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  November 10, 2003

A Christmas Carol Full Of Ghostly Surprises

Jacob Marley, an eerie apparition wrapped in chains, will float above the stage. The Spirit of Christmas Past, her large translucent head glowing, will grow from five to 10 feet tall.

Andrea Rubinstein

Andrea Rubinstein, a master's student in puppetry, sculpts the hand of the Spirit of Christmas Present for the upcoming production of A Christmas Carol.

Photos by Dollie Harvey

Sculpting tools

These and other ghosts and spirits in the upcoming production of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, presented by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, will haunt Ebenezer Scrooge - and theatergoers. The show combines puppets, masked actors, live music, singing, and special effects. It runs from Nov. 20 through Nov. 23, and Dec. 2 through Dec. 4 in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre.

"I want the audience to feel the joy of the season, but we're taking a different path," says the show's director and designer, Bart Roccoberton, who heads the puppet arts program.

"We're treating it as a ghost story. A good part is about frightening Scrooge and the audience."

Marley will appear out of a void. Lost souls will dance around the audience and disappear through the theater doors. The puppet animators are never seen.

The 41-member cast consists of performers from the bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts acting and puppetry programs, as well as musicians and children from the local community. Kenneth Clark is music director, and traditional English folk music will be featured.

Roccoberton says the production is neither strictly a puppet show nor a musical.

"Both these categories have too many connotations that narrow the possibilities of what we're trying to do," he says. "Rather, we think of this production as theater in its richest form, taking elements of human theater and puppet theater, combined with live music, to express our ideas of the story the best way we can."

The production is a remounting of the popular CRT production of 1992. Gary English, CRT's artistic director and head of the dramatic arts department, says "After the success of A Christmas Carol 11 years ago, I was eager to bring this innovative production back to CRT audiences, in hopes that each generation could experience the holiday magic of music and puppetry with their families."

Andrew Michael Neiman, a master's student in acting, plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. "A Christmas Carol celebrates our ability to redeem and rededicate ourselves to the warm glow of the essential, by looking at and letting go of that which keeps our hearts and souls cold and uselessly imprisoned," Neiman says.

All performers will wear masks with exaggerated features. "They help create the allegory," Roccoberton says, noting, "they look like us, but not quite. The masks allow the actors to broaden their portrayals and heighten their movements, because they can't use their faces. The masks are also a bridge between the human actors and the spirit world of the puppets."

Puppetry students crafted approximately 50 masks for the production. Each required casting of the actor's faces. "It takes about 40 to 50 hours to make each mask," Roccoberton says.

A range of puppet types will be used in the production, including giant marionettes, life-size rod puppets, and cast iron figures.

Recently, Will Pike, a senior majoring in puppetry, and Andrea Rubinstein, a master's student in puppetry, were in the puppet lab, sculpting huge hands that will be worn by the Spirit of Christmas Present. Nearby, the old version of the Spirit of Christmas Past stands, a bit weary, with her tattered, white, satin gown still clinging to pieces of her wooden frame. She is being rebuilt, as are all the puppets, for this year's production. A new aluminum frame will be used for the puppet this year, Roccoberton says.

Audiences will experience the holiday spirit as soon as they enter the Jorgensen lobby. Traditional spiced wassail, a hot drink made with spices, and produce from local apple orchards will be available before the performance.

For ticket information call 860.486.4226.