It's the most wonderful time of the year, because this weekend, there'll be scary ghost stories and tales of old glories of Christmases long, long ago at the Carroll Arts Center as the Maryland Ensemble Theatre of Frederick brings their rendition of the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" to Westminster this weekend.
For the past decade, the Maryland Ensemble Theatre has brought to life the Christmas tale with their original adaptation of the novel. Director Julie Herber said this version of the story started life while she was working for a theater company she began; after moving to Maryland Ensemble, she took the script with her and began producing it in Frederick. Herber said this adaptation of the play hews closer to the original text than many of the famous films and stage productions.
"One thing that I do love is that we're very faithful to the Dickens novel. We have actors taking on the role of narrators to help preserve that beautiful imagery and the sounds of Dickens' original prose," Herber said. "However, because we're an ensemble company, we wanted to make it very much an ensemble piece. The only person who stays the same is Scrooge and Tiny Tim. The rest of the cast takes on a number of different roles."
Despite directing the show for 27 straight years, Herber said she never tires of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his ghostly guides. She said they consider this performance their annual gift to the community. In addition to the Westminster performance, the ensemble will also perform the show at the Weinberg Center in Frederick. Herber said at the start, it was a challenge to rehearse the show in their small black box theater before moving to the size and space of the Weinberg theater then reform the show once again to fit the Carroll Arts Center stage, smaller than the Weinberg, but more spacious than their home turf. Years of practice, she said, though has turned the ensemble into a well-oiled machine.
"We love telling this story, and the audiences love it and keep coming back," Herber said. "The actors have been here for so many years, that it's like coming home to tell this story."
Actress Ashley Hall has been performing in the Maryland Ensemble Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol" since 1999 when she was in middle school. As she's aged, Hall said her characters have grown with her, moving from portraying the oldest Cratchit daughter to playing Scrooge's fiance, Belle. Hall said playing in the show has become a Christmas tradition for her.
"It's just not Christmas until we start rehearsing for this," Hall said. "It really is a second family to come back and do this one show together. It's my holiday family."
Though it's been almost 143 since the novella was first written, Hall said "A Christmas Carol" is just as relevant today as it has ever been.
"Ultimately it's a story of redemption. A story that says it's never too late to change or to reevaluate your life," Hall said. "In any day and age and in any political climate, that's an important message to take in. We all make mistakes. You have to learn from them and move on."
"A Christmas Carol" has been adapted countless times, with Bill Murray, Mickey Mouse and the Muppets each trying their hand at the classic tale. Herbert said they try to bring some novel techniques to make the stage show stand out among the pack. The show, she said, features some neat visual and lighting effects, and the presence of ghosts in the play give them an opportunity to try out some original ideas. Despite the visual flourishes, she said it's still the story that keeps people coming back year after year.
"It's all about humility and taking care of one another," Herber said. "It's a story about how you have to have a sense of compassion for one another. We want to honor a story that says that a person who takes care of people takes care of mankind."