For Dickens' 200th birthday, there's new appreciation for A Christmas Carol...

Amanda Greene, Huffington Post's Religion section, 11/29/12

'Tis the season for "Bah Humbug" and "God bless us every one," especially as the world caps off a year of celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the birth of novelist Charles Dickens [with] productions of Dickens' most famous yuletide work, A Christmas Carol. Cities across the UK and France have major events planned, including a cemetery tour of Dickens family graves, festivals, museum exhibits and a Dickensian Market. During the 39th Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, Texas, the city will hold a world record birthday card signing. San Francisco will host its annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair. The walking tour "A Dickens of a Tour: Charles Dickens in Washington" continues through December and celebrates Dickens' visits to the U.S. capital. Dickens' actual birthday was Feb. 7, but celebrations continue throughout 2012, especially at Christmas. Dickens' works are full of morality tales about caring for the poor, the plight of child labor, the pitfalls of greed, and the importance of neighborly love. But what were the author's own spiritual beliefs? Dickens expert Elliot Engel has said Dickens' writings did more to define current Christmas traditions than any other modern author. We caught up with Engel, president of the Dickens Fellowship North Carolina chapter, to learn more about Dickens' Christmas spirit...


Lonnie Firestone, American Theatre magazine, December 2012 issue

Theatres have good reason to look forward to the holidays, as they're a prime opportunity to get patrons in the door -- many of them first-time or once-a-year-only theatregoers -- for a holiday-themed show. The question for many companies is not whether to do a holiday show but whether to take a chance on a new one. For a great number of theatres, large and small, the Dickensian spectacle of A Christmas Carol still does the trick. But there's an increasing consensus that, like the holiday eggnog in need of an extra shot of rum, seasonal shows can benefit from a bit more punch. Theatres and theatremakers alike have moved to shuffle off the ghosts of Christmas past and revamp the yuletide in the hopes of producing that paradoxical treasure: a brand-new classic. But the business model for a successful (translation: profitable) production is inherently different for Christmas shows than for programming at other times of the year. Holiday productions need shelf life -- typically they have to run for several years, if not in the same theatre each winter, then in a variety of venues year to year in order to earn their keep. The discussion of why some Christmas shows have yearly appeal -- and why others don't -- inevitably prompts the question of what themes or qualities make the difference. After all, most holiday shows don't have much to do with religion. If Christianity features at all, it's in a more socially minded application -- generosity, selflessness, togetherness and family. [Click here to see a diverse sampling of holiday shows at theatres around the country.]


With no perennial shows, L.A.'s big theaters test new holiday programming

Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times, 12/1/12

The recompense that two big Southern California theaters reap from Christmas plays would quiet even Ebenezer Scrooge's scoffing. But holiday-theater franchises that the Old Globe in San Diego and South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa enjoy have eluded -- or gone unsought by -- L.A.'s four biggest nonprofit stage companies. This year, however, they all have new holiday productions in the fire. Center Theatre Group, in its 46th season as L.A.'s flagship stage company, is putting on its first Christmas production -- a new version of A Christmas Carol by Chicago's Second City comedy troupe. After he was designated artistic director in 2003, Michael Ritchie recalls asking staff why L.A. didn't have a franchise holiday play. "They said, 'It might not be in our DNA. This town doesn't have the Rockettes or a [major] Nutcracker." Ritchie isn't ready to envision [the Second City show] as a sugar plum to serve yearly. "Whether we'll do another one, I don't know. I couldn't begin to go down that path yet."  The Geffen Playhouse is exploring the connection of Jews to (or their disconnection from) Christmas in Coney Island Christmas, which Donald Margulies wrote at the behest of the company's late leader, Gil Cates. Margulies [has adapted] Grace Paley's short story "The Loudest Voice," about the commotion caused in a Jewish family in 1930s Brooklyn when a daughter is cast as Jesus in her school's Christmas pageant. "We're excited about creating something new and unique for the Geffen, and we're going to see how it connects," said artistic director Randall Arney. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we're hoping it can become a perennial."


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In NYC, more companies are relying on Nutcracker to stay in business

Theresa Agovino, Crains NY Business, 12/2/12

The Nutcracker at New York City Ballet [is a] cash cow. Just as retailers count on holiday shoppers for a big chunk of their annual sales, the ballet company generates 45% of its yearly revenue, or about $12 million, from the extravaganza. "It is very important to us," said Katherine Brown, executive director. "I just couldn't imagine us not doing it." The company's version is without question the city's most lavish rendition, but it's far from the only one. In fact, it's one of 22 productions in the city this year, up from 17 last year and 14 in 2010. The ballet's proven popularity packs houses large and small, so companies of all sizes have been creating their own versions to bring in audiences, in the hopes of raising revenue that can help sustain them during the year. The hope is those who buy Nutcracker will return to see other shows throughout the year. It's not clear, however. Although City Ballet fills 92% of its seats during Nutcracker, only 74% of its seats are sold during the rest of the year. An abundance of new entertainment options and people's busier lives are among the reasons for the falloff, said Ms. Brown. [Meanwhile,] Liz Muller is hoping some families have an especially expansive definition of The Nutcracker because her Pipe Dream Theatre production features a Frankenstein-like army created from broken dolls -- and no sugarplum fairies. "This is not your grandmother's Nutcracker," said Ms. Muller, who produced The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Yet she said it's useful for new theaters to create riffs on classics because audiences' underlying knowledge of the show often makes them more comfortable with buying a ticket. Last year, the company staged a successful version of A Christmas Carol that helped keep the two-year-old organization afloat. It earned $5,000 -- not bad for a theater with a $40,000 budget. "With any luck, The Nutcracker will keep us funded through June," said Ms. Muller.


Commentary: 10 things that producers of Nutcracker won't tell you

Charles Passy, The Wall Street Journal's, 11/24/12

1. "You see sugar plums. We see dollar signs."

2. "Your family outing might equal your mortgage payment."

3. "We depend on child labor."

4. "This is not necessarily a kiddie show."

5. "There's no such thing as an authentic Nutcracker..."

6. "...but there are plenty of unauthentic Nutcrackers."

7. "The Nutcracker isn't exactly a paean to political correctness."

8. "The music may be prized, but the orchestra is canned."

9. "Then again, Tchaikovsky wasn't a huge fan."

10. "Why buy a ticket? You can just rent the movie."

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