Lisa Condit and Troy Siebels give an update on this year’s production of A Christmas Carol, including what The Hanover Theatre has done to make the arts accessible. Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Then tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Lisa: Welcome back to Behind The Scenes at The Hanover Theatre! This is Lisa Condit, and I am here with Troy Siebels, our President and CEO and we’re talking about all things behind the scenes! Our holiday season kicks off with our production of The Nutcracker, then one of our favorite internal and external productions, A Christmas Carol. Troy, what more can we say about A Christmas Carol, right?
Troy: That’s right, it’s what I love! We’ve done it every year now and this is our 13th production. Last year in the heat of the pandemic, we couldn’t do a full production so we pivoted and did something creative. We filmed an 8-person version of it that we made available on demand. This year, we’re really excited to be able to bring back the big production.
Lisa: Every year, Troy, you do new things to keep it fresh. I’ve seen it every single year and love it. This year, I think that the pandemic inspired us to take a step back, be strategic, and really think about where we want our organization to go and how we want to connect with the community. You’ve made some really interesting choices in the cast and the roles; do you want to touch on that a little bit?
Troy: Absolutely. There are new cast members every year, but this year is unique because we have a new Ebenezer Scrooge and a new Ghost of Jacob Marley. I’m really excited about both of them and to be working with them. Every time we have a new person in a big role like that, it brings a new energy to the show.
Lisa: Can you tell us a little bit more about our new Scrooge? You know people are curious!
Troy: Of course, and I’m not going to tell you too much. His name is David Sitler and he’s played the role in a different production once, but this is a much bigger production. I’m just excited to work with him, he has a phenomenal resume and acting chops like nobody we’ve worked with before. He’s really going to embody the role. Our Ghost of Jacob Marley is Jon Peterson, who actually has been in Worcester before. He performed some lead roles back at the Foothill Theatre years ago when it was open. Since then, he’s performed the Emcee in Cabaret on Broadway many times. He’s quite the star, and I’m excited to have him in the show as well.
Lisa: I’m excited to see both of them on our stage! There’s so much more that goes into A Christmas Carol as well. I love seeing all the different ages that get involved, from the smallest as Tiny Tim to Scrooge. The thing about A Christmas Carol and the way it was written, and the time period it was written in, some of those classics have very modern themes to them and they last through the ages. What are some of the ways you’ve been able to update the way that we think of the cast of A Christmas Carol this year?
Troy: We talk about the universality of the story. It is every bit as relevant now as it was in 1840 when it was written. Doing it with new cast members each year gives us ability to dig a little deeper and find ways to show how it applies in different ways. One of the things I’m excited about this year is our Bob Cratchit, Mrs. Cratchit, and the Cratchit kids are a South Asian family of Indian origin. The 1800’s was a time period where England was colonizing India and people were starting to move back and forth and learn about the other culture, so there were many immigrants from India in this time.
So, our Bob Cratchit this year is an Indian immigrant and his relationship with Scrooge is really colored by that. It affects the way they act with one another, and it affects the way Bob Cratchit hears some of the things Ebenezer Scrooge says.Troy Siebels
Troy: I’m just really excited to explore that in rehearsals and I think we’re better representing our own community by asking some of these questions. I live in Shrewsbury and my kids go to school with many South Asian kids and none of them were on stage last year in A Christmas Carol. I think it’s an attempt to make sure that we’re doing our best to represent the community that we’re in, in an honest and thoughtful way. This is not color-blind casting; this is intentionality and trying to explore. England was not homogenous in 1850, there’s no reason we should be projecting it as such. I’m excited to bring this extra reality to it.
Lisa: I think it is so interesting because, before you brought this idea to all of us, I’ll admit, I didn’t even think about what England may have looked like in that time period. I didn’t think about the immigrants that were there, so I think it’s very interesting and eye-opening that you’re doing this. I also have not heard of any other production of A Christmas Carol, rather than your adaptation, that has taken this view. Are you aware of any other A Christmas Carol productions that have done that?
Troy: I’m not, but there are other things that we have done with the show that are out in front of other productions that I’m also proud of. I want to dig a little deeper each year; I’ve done the show for many years so we’ve gotten pretty deep. You have to find truth in the story, and that’s the way it resonates with people today.
