Interview with the Director: Anita Stewart

This interview was originally featured in the A Christmas Carol PlayNotes, found here

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a staple for Portland Stage. Not only because it adds its own merriment to the Holiday Season, but it provides an opportunity for the community to become actively involved with the theater. We sat down with Anita Stewart, the director, to find out more about the origins and process of this long standing tradition here at Portland Stage.

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PlayNotes: What inspired you to first bring A Christmas Carol to Portland Stage?

Anita Stewart: The Board of Trustees really wanted Portland Stage to do the show and past Artistic Director’s had refused. They said it was ‘not sophisticated enough’ or ‘too big to do,’ probably because many versions are not such great adaptations. I thought it was a great way to bring the community together and I wanted to use Dickens’ language as much as possible–like Nicholas Nickleby… keeping true to the text.

PN: The production has now been running here for many years. What are some of the changes that have affected the show over time?

AS: Working on a piece over time allows you to dig far deeper into the text. We’ve been able to add scenes, find better ways of transitioning, and the music continues to grow and evolve.  Since we cast different people each year, we allow the text to live and breathe. I also find that the resonances change as we change. Every year different things strike me as incredibly potent… I think that is why this is such a classic text.

PN: What is it like getting to reach out to the community and work with students and local adult actors who get cast in the show?

AS: It is great to have the opportunity to bring our community into this production. Ian Carlsen, who is in the cast as Nephew Fred this year, was in the ensemble many, many years ago. Many ensemble members have stayed with us through the years, and we come to rely on our older Carolers to set an example for the host of new students we welcome in each year. The whole experience really gives me a way to understand what is happening in schools and communities around the area.

PN: What would you say is the message we should take away from this production of A Christmas Carol?

AS: In a world that has become incredibly polarized and divisive, if we could all take the time to understand one another’s stories, to see how they live and what matters to them—just as Scrooge does with the Cratchits and his nephew Fred, and people all over London—we are more likely to understand how powerful it can be if we work together.  By caring for others we have the capacity to change our world. That’s the message I hope to leave audiences with.

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