If you read Chapter Three about my experiences involving stage productions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, you know it ended on a rather down note. But most of my memories of that 1976 production in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are happy ones of nervous excitement mixed with live orchestra music, makeup, costumes and, hiding behind it all, Christmas!
At ten years old, I felt I was living a very grownup life for a few weeks. When my father, the production’s director, had to be at the theater way earlier than I did and my mother had to stay with my sister, I got to ride to “work” with grownup actors!
These were my new best friends for three weeks, and they actually asked me about my day at school and what I wanted for Christmas! My parents were way too grownup and busy to ask about these things most of the time. These actors were younger than my parents, like really big kids. They were playing pretend for a living after all!
I would sometimes ride home after the show with actors too. I would walk into my house super late at night, at least for me, when my sister had been asleep for hours. My mom was usually asleep too, which blew my little mind! I would walk right upstairs to the bathroom, chuckle at my heavily made-up face in the mirror and then start the lengthy process of washing it off.
I was totally Mary Tyler Moore at this moment! One night, well into the run of the show, I finished my makeup removal, jumped into bed, and realized, only then, that TOMORROW WAS CHRISTMAS!!! I had actually forgotten for a few hours, with my mind on my acting and all. How grownup!
Then it was over. Not just the show, but, six months later, my dad’s time as Artistic Director of the only theater I had known him to work at. On one of the last days of that school year, I came home and was told the bombshell news that we were “moving to New Jersey”.
Dad was going to try to get a show he had directed the last summer in California to the Broadway stage. I knew what that meant because I watched so much New York City-centric TV. Barney Miller and his detective friends made fun of New Jersey! So did Archie Bunker, Rhoda, and the Sweat Hogs!
But I knew this meant New Jersey was close to “The Big Apple”, where Annie had just opened on Broadway. I had just seen the orphans dancing and singing on the televised Tony Awards. I COULD AUDITION FOR ANNIE! In my memory, it seems I sang “Tomorrow” all the way to New Jersey, including the two weeks I spent at my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania.
Well, I never auditioned for Annie, or any New York show for the next two years (or ever, really). I went to school, fifth and sixth grade, in tiny, mile-square, Fanwood, New Jersey. I made new friends of some Jersey kids who seemed three years older than the ones I had left in Milwaukee.
The girls had “feathered” hair and the boys carried plastic combs in the back pockets of their jeans. We all watched the new movie, Grease in theaters. I swooned over John Travolta and Andy Gibb and wondered if I would meet them as soon as my dad’s show hit Broadway.
After ten previews and one opening night performance, my dad’s Broadway show closed for good. It had gotten mostly lukewarm to bad reviews and did not have the money to keep going after that. We were now headed to another New Jersey town, where my dad took over as Artistic Director of another regional theater.
He decided not to include his adaptation, or any adaptation of A Christmas Carol in his first season there. He thought it would appear too egotistical, “too presumptuous”. He was not going to start a new holiday tradition at that theater until he was more established. I was bummed. “Maybe next year,” he told me. I would be in eighth grade by then! That’s so old, maybe I could play a young adult character!
The next fall, Dad cast me as Belinda Cratchit, older sister of Tiny Tim. I was slightly bummed, but mostly happy that, after a four year hiatus, my dad’s “Carol” was going back on a stage! Before rehearsals began, I could not have foreseen the changes I was about to see in my life, and the changes in the world that lay before me, that December 1980.
This chapter was originally published on Medium.com.
About the Creator
An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm