There was a “Bah” cast and a “Humbug” cast of children in my dad’s 1976 Milwaukee production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. If you know the story, you know that Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas and says “Bah, humbug!” anytime anyone mentions the holiday.
So this was Dad's clever way to name the two casts of children, which would alternate performances from early December to the day after Christmas, if memory serves. I was in the "Bah cast". My "Humbug" alternate and I had four different roles!
Actually, it was four costume changes and exactly one line welcoming home my stage “Papa”:
"Papa, you've come home at last!" I would shout, running to my stage papa.
I could say it with a British accent. I had lived in London for six weeks in 1974 and learned it from the BBC on the “telly”. My Humbug alternate couldn’t do the accent to save her life.
I was jealous of her anyway. She had that light blonde hair that’s almost white, and totally straight, like some perfect doll’s hair. When time for dress rehearsals came, her hair stayed in ringlet curls (provided by a backstage curling iron) for the entire play’s duration, whereas mine would come out of my thick, tangled, mouse-brown hair in about ten minutes.
She also got along well with all the other kids — both Bahs and Humbugs. She fit right in. I hung out with the adult actors. They were full of life and so funny! They spoke with sarcasm and irony and were amazed when I got their jokes. I was about to turn ten years old, after all.
Then, when trying on our costumes for the first time, my Humbug counterpart told me something that I remember to this day, because I found it so appalling. She told me her parents only let her watch one hour of TV a day!
I could not imagine living like that. I learned that even the most perfect looking people do not have perfect lives to match. I switched to being jealous of the boy playing Tiny Tim instead, even though I don’t remember ever seeing him smile, even backstage.
Tiny Tim actor boy did not belong to the Bahs or the Humbugs. He was the only Tim, though he must have had an understudy somewhere. He was in all the newspaper photos and advertising posters for “Carol”. He would be the only child the audiences really remembered after the show. I knew that.
He had only only one line, like me, only his line was the most famous line in Dickens' story: "God bless us, everyone!"
He said it twice in the show. And it was the final line in the whole show. And he limped with a crutch until the end when he walked across the stage to Scrooge. I was in a crowd of bonneted and scarfed Victorian Londoners looking on, amazed.
I would be in that crowd again four years later, on a New Jersey stage. It would be a tougher, faster talking crowd coping with a national hostage crisis, a new decade, and a new president. I had learned so much by age fourteen, but I still envied Tiny Tim, until, one day, I didn’t. More on that later.
I don’t remember the name of my 1976 Humbug cast counterpart, or the name of the Tiny Tim actor boy in that first “Carol” production I was involved in. All I remember about them both is learning that no kids have a perfect life, even if they get all the attention or have yellow Barbie hair.
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