jay Tilley
    Director of Communications
    Vpstart Crow Productions, Inc.