18. AN APPALACHIAN CHRISTMAS CAROL RETURNS
Here we go again! Last year at this time, we were scrambling to put up An Appalachian Christmas Carol for its inaugural run. For those that missed it, here’s the recap (spoilers ahead). Kimberly Floyd, the site manager at the Vance Birthplace, and I were brought together through serendipity. She was looking for someone to revamp their Christmas Candlelight show and I was putting together the foundational blocks for the AMC, a company committed to reviving old stories though our country’s history. To put a bow on the collaboration, the idea on the table was doing A Christmas Carolwith Zebulon Vance, North Carolina’s complicated son, as the Scrooge character. It seemed like a match made in heaven, but there’s always a catch and this one was that we had maybejust enough time…or maybe not. The work began fast and furious.
Kim and I collaborated on the script, I started making puppets and crankies, and at the other end of many long nights in my garage, we rehearsed the show on site at the Vance Birthplace. We had created an immersive, promenade experience that combined live performance and toy theatre. Translated, that means each audience member was a part of the piece, wearing a “hello my name is Zeb” name tag, and walking in Zebulon Vance’s shoes for the evening. They were led around the site, sometimes by an actress playing a tour guide, and other times by sound and light. Throughout the experience, the audience was visited by the ghosts of our story as they illuminated Vance’s childhood home, the life of an enslaved woman who cared for Zeb as a child, and the story of the enslaved lives upon their freedom. These ghosts were personified by voiceover and light through crankies (think super old-fashioned TV with the story scrolling from side to side on a large role of paper), static shadow puppetry, and static large-scale puppetry. In the heart of the piece, the tour guide explained Vance’s complicated legacy of both achievement and bigotry as she led the audience to have a quiet moment of their own in the slave cabin. Each piece was simple, but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
Our site rehearsals didn’t necessarily go smoothly, but we were confident and quite curious about the reaction. Then, the night before our opening, the sky broke open and the snow fell hard. We woke up the next morning to ten inches of snow and no chance of the show going on. We were, to say the least, devastated. However, in the true spirit of Christmas, something happened when Kim called our reservations. They didn’t care if we had to reschedule to January; they still wanted to see it. So, there we were in the middle of January putting on An Appalachian Christmas Carol and, by all accounts, we had done well. Even better, we learned a lot and the seeds were planted for another iteration.
Now, we’re prepping for round two and the work is getting deeper. The next post will be focused around the gift of fresh eyes on a project, so I won’t go into that here. It has been a joy to revisit this piece, especially given the time constraint the first time around. I have new puppets and a new crew comprised of three puppeteers and one actress, all of whom bring their own special storytelling qualities to the work.We’ve still got a little bit to go and a few more problems to solve, but we’re on our way.