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A Christmas Carol, “A Gift That Keeps on Giving”

See how a holiday classic has evolved on the historic Ford’s Theatre stage.

A Washington Tradition Since 1979
Since Ford’s Theatre Society reintroduced live theatre on the historic stage in 1968, no play has been as consistently produced as "A Christmas Carol." The play provides an excellent example of Lincoln’s values in action as Ebenezer Scrooge discovers the true wealth found in charity toward others. Since 1979, Ford’s Theatre has delighted Washington audiences with three adaptations of the timeless Charles Dickens classic. From life-size puppets to flying ghosts, come explore how this tradition has changed over the decades.
From Page to the Ford’s Stage
The first authorized theatrical version of Charles Dickens’s novella "A Christmas Carol" appeared in 1844—not long after the book’s initial publication. Dickens’s story of the redemptive power of Christmas gave hope to the growing underclass, whose celebration of the holiday waned as economic and social conditions worsened as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The holiday classic has proven to be a lasting tradition worldwide. The novel has never been out of print and has been adapted numerous times for theatre, radio and television.

The year before Dickens published A Christmas Carol, he had toured the United States—and roundly criticized the country upon his return to Britain. Because of this, "A Christmas Carol" and Dickens’s other novels did not initially gain a following in the United States.

Dickens's reputation in the United States rebounded during the Civil War. As a result, he gave readings before sold-out crowds along the East Coast—including in Washington—in 1867-68. Dickens performed the entire text of A Christmas Carol 76 times on that tour.

Bringing "A Christmas Carol" to Ford's
In 1979, Ford’s Theatre premiered its first production of "A Christmas Carol." Distinctive for its haunting scenery and ghostly apparitions, this production ran for six years.   

Actors singing carols outside the theatre welcomed the audience. Carolers performed Britten’s "Ceremony of Carols," a version of which you can hear by clicking the video.

In 1979, for the first time in the institution’s history, the theatre cast leading roles using Washington-based actors—a tradition Ford’s is proud to continue to this day.

Pictured are John Morgal as Tiny Tim and Geoff Garland as Bob Cratchit.

Actors made larger-than-life portrayed the four ghosts.

The Dark Side of Christmas
In 1987, then-Artistic Director David Bell created a new adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." This adaptation ran on the historic Ford’s Theatre stage for 16 years.

Instead of using oversized ghost puppets and carolers, as the previous script had done, Bell’s adaptation had a stronger link to Dickens’s literary approach.

This version embraced the darkness of Dickens's novel. The stage was filled with workhouse children, starving beggars and traders, all lurking in the haunting shadows.

A Voyage through Scrooge’s Imagination
 In 2004, Ford’s began using an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” by Michael Wilson. This adaptation has had two different productions. The first production, directed by Matt August in 2004, ran for five years. In 2009, Director Michael Baron created a new production.

In 2004, Director Matt August was inspired by Dickens’s Washington performance of A Christmas Carol during his 1867-68 U.S. tour. As such, in this production, Dickens welcomed the audience and briefly introduced the story.

In this production, Dickens takes the audience on a journey through his imagination. He transforms into Scrooge, street vendors morph into the Christmas ghosts and Marley haunts Scrooge’s conscience long before he appears in chains.

In 2005, director Matt August featured a Snowman in scenes from Ebenezer Scrooge’s memories of Christmas Past—a significant departure from the Dickens novel.

A Ghost Story of Christmas
In 2009, Ford’s introduced a new production directed by Michael Baron, using the same script that Michael Wilson adapted from the novel. The new and more traditional incarnation included a darker stage and a spookier atmosphere. Jacob Marley, for instance, is first seen standing behind his own portrait between lightning strikes and claps of thunder.

This version captured the magic and joy of Dickens’s classic with dancing and carols, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "O Christmas Tree," "Good King Wenceslas" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Click on the video to learn why Ford's production of A Christmas Carol deliberately uses carols.

The scenery, designed by Lee Savage, is inspired by London’s Covent Garden marketplace. It has a large clock that strikes to mark the appearance and disappearance of Scrooge’s ghost visitors.

Meet the Actors
Every year since 2009, a company of 18 adult actors and 13 child actors brings "A Christmas Carol" to life. 

In the current adaptation, Felicia Curry plays both the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future. Curry first appears as a doll vendor who subsequently controls a puppet Ghost of Christmas Future.

In 1987, Matthew Gardiner played the role of a workhouse child in the Ford’s Theatre second adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

In 2013, Gardiner returned to Ford’s as Director of The Laramie Project.

Tre Jones played Tiny Tim in the 2013 Ford’s Theatre production of A Christmas Carol. In 2015, Jones went on to play Young Simba in Disney's The Lion King National Tour.

Amy McWilliams has played Mrs. Cratchit, mother to Tiny Tim, in three different versions of the show at Ford’s for the past 19 years.

Acclaimed Washington stage actor Edward Gero first played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in 2009 and continued through the 2015 production.

In previous versions of A Christmas Carol, the chains attached to Jacob Marley’s costume were not real. In the current production, actor James Konicek requested to use real chains and a heavy cash box to add authenticity to his performance.

Click on the video to watch how James Konicek transforms to Marley's Ghost.

A powerful story of redemption, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at Ford’s enchants audiences with the message of selfless giving not only through the performance but by raising money for Washington-based charities at the end of each performance, a tradition since 2009.

Credits: Exhibit

Exhibition Developers:
Minne Atairu, Digital History Intern
LeVern Hamer, Artistic Programming Intern

Exhibition Managers:
Patrick Pearson, Director of Artistic Programming
David McKenzie, Associate Director for Digital Resources

Editors:
Kristin Fox, Deputy Director and Director of Programming
Sarah Jencks, Director of Education and Leadership
Liza Lorenz, Director of Communications and Digital Strategy
Lauren Beyea, Associate Director of Communications and Marketing
Sara Cohen, Marketing Manager
Heather Hoagland, Exhibitions and Collections Manager
Tatum Walker, Associate Director for Digital Strategy

Credits: All media
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