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UACT brings the spirit of Christmas to Roseburg

November 22, 2018

Umpqua Actors Community Theatre is bringing the Christmas season early with “Charles Dickens Writes a Christmas Carol,” opening Friday.

It’s based on the familiar story: The grumpy penny-pincher named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts in one night. In that one night, Scrooge is transformed into a warm-hearted giver. Add an energetic, talented and humorous cast, and Dickens’ traditional Christmas story becomes a fun family affair.

This will be the third time UACT has performed “A Christmas Carol,” but according to actors and director alike, the script by Bag&Baggage Productions’ Artistic Director Scott Palmer goes beyond what is considered the most influential Christmas tale ever written.

“I read this script over a year ago and it was just so brilliant,” Director Melody Schwegel said. “It’s really rare that you come across an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ that is this good.”

This adaptation asks the question, “How did Dickens come up with the story of ‘A Christmas Carol?’” This unique approach to the classic allows for character development that goes beyond the norm, but still keeps the soul of the story intact.

“‘A Christmas Carol’ is very recognizable to most everyone and, in this, you are going to see and watch and read and learn about the ‘Christmas Carol’ but with quite a bit of a twist,” said Matthew Campbell, who plays Dickens.

Perhaps the biggest variation is the comedy introduced with this script.

“One of the great things about this story is that it is interspersed with enough comedy that it never gets too dark or grim,” said Russ Cole, whose role as actor No. 2 has him playing Bob Cratchit and other characters. “There is always a light moment to give you a little bit of relief. And yet, the same story comes out and at the end, you just feel good.”

Six members of the eight-person cast portray multiple characters, with each referred to as “actor” No. 1 through 6. There are 50 characters depicted throughout the play. Dickens argues, berates and battles with each of them as he molds them into the characters we recognize from the traditional story.

“The challenge for the six of us, because we have so many characters, is finding each character’s characteristics and voice and mannerisms and all of that,” said Jannie Prawitz, whose five roles as actor No. 4 includes Scrooge’s former fiance Belle. “It’s been such a fun process, because I have never done that before to learn the difference between (them all), because they are not the same at all.”

Campbell and Bob Moreland, who plays Scrooge, are the only two cast members with one role.

The actors use costumes, along with the development of unique traits, to emphasize the difference between roles.

For Kalana Granger, finding the right accents was the hardest part. Ashley Chitwood, who includes the ghost of Christmas past in her collection of characters, feels that she has pulled from different parts of herself for each character. Tom Dunbar credits not seeing any previous adaptations as a strong part of his character growth.

“With (the play) being broken down into its finite bits of the story, we can actually see the specific flaws of characters, and that is where we can say ‘I’ve done that before’ or ‘that could have been me,’ which makes it a more human story,” Dunbar said.

The acting experience of the group is wide ranged. This is Dunbar’s third play. Cole, on the other hand, has been acting since 1974 and has done about three shows per year. Actor No. 6, Nicholas Haren, was a part of a children’s theater in Portland and has just recently moved to Sutherlin. His role includes, among others, the ghost of Jacob Marley. This is his first show with UACT.

“I think what’s different from the traditional ‘Christmas Carol’ that we put on five or six years ago is that you really feel for Scrooge in this one,” Prawitz said. “In the other two scripts, Scrooge is just Scrooge. He just was kinda a jerk. But in this one, you really pull for him.”

The family-friendly play opens at 7 p.m. on Friday and will continue Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 16.

“I think the story is about honesty,” Moreland said. “People see themselves in all the characters. You could at any point in your life be any of the players in the story ... I think the miracle of this story is that its timeless.”

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