A real Dickens (Full Article)
THE ORIGINAL’S GREAT-GREAT-GRANDSON
SUTTON — He remembers the first time he heard “A Christmas Carol.” It was Christmas Eve, he was 5 and his father had gathered the children to read the story that included the miser, the trio of holiday ghosts and the ever-hopeful child. He remembers how he was caught up in the magic of the tale.
Now, when Gerald Charles Dickens reads his great-great-grandfather’s classic tale to audiences during the holiday season, he tries to capture that same magic of Christmas.
“What I remember most about it, and what I always try to capture, is the sudden realization that Scrooge hasn’t missed Christmas Day at all,” Mr. Dickens said from his home in England. “It’s absolutely magical — he doesn’t know how long he’s been gone or how far he has traveled, but he wakes to find out he hasn’t missed Christmas.”
Mr. Dickens will perform his one-man show of “A Christmas Carol” Saturday and Sunday at Vaillancourt Folk Art in Manchaug Mills, which has been transformed into Blaxton’s Hall for the event.
Vaillancourt Folk Art is a local Christmas tradition in its own right, and to prepare for the performance, Judy Vaillancourt researched Charles Dickens at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which is home to the Robert Fellman Dickens Collection, one of the largest in New England.
“We really want him to be proud,” said Mrs. Vaillancourt of the venue her family business is creating for the performance. “We’re in a textile mill, what could be more fitting than that because that is what his great-great-grandfather wrote about.”
And his great-great-grandfather visited Worcester twice in the 1800s.
The first visit was a three-day stay in February 1842, when he celebrated part of his 30th birthday; his second visit came March 23, 1868, when he gave a reading of “A Christmas Carol” in Mechanics Hall, said Joel J. Brattin, professor of humanities and art at WPI and curator of the Robert Fellman Dickens Collection.
And now his great-great-grandson will visit Central Massachusetts, giving a similar reading of the famed tale.
Though not formally trained as an actor, Mr. Dickens has been acting since he was cast in a school play at 9 and has remained active in theater in England.
Mr. Dickens has been offering his one-man performance of the holiday classic since 1993, when he was asked to give a reading to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the tale’s publication.
“At that time, I did the readings in much the same way that Charles Dickens did — standing at a lectern, reading from the book,” said Mr. Dickens. “It grew from just a reading to something that took a life of its own.”
Mr. Dickens first began touring in 1996, giving readings of “A Christmas Carol” in large settings to an audience of 2,000 people, and in small settings to a family of 12 in their home.
It was on one of those tours that what could have been a performer’s worst nightmare, turned into a fortunate mistake that has created Mr. Dickens’ unique performance.
He was scheduled to do two readings in Tennessee, and the time between performances was tight. He raced out of the first venue, traveled several miles to arrive just before his second performance was to begin, only to discover that he had left his copy of “A Christmas Carol” behind.
“There was no time to do anything about it, so I did it from memory,” said Mr. Dickens. “What started as something I did out of sheer necessity, became a one-man show. It was the best thing that ever happened, and it completely changed the show.”
His props are few — a walking cane, a hat stand and a chair. What makes his performance unique is the way he brings voice and life to all 26 characters in the tale. Mr. Dickens said “A Christmas Carol” incorporates so many changes in scenes, that he wants the focus to be on the words, on the characters, and not be distracted by scenery.
“A Christmas Carol” was first published in 1843 and has helped to create a certain perception of Christmas.
“At the time he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the celebration of Christmas in England was changing,” said Mr. Dickens. “It was the year the first Christmas card was published. Decorating was becoming much bigger, and he was there to capture it — to capture Christmas in the Victorian Era.”
“(Charles Dickens) helped move society away from the old, the days of the Puritans when there was no celebration of Christmas,” said WPI’s Mr. Brattin, noting that Dickens introduced a holiday celebration that includes the hanging of the green, food, drink and family. “You get the sense from the Cratchit Family that Christmas is not all about money or the giving of Nintendos, that there is so much more to it than that … The story has lasted for such a long time because of its own strengths; it is a story of the possibility of change and conversion.”
What Charles Dickens was also able to capture in his tale were the feelings of hope, generosity and frustration that the Christmas season brings.
“There’s a bit of everybody in all of the characters,” said Mr. Dickens, adding there is even a bit of the author in the personalities he created. “He (Charles Dickens) could be mean, miserable and pig-headed as Scrooge, but he could also be generous and fun-loving like Fezziwig.
“What I like to have happen is that people come at the beginning of the evening to see a show, and they leave having been part of the show,” said Mr. Dickens.
While the reading of “A Christmas Carol” has become a holiday tradition for many, what is Mr. Dickens’ holiday tradition?
“This is my tradition,” Mr. Dickens said. “I get to live Christmas two to three months out of the year. What could be better?”
Mr. Dickens will perform “A Christmas Carol” at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and at 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased by calling (508) 476-3601 or online at www.valfa.com.
Copyright 2009 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.