God bless us, every one! At this time of year where need is most keenly felt, Wolf Pack Theatre Company is reminding us all that it is the season to be spreading kindness and good cheer. Their annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as adapted by the company’s Founder and Artistic Director William Dean Leary, is cause for true celebration as it shines a radiant light on the true meaning of Christmas. In a TheatreBloom exclusive interview series we sit down with various members of the production— from the show’s director to all of the little children featured in the performance— and ask them a dozen fun questions all about the holidays. Tis the season for the 12 days of Christmas!
Merry Christmas, Bill! If you could give us a quick introduction, we’ll get started and you can be the first day of Christmas!
William Dean Leary: My name is William Leary and I’m the founder of Wolf Pack Theatre Company. I’m also the adaptor of this particular version of A Christmas Carol. This is the third year we’ve performed my adaptation. It’s really exciting. Every year it’s grown a little bit and we’ve changed a few things so that it’s a continually new experience for the audience. We know that everybody knows the show and knows exactly what’s going to happen, but I want to present it in a new and different kind of way than what people have seen before. This is definitely a different version than what most people are used to.
When you say that, “different than what most people are used to” what do you mean?
Bill: Well, in my version the Cratchit family is still poor, but they are staying in a homeless shelter. The show itself takes place in modern times as opposed to Dickensian London. The Cratchit family been put into a shelter because even though they have health insurance the medical bills and expenses of Tiny Tim have gotten out of control. They’re trying to work every hour that they can to pay the medical bills, but unfortunately with a lot of medical treatments even in today’s society a lot of doctors simply will not perform the next series of procedures until the previous ones have been paid for. So with Tim’s illness, the family is putting every possible penny they earn toward making sure his treatments and procedures are covered so that he can continue to have them. That puts them behind in the mortgage, which causes them to lose their house, which puts them into the “Warm Nights Hypothermia” program. That is an actual homeless program that we work with as a part of our production. A portion of the proceeds from the show go to benefit that particular charitable program.
What is your favorite Christmas movie, story, and song?
Bill: My favorite Christmas movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I just find it hysterical! The scene with the squirrel when the squirrel leaps out of the Christmas tree? Every time I see that I still laugh! My favorite Christmas story? How about my favorite Christmas special. That’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. There is just something completely special about having the children on the ice skates and having that very nostalgic feel that you just don’t’ get anymore. There are emotions that you can see are drawn into the faces of the characters and that’s so lovely to watch. My favorite Christmas song is “Little Drummer Boy” because I love the way it takes something that should be a very sad moment and really makes it interesting and accessible to pretty much everybody. He’s the little poor boy that has no gift. A couple of years ago I actually wanted to put it into our show, but because it’s not in the public domain so we couldn’t use it. So many of the well-known Christmas songs actually aren’t in the public domain.
Why did you want to be involved with Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s production of A Christmas Carol this year?
Bill: Oh, I don’t know, I just thought it might be a fun thing to do.
Sorry, Bill, that question is actually for everyone else in the series. Let me try to change that question for you, since you founded the company, wrote the adaptation, and are directing the production. What is the continuing drive to want to do the show again?
Bill: For A Christmas Carol itself? This is like my 82nd involvement in some way or another. I’ve been involved with dozens of productions in many different capacities over the years. But one of the driving forces that keeps me wanting to do this particular show with Wolf Pack again and again every year is because I am involved with Community Crisis Services and I am also involved with the Warm Nights Program. Those involvements help me want to keep Wolf Pack true to their mission statement of giving back to the community. In this case that is done through not only the Warm Nights Program but also through Bountiful Blessings, a program offered here at St. John’s (St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.) Bountiful Blessings is a program that gives non-food items to people who are in need. Things like laundry detergent, garbage bags, toilet paper, diapers, all those sorts of things that you can’t get with food stamps. It’s a way not only for Wolf Pack to give back to the community but it’s a way for us to remember that we haven’t come so far that we couldn’t be back into that poor little point where nobody’s going to want to see us. It’s a way for us to be able to get back to our roots and find out who we are as a company again.
If you had a chance to give Scrooge something for Christmas, what would you give him?
Bill: A swift kick in the behind.
Scrooge the character, not Scrooge the actor, Bill.