Lisa: Absolutely. For our listeners who may not have seen Troy Siebels’ production of A Christmas Carol, it is told from a point of view that is completely different than any other A Christmas Carol I have ever watched. I think that is takes people by surprise every time they see it for the first time. If you haven’t seen A Christmas Carol at The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, then you really haven’t seen this version and Troy’s adaptation. Visit our website, TheHanoverTheatre.org and buy your tickets! Make sure that you have your great seat for one of the best holiday productions. It’s one of New England’s most spectacular productions with the costumes, set and The Mighty Wurlitzer, all adding some really special notes to it.
Lisa: You also made a decision to change the opening date to A Christmas Carol. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Troy: We’ll have to put that on the list of things that we hope our audience will be tolerant of and that they will bear with us and acknowledge that we are in a new normal. We were scheduled to open on December 15th; we had scheduled this production a long time ago, and we had scheduled it much the same way we’ve scheduled it in years past, and now we’re that we have to do it in a much different way. Despite the fact that it’s a fully vaccinated cast and company, we are testing three times a week, and six times a week for the kids that are too young to be eligible for vaccines. The amount of Covid testing and other protocols that we have in place are just making it very difficult to hold the same schedule. We gave ourselves the ability to do it right by giving ourselves that extra day, so we’re opening on December 16th now.
Lisa: I think that is a wise decision. I was shocked at some of our internal meetings to find out about some of the rigors of what our new Covid Safety Officer has to do for our incoming productions. We are so careful, not just of our audience, but of every person that’s coming into our building. It seems like Chadyn has had a really great track record working with our touring productions and the one-night shows. We’re really excited for our own production to have that level of detail and attention to safety.
Troy: We’re mandated to do these things by the Broadway tours that are coming in and by Actors’ Equity, the national actors’ union which most of A Christmas Carol cast are with. I understand why the requirements they have are much more rigorous than any other industry that I’m aware of, because our industry was decimated by this pandemic. We are ready to jump through a lot of hoops in order to guarantee that we can remain open now; so, our protocols are very strict and we do jump through a lot of hoops backstage, on stage, and in rehearsals
I’m grateful to our audience for hanging with us and for those who acknowledge that these are not things we are in control of. We want to be past this just as much as everybody else does, so we’re doing what we need to do to get there as quickly as we can.Troy Siebels
Lisa: Absolutely! I want to mention that we have our special sensory-friendly production, our Relaxed Performance on December 19th. Can you describe how that came to be?
Troy: We actually became aware of this sort of thing a few years ago. We worked in partnership with Autism Speaks and it started as an initiative for families with kids on the spectrum, but it’s grown to be something that families with young kids who are not on the spectrum at all, but who will be more comfortable at a show that’s a little less scary or startling. We bring out the Ghost of Christmas Future and Ghost of Jacob Marley in front of the curtain before the show and introduce them to the audience. The Ghost of Jacob Marley says, “I’m going to fly down in these chains and I’m going to be scary. I need you all in the audience to help me scare Ebenezer Scrooge when I do that, are you there with me?” We, the audience, are on their side and we’re not scared when they show up. We take the loudest and most startling sounds in the show and turn them down a notch, and we leave the house lights as a glow. For the families with young kids or those who would benefit from this weren’t visiting the theatre for shows like this before, and now they can. It’s another thing I’m really proud of.
Lisa: I’m really proud of that, as well. I’m also really proud of some of the things we do for accessibility; American Sign Language is an option that we offer at one of our performances, as well as Enhanced Audio Descriptions. Would you like to talk about that at all?
Troy: Yes, we’re working with Vince Lombardi, who was formerly with Audio Journal here in Worcester, and he does audio descriptions of a performance for each of the Broadway shows and A Christmas Carol. If you are visually impaired, you’re listening to the performance and, when there’s no dialogue happening, he’s describing, in your ear, what sighted patrons are seeing on stage to help create the full picture. I think that’s really neat, and it’s something I didn’t know a lot about until we started doing it. We’ll also have American Sign Language interpretation for the hearing impaired or hearing impacted audience members. We’re also trying to be accessible in other ways, such as having tickets available through the Card to Culture program for families that use the EBT system in Worcester, which allows access to tickets at a very reduced cost. We really try to make sure anybody who wants to come see this show can get over whatever hurdles there are that are preventing them from doing it.
Lisa: Regular tickets start at just $28 and are available at our website, TheHanoverTheatre.org. Groups of 10 receive a discount. Reserve your group seats here! Buy tickets today and come join us for a wonderful holiday tradition! Thank you to Assumption University for being our generous sponsor again.
Troy: We love Assumption, and we’re so grateful to them.