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A COVID-19 holiday treat: Spokane Civic Theatre and KPBX present ‘A Christmas Carol’

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 23, 2020

Spokane Civic Theatre and Spokane Public Radio have joined forces to present Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” adapted for the stage and specially updated for radio by Barbara Field. The show will air on KPBX FM-91.1 for the last time at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

“If we could bottle up your favorite Christmas party and somehow siphon it to you via the airwaves, that’s exactly what this is,” director Jake Schaefer said.

In this classic Christmas tale, Dickens draws audiences into the miserly world of Ebenezer Scrooge. Haunted by several apparitions on a particularly chilly Christmas Eve, Scrooge is forced to come to terms with the rapidly darkening future to which his past and present actions have doomed him. But is it too late to escape this fate?

Spokane Civic Theatre first produced Field’s adaptation in 1978 under the direction of Dorothy Darby Smith, one of the organization’s founders.

This year, Civic had originally planned to present the show on stage. But with public health guidelines and mandates persisting as they have, the company began preparations for a more COVID-conscious approach over the summer.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to be very protective of ourselves and our assets so that when we do start to return to the world, we’ve got a ramp that isn’t as steep as one would have imagined,” Schaefer said.

With the help of resident playwright Bryan Harnetiaux and Field , among others, the Civic Theatre team quickly pivoted to optimize the show for radio theater.

When the time came for a casting call, Schaefer was delighted by the response.

More than 200 local artists auditioned – three to four times the number of artists that will typically audition for a stage play at Civic. Eighty of these were called back and, finally, a cast of 24 took shape.

“There were a lot of people that came out for this that would have never had the nerve to audition on stage,” Schaefer said, explaining that the new format offered an uncommonly successful medium for community outreach.

Recorded primarily over Zoom, the updated show clocks in at just under an hour, about half of the original. But, Schaefer explained, the condensed runtime forfeits none of the show’s timeless charm.

“The reason I find this to be one of the more moving versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is that you don’t get ancillary character noise,” Schaefer said. “You get Dickens, you get Scrooge, his nephew, the ghosts. But you don’t have to hear from all 43 people at Mr. Fezziwig’s party.

“Instead we just get the real message – that we all must remember to be actively celebratory of what we have in life.”

Building from the community’s encouraging response to “A Christmas Carol,” Spokane Civic Theatre’s production team hopes to present more radio theater programs.

“Support from the community has been so overwhelming,” marketing director Brianna McCracken said. “I hope that if anything, we can give back a small sliver through this radio play of what they’ve given to us through this entire pause.”

The radio program will be broadcast free, but organizers ask that listeners consider supporting Spokane Civic Theatre by “donating a ticket” online.

For information, visit www.spokanecivictheatre.com.

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