Bill: Scrooge the character? Oh. Well— actually, yeah I have to stick with my original statement. I’d give him a swift kick in the behind. With Scrooge he’s not a bad person. He really isn’t. What he sees as normal behavior and being able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps— the rest of the world sees that as crotchety, mean, and very ill-spirited. Scrooge isn’t mean or ill-spirited. He’s simply somebody that thinks everyone should have the same advantages that he now enjoys. He’s forgetting the fact that people he grew up with did not have those same advantages, they did not have the same basis to build on. Look at Donald Trump. He forgets the fact that he came from money.
And I know I’m jumping backward a little bit here, but it ties in with that whole “everyone has a fair opportunity” idea. This year’s production of Christmas Carol is being made very readily accessible to youth groups and senior groups. We’re offering a special price of $8 for both Saturday matinees for any Girl or Boy Scout troupe, any senior group, any sporting group, or groups of kids that just don’t have money. For every five paid youths admitted in a group we’re giving away a free chaperone ticket so that way six people can come see the show for $40. That’s a pretty good deal. Out of the $8 ticket cost $3 goes directly back to St. John’s for their Bountiful Blessings program, and $2 goes directly to Warm Nights.
What is the message that you think Wolf Pack’s production of A Christmas Carol is sending?
Bill: I think it sends the message that we need to be connected. We need to stay connected. Art cannot stand on its own. It has to be accessible to the community. It has to be accessible to people that are not as well off as many of us are. Art is a way of healing. A lot of times with live theatre you can take someone who is developmentally disabled, and when they experience all the lights and sounds of live theatre it can take them to places they’ve never been before and they can find a peace within it. There have been numerous studies done with people who are in prison for committing very violent crimes can often be calmed down with music. I want the community to have access to theatre. I want theatre to be something that helps the community. I don’t think that those two things should ever be exclusive.
Do you believe in Christmas magic and miracles? Care to share one with us?
Bill: Oh, of course I believe! I had a pretty serious health scare last year. I found out that I was okay on Christmas Eve so it really was my own little Christmas miracle.
What is your favorite Christmas food?
Bill: Turkey. I don’t know why. I just like turkey. I like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes…and as I say that I realize that sounds a little more Thanksgiving-y, but for me it goes for Christmas too. Give me the Christmas feast food.
What is the true meaning of Christmas for you?
Bill: Oh good lord. The true meaning of Christmas, I think, really needs to be one of forgiveness. It’s not always about the presents. We all make these happy little speeches about loving one another but Christmas really needs to be about finding your own peace. Whether that is going off alone to the woods and taking a hike, spending the time with family, or going and seeing a show on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day all by yourself, Christmas needs to be a time to find your own inner peace and not find all of the hoopla that surrounds it.
Yes, the hoopla can be fun and God knows I love decorating. We actually have enough light cues in this show that I won’t have to decorate my house— I will anyway, but you get the point. For me, Christmas is finding where I belong and finding my own sense of peace.
What has been the most challenging thing for you with this show this time around?
Bill: Getting everybody into one space all at one time. I think they call that scheduling. Scheduling is always difficult because we usually begin rehearsals in early to mid-October. Getting the kids and the parents on board at that time of year with all of their other million responsibilities it is just an ongoing challenge. It’s enough to make any director nuts and I was already there.
What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
Bill: Driving around and looking at lights.
I was really waiting for you to say production A Christmas Carol with Wolf Pack Theatre Company.
Bill: Also that. But I really just like pretty lights.
If you could have one thing for Christmas what would it be?
Bill: Peace. For me. Not world peace. I’m not doing the Miss America wave and asking for world peace. For me, what I want is for Wolf Pack to be successful, obviously. I want to continue enjoying what I do and I want my actors, tech, and crew to continue enjoying working with us. I can’t ask for much more than that. I mean, who doesn’t want a trip to the Caribbean but that’s right along the lines of asking for world peace, sounds great but it isn’t likely to appear in my stocking this year.
Why should people come and see A Christmas Carol at Wolf Pack Theatre Company?
Bill: Because we have one of the best casts I’ve seen on any stage in the area. From a vocal standpoint their harmonies blend amazingly well. We’ve got the incomparable David North and Lauren Giglio, Brigid Lally, we’ve just got some incredible singers. We have a lot of new songs in the show that are things that people wouldn’t expect but really help to drive the story forward. Quite frankly, and I know I’m biased, but I do think it’s the most innovative and exciting Christmas Carol in the area. Everyone can do the traditional Christmas Carol, but not everyone can do what we do.
A Christmas Carol plays through December 19, 2015 at Wolf Pack Theatre Company at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church— 5820 Riverdale Road in Riverdale, MD. For ticket reservations call 240-565-4144 or purchase them online.