Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Saves the World

Perhaps it goes without saying that theatre people pride themselves on their creativity, or perhaps it doesn’t. In this post-election apocalyptic fugue to which we seem to be marching, it seems that very little goes without saying.

Fortunately, I have gladly been banging the creativity drum for decades and will do so for the foreseeable millennia.

It was no surprise to me that the regional theatre cash-cow, A Christmas Carol, was featured in a lovely piece by theatre reporter Michael Paulson this morning in The New York Times. His article is a survey course in creativity. Because, as anyone who has ever been touched by live theatre knows, the show must go on.

And go on, it shall. There are as many new Christmas Carols as there are theatre artists to make them. In as many new forms and formats and venues and incarnations as any of us can imagine.

“‘This thing has kept American theaters alive for decades and decades,’ said Charles Fee, the producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland. ‘Without “Christmas Carol,” our company would almost certainly have failed.’”

We interrupt this regularly scheduled holiday programming for an important object lesson …

Many years ago, I visited a friend and his 9-year-old son, Josh, in rural Idaho. After a scrumptious home-cooked meal in the big utilitarian kitchen that was the heart of the house, we repaired to the living room to continue our always-intriguing conversation, and gaze out the expansive bay window onto the miles and miles of vista in front of his home. I’d never been anywhere before where I could see the sky meet the land.

Perhaps a quarter of an hour later, Josh tore into the room and burst into our chat, “Dad! Dad! Can I have some ice cream!?!?!”

His dad turned to him and said, “Can you get it yourself?”

“Yep!” came the enthusiastic response.

A nod of the head sent the affirmative message, and we resumed our conversation.

We heard the tall kitchen stool’s rubber feet drag in a stutter across the old asbestos linoleum floor, the old heavy freezer door swing open, the spoon clatter in the solid ceramic bowl as delightful and successful background noise on the childhood order of Muzak. Then there was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, hugely loud, God-awful crash.

Without missing a beat, Josh’s father called out, “Hey, Josh! Whatever you’re doin’, do somethin’ different!” And returned to our conversation.

It came to me this morning that this exhortation from father to son that I heard so many years ago might have been the exact subtext of what all these Dickensian theatre-makers heard this year. The thing that most intrigues me is that this do somethin’ different admonishment is precisely what they all did.

Mr. Paulson writes, “Many of these theaters are willingly running the long-lucrative show at a loss — they are hungry to create, determined to stay visible and eager to satisfy those ‘Christmas Carol’ die-hards who don’t want to miss a year.”

“‘It’s absolutely an obligation, in the best sense of that word,’ said Curt Columbus, the artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, R.I., which has staged ‘A Christmas Carol’ each holiday season since 1977. ‘The story felt more urgent, and more necessary, than it has in many years.’”

Of course it does. It’s a story of redemption. “A primer for those who don’t know a Cratchit from a Fezziwig: ‘A Christmas Carol’ is an exceptionally durable novella, written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843, about the transformation, via a series of ghostly visitations, of a wealthy businessman (that’s Scrooge) from mean and miserly to caring and charitable.”

Isn’t that the transformation that is so desperately needed in these not-so-United States?

Sarah Rasmussen, the [McCarter T]heater’s artistic director, hopes families will perform and explore the tale themselves. “Storytelling can happen anywhere,” she said. In point of fact, storytelling is happening everywhere.

And now, Beloved, come the annual celebrations of the Season of Light in all their magical variations — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and all those of your own mix-and-match devising.

Opinion Columnist Jennifer Senior writes a chilling profile this morning of the psychology professor who became the happiness expert, Philip Brickman. Despite his brilliance, despite his area of study, despite his acknowledged expertise, even he could not find a way to escape his own pain. Sadly, Dr. Brickman jumped from a building and took his own life at the height of his success.

Ms. Senior’s family too lost members to suicide. A great grandmother took the same path as Dr. Brickman. Ms. Senior writes, “We all find ways to study ourselves.”

One of the ways we do that is by attending the theatre. Another is by telling stories.

““‘A Christmas Carol” does everything we talk about when we talk about theater — it builds community, and it tugs us toward our better selves,’ said Joseph Haj, the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.”

Mr. Brickman wrote, in his final, posthumously published work on caring, conflict, and commitment, “The more we sacrifice for something, the more value we assign to it.”

From the solo extravaganza of Jefferson Mays playing all 50 roles in his streamed version of A Christmas Carol to the lowliest of lowly community theatre troupes giving their socially-distanced best to continue a tradition in small-town America, these artists are sacrificing something.

Sacrifice is a word which appears in my book, God’s Dictionary, the 20th anniversary edition of which will be released next year. It comes from Latin roots; sacre- sacred + -fice to make. When something is sacrificed, it is made sacred. Is that not what these artists are doing all over the country? Making sacred their creative offerings? In doing so, they have assigned their creative offerings an enduring, high value.

Can we do any less, Beloved?

Today is the First Sunday in Advent in the Christian calendar. Would you make time, take time, give time to this oh-so-timely beginning of the Season of Light to exercise your own creativity? To tell a new and inspiring story about our world? To make sacred your very self?

To help the momentum of change that is already underway to create a new world, one that works for everyone. No exceptions. It’s time to … do somethin’ different.

As Tiny Tim so beautifully says it, “God bless us, every one.”

Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.

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Susan Corso

Susan Corso

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Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 40+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com