For almost 30 years, the Alliance Theatre has ushered in the holiday spirit with a production of A Christmas Carol. Based on Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic, the play takes the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge through the Christmases of his past, present, and future in order to teach him an important lesson about compassion and charity.
In a year addled with unprecedented challenges—namely, the Covid-19 pandemic—artistic director Susan Booth says that Dickens’ story stands the test of time and that the company was determined to find a way to lift people’s spirits this holiday season.
And, for many theaters, their annual holiday show funds the rest of the year. At the Alliance, A Christmas Carol accounts for about a third of annual ticket revenue, so in a year where artists and arts organizations have received little-to-no financial relief, the show must go on.
Just as Scrooge revisits his past to move forward, the Alliance chose to take the relic of the drive-in movie theater and adapt it for an outdoor stage show. A Christmas Carol: The Live Radio Play runs through December 24 in a lot next to Georgia State University’s Center Parc Credit Union Stadium (formerly Turner Field). Here are a few ways they’ve gone the extra mile to make the experience special.
- Three actors—dozens of voices. Typically, A Christmas Carol has one of the largest casts of the Alliance Theatre season, but for this production, they’ve proven that big things can come in small packages. Atlanta-based actors Jeremy Aggers, Jeanette Illidge and Brad Raymond do a standout job of giving each and every character a distinct voice—something they’ve each learned from their work as audiobook narrators. Director Leora Morris says that the choice to cast three actors to do all of the characters’ voices allows the audience to “delight in the actors’ virtuosity.” She added that at one moment, Aggers plays six different people for six lines in a row.
- Do you hear what I hear? The other “character” in the play, so to speak, is the sound design. Percussion artist Stuart Gerber and sound designer Ben Coleman make a dynamic duo for the auditory experience of A Christmas Carol. It is, in effect, a staged reading of an audio play, and they make sure that the audience gets an earful. Gusts of wind, hoofs trotting on cobblestone streets, doors creaking, sleigh bells ringing—it’s all there. Be sure to tune your car radio to 90.5 FM early to hear the Christmas music before the play.
- Theater goes best with food, and the set up for A Christmas Carol is perfect to share a meal with the family. Every space to the right of each car is open for sitting outside (with masks on) and watching the show. Many people have brought tables and folding chairs and order from nearby restaurants or made it a potluck during the performances. The Summerhill neighborhood has become a foodie destination in the last couple of years with the additions of Little Bear, Talat Market, Big Softie ice cream, Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Junior’s Pizza, and Wood’s Chapel Barbecue, plus neighborhood staples such as Bullpen Ribhouse, so you can’t go wrong.
- The audience is in on the show. When you drive into the parking lot, the greeters hand you a red envelope full of some cute surprises to keep the family engaged throughout the show. There are also moments during the performance where the audience is prompted to flash their lights, honk their horns, and sing along with the music.
- Essential workers aren’t forgotten. During each performance, the Alliance has invited a local essential worker to the show and recognizes them during the performance. On the night I attended, they recognized an Atlanta Public Schools cafeteria manager and her family. That heartwarming moment embodies the spirit of Dickens’ novel-turned-play in the best ways.