With COVID cases on the rise across North Texas, area theater companies have been forced to amend or even cancel their holiday productions.
One such company that’s had to rethink what their shows would look this winter is the Dallas Theater Center. Their production of A Christmas Carol has been a Dallas holiday tradition since 1969, but as cases of COVID began to rise this fall, it became apparent to the group that audiences wouldn’t be able to gather at the Wyly Theatre this holiday season for Scrooge and his ghostly trio.
Rather than cancel the play, the team at DTC quickly pivoted and adapted the stage play into a filmed version titled, In the Bleak Midwinter: A Christmas Carol for Our Time. DTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty explains:
“We didn’t think of this as making a movie version of A Christmas Carol, but instead we think of this as filming a play.
“For instance, we’ve decided instead of having cameras all over the place with different angles we’ve decided to never put a camera in a place that an audience member could not plausibly exist. We’re not going to do things like film from the ceiling straight down kind of like what Busby Berkeley would do. And we’re not going to film from behind the scenes.”
Deciding on a film version was just the first hurdle. The ground rules to film safely were quite a bit different than staged Christmas Carols of the past.
The list of restrictions include: No kids, no ghosts, no singing, no dancing, no special effects and every actor had to be at least 6 feet away from every other actor at all times, which means among other things–no kissing, no dancing, and no close talking.
Moriarty says DTC decided to embrace these challenges and proceed with a smaller, more intimate version of the classic Dickens tale which means there’s time and space for them to explore the script more deeply.
“So whereas the production that we’ve been using since 2013 is very large in scope, this version instead is eight characters. It’s the eight members of our resident acting company and they each play one character each, so it’s all adults. It’s very intimate,” said Moriarty
Instead of telling the story chronologically, the way Dickens wrote it, this version refracts time, so the past, present and future will collide throughout the play.
“It’s really a personal story about a guy who, when confronted with the final moments of his life, has flashed before him his past, the life that going on around him in the present, and his vision of what might come after him, that’s happen simultaneously. ” said Moriarty. “The Cratchits, the Fezziwigs, Jacob Marley are all still there, and it’s the same journey toward redemption. But the sequencing, the order of the scenes is quite different, and because of that, Scrooge is really at the center of this psychologically in a way that’s deeper and different, sometimes funnier and hopefully sometimes more emotionally moving than in our standard version.”
Unlike the original play, which is set in 1835 Dickensian England, In the Bleak Midwinter takes place in a hospital room today in the 21st century. Although it’s a modern tale, Moriarty says the play doesn’t specifically mention COVID. He says the immense loss of life, the values we hold most dear, and what we would do if we were on the edge of death and were given a second chance aren’t abstract ideas and the production would be just as relevant if it were set in WWII in the midst of a national war as it would be today in a COVID ward.
In the Bleak Wintertime: A Christmas Carol for Our Time can be streamed Dec. 7 – Jan. 2. A link to the digital recording will be provided to all ticket holders and patrons can watch the video as often as they’d like for 48 hours.
For a list of even more seasonal activities around the North Texas area, check out Art&Seek’s Holiday Event Guide.
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