‘Christmas Carol’ harks back to another trying time

Coaster Theatre will present, virtually, the Dickens classic as radio theater set during the Great Depression.

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The year was 1973 and the country was in the throes of an oil crisis, leaving the streets of Cannon Beach empty, its businesses hungry for visitors. Vicki Hawkins, then-owner of the Cannon Beach Gazette, came up with the idea to host a community Dickens Christmas, with shopkeepers and others dressed in Victorian garb. The Coaster Theatre Playhouse, open little more than a year, would host a Dickens play. Hawkins dubbed the event “The Low Lights will be the Highlights of Cannon Beach.”

“We did this for many, many years after the first,” said Jenni Tronier, marketing director for the theater. “Each production was different, written by a different person every year. Sometimes it had carols, sometimes it didn’t. Each year was its own beast.”

And so it is again.

The Coaster Theatre Playhouse began offering a Dickens play at Christmas in 1973. This photo of the cast taking a bow is from sometime in the 1970s. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse
The Coaster Theatre Playhouse began offering a Dickens play at Christmas in 1973. This photo is from sometime in the 1970s. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse

The theater closed March 13 — COVID, of course — and since then, the Coaster has put on only one show, a Shakespeare play performed in the park. But winter on the coast is no time for outdoor theater, and besides, said Tronier, “It’s not the same. Theater is meant to be held in those closed quarters, sharing the experience with the stranger next to you.”

Marley’s Ghost (played by Richard Bowman) confronts Scrooge (Darren Hull) in 2017’s production of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical.” Photo by: George Vetter, courtesy Coaster Theatre Playhouse
Marley’s Ghost (played by Richard Bowman) confronts Scrooge (Darren Hull) in 2017’s production of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical.” Photo by: George Vetter, courtesy Coaster Theatre Playhouse

Instead, the Coaster decided to perform A Christmas Carol — in radio theater format. The story harks back to another trying time, the Great Depression. It’s Dec. 20, 1936, and “the Coaster Theatre Radio Hour actors take their places to bring Christmas cheer to audiences during a turbulent time in American history.”

By doing it as a radio-style play, there was the possibility, if safe, of performing on stage with social distancing; if not, virtually. With pandemic numbers surging, virtual it is, though when life returns to normal, the theater hopes to fully stage the play.

The planned performance has resonated with the theater community far beyond the North Coast.   

Tronier signed on as head writer and was joined by six others, including writers from Yakima, Tacoma, and Logan, Utah. They came together for writing sessions over Google Meet, then with the script complete, started workshopping it.

Tronier said they then did a callout for readers over Facebook, Instagram, and email newsletter, asking people interested in reading to send an email. They ended up with 20 individuals who read over four sessions.

“We had people from Boston, New Orleans, Ohio, Maryland, California,” she said. “There are a lot of artists and creative people who want the opportunity to do something.”

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This year, Coaster Theatre’s Dickens Play Project is holding its workshops via videoconference. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse
This year, Coaster Theatre’s Dickens Play Project is holding its workshops via videoconference. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse

Eight local actors were cast in the play and are rehearsing over Google Meet. In the coming weeks, the videographer will record each actor’s work. It’s not been decided whether actors will record their roles from home or at the theater while social distancing.

Scenes will then be edited together. The performances will be streamed at 7 p.m. Dec. 20, 22, and 24. Tickets are free, but donations are welcomed. Information on how to watch the show will be posted on the theatre’s website, Facebook page, and Instagram.

“What’s really nice is we are doing a show on Christmas Eve,” Tronier said. “We never have a show on Christmas Eve. People are really excited about it. It gives everyone a little bit of hope, especially for the holidays. It’s like, ‘Oh yay, I have something to look forward to.’”

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