Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits
“When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour…The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”
Charles Dickens, Stave 2, A Christmas Carol
In Kevin Moriarty’s adaptation of a Christmas Carol, at the Dallas Theater Center, one major element was changed from the original text. The Ghost of Christmas Past is represented by the spirit of Scrooge’s dead mother. Thus, this visitation holds a strong significance not only for Scrooge, but for the ghost as well as she watches her son re-live the snapshots of his memory. Most of these events she was not alive to see, as we decided she died when Scrooge was very young, so she is experiencing them for the first time. Watching her son make choices, which lead to his heart becoming hardened and cold, is painful for them both. However, she must fulfill her duty in order to help guide her son towards his journey of redemption. This visitation is the longest of the three. She shows Scrooge his home town, his younger self alone as a school boy, being rescued by his sister Fan, his first job at Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig’s, his relationship with Jacob Marley and his breakup with his first love, Belle.
I have been a fan of this story for many many years. My mother introduced me to the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol and to this day it is my favorite rendition. (A Muppet’s Christmas Carol is fantastic as well!) Of the many moments which stick with me from this film, I remember the snow filled scene where Belle breaks up with a young Scrooge. The look on her face is heartbreaking, and Scrooge is utterly clueless. To watch her release him because of his fascination and focus on wealth and power is painful enough to make you want to yell at the television screen.
Chamblee Ferguson, who plays Scrooge, fills the stage with depth, joy, wonder, innocence and pain. It’s an emotional ride, one that I look forward to each performance. In one moment he will look at me with the most childlike expressions, laughing with tears in his eyes while clapping along to the songs and dances. Then suddenly his eyes will be brimming with tears of a different quality, as he looks at me with helpless fear and deep regret carved into his features. The richest and most challenging part of this Stave for me is towards the end. In our adaptation it is written that the traditional Song Auld Lang Syne be sung in between dialogue. The two scenes that are accompanied with this music are when Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge strong arm Mr. Fezziwig into selling his business to them, and then the song is heard again during the break-up scene between a young Scrooge and Belle. The director, Lee Trull, decided that the Ghost of Christmas Past should sing this song and with the help of the musical director Shawn Magill, of the local Dallas band “Home By Hovercraft,” we created a hauntingly slow and melancholy rendition of the song that is accompanied beautifully on guitar by Johnny Sequenzia.
I find that when I sing I have to take care not to let the emotion interrupt the clarity of my voice and to do that I have to really support my singing with intention and strength from my diaphragm. I try to use the need to communicate with my son to help drive the words out of me, so rather than try and stop the emotions I feel in that moment I release them into the music. This is not the first time I have sung solo on stage, but every night I am filled with excitement, emotion and an overall full body experience as I provide the soundtrack to a very sorrowful section of this stave.
In our version of this story Mr. Fezziwig faces the possibility of having to take his wife to a debtor’s prison if he doesn’t sell his business to Marley and Scrooge to relieve his debt. Charles Dickens’ father Joseph faced the same dilemma. Charles Dickens was sent to work at a blacking warehouse, that manufactured soot into a black pigment used in boot polish, matches and fertilizer, at the age of 11 to try and help earn money to alleviate his father’s debt. Two days after Charles’ 12th birthday Joseph Dicken’s and his family were sent to live in a cell at a debtor’s prison. Eventually his father and family were released from prision and Charles was able to leave the factory and return to school. He went on to become a law clerk, then a court reporter and finally one of the most prolific novelists of the 19th century who depicted the social classes, morals and values of the times with characters that were reflections from his past.
I believe the seeds of many of his novels came from this traumatic experience in his formative years. As he became a well know writer he noticed that working conditions had not changed in Victorian Britain. He noticed a new industrial working class struggling to survive in the shadows of the Industrial Revolution. Thousands of people fled their country homes, attracted to work in the industrial cities that harbored factories, machinery, steam and railroads. These poor hardworking men, women and children were used and abused by those that controlled the wealth and businesses at that time. Disease and crime was rampant and these people, especially children, were perishing. Dickens’ past haunted him and he saw that the working conditions had not changed. He felt a need to write a story that contained a message about responsibility for one’s fellow man and the problems that can arise from greed, selfishness and indifference. That story became A Christmas Carol.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”
“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”
“Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.
“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
Charles Dickens, Stave 2, A Christmas Carol