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Canterbury Theater’s Reimagined Performance Offers a Splendid End to a Humbug Year

Kelly Slonaker

This year, Canterbury’s theater department (along with theaters all over the country) faced a big question: how do you bring together crowds of people to make, much less watch, theater safely? Directors Sarah Armstrong and Keiko Mathewson knew that they needed to think outside the box to safely bring a cast and crew together, follow social distancing protocols, teach the students valuable skills, and have a production the entire community could enjoy—mostly likely from their own homes. “We knew that our ultimate goal was to produce some sort of theater that would create an outlet for our students. Sarah discovered the world of radio plays this summer, and we chose a script!” Keiko shared.

The script they chose was an ambitious one—a radio adaptation by Philip Grecian of A Christmas Carol, based on the novel by Charles Dickens—and the cast and crew delivered. The production was intricately and expertly executed and transported listeners to a bygone era when radio ruled. Streamed via YouTube Premiere, the event started at designated times, and listeners tuned in just as they would have for a scheduled radio program decades ago.

In order to produce the show, the Theater Department carefully constructed a recording studio on the stage in Maguire Auditorium using clear plastic shower curtains and wooden frames (bedecked with Christmas lights, of course) that would allow the group to be together safely. In addition to student and faculty actors who each played several roles (distinguishable by changes in tone, cadence, and accent), students were also Foley artists, creating each of the perfectly timed, live-action sound effects featured in the play, including doors opening and closing, wind blowing, bells ringing, and glasses clinking. “This was an experience for our actors and tech crew unlike any other,” Sarah and Keiko said. “Our students worked so hard to change their voices and create characters using only sound, which isn't easy! Physicality can often be a large part of what creates a character—we look to costumes, makeup, gestures, mannerisms, and facial expressions to fill in the story—but this venue doesn't allow for that. It was all about delivering a story using only their voices and the instruments in front of them. It gave a new perspective to what is important in theater.”

This was the first theatrical production at Canterbury for Third Former Sylvia Pinheiro, who played Ebeneezer Scrooge, complete with a dour English accent. “Taking part in a radio play, especially one as well-known as A Christmas Carol, has been an incredibly fun process,” she said. “It was challenging to become a character as complex as Ebenezer Scrooge, but ultimately it was fascinating to go on such a unique journey of immense character growth. The accent was the easy part because I have been imitating the characters from Harry Potter since I was seven years old! What was difficult was embodying such a well-known character while also trying to come across as a completely different person than I am in real life. In the end, I am endlessly grateful for this experience and for the friends that I have made.”

This was also the first theater experience for Sixth Former Charlotte Zapletal. Charlotte played multiple roles in the production— including Topper, Martha Cratchit, Charity Woman #1, and Player #2—which required her to change her voice and emotions throughout. “During rehearsals, I tried to picture myself in my various roles so I could convey the appropriate emotions,” Charlotte explained. “Trying a British accent and pronouncing certain consonants was the most difficult part for me because I was so used to mumbling and speaking too fast! Even though it was hard at times, I loved getting to learn what happens behind the scenes of all the shows we have watched in the past, like Clue, and getting to work with such talented actors, directors, and crew.”

Several other Sixth Formers participated in the play as one of their final Canterbury School performances, including Ella Olcese, who played Mrs. Cratchit, Storyteller, and Woman #2; Stage Manager, Assistant Sound Designer, and Recording Engineer Giselle Bradshaw; Assistant Stage Manager Celine Yoo; Foley Captain Sydney Ragland; and Foley Artist Lexah Caraluzzi. The student cast was joined by several special guests, including Assistant Head of School for Student Life Peter LaVigne, Dean of Students Jake Dellorco, Assistant Dean of Students E.J. Soifersmith, English teachers Bob Potter and Wright Danenbarger, and science teacher Derek Richardson. The music was provided by Christopher Rich, and the sound design and editing by Ken Mard III ʼ99. “I am so proud of our students and faculty who helped make this a reality,” said Keiko. “Being able to record in our pods (safely distanced, protected with plastic, and unmasked) made the whole process seem almost normal!” 

We congratulate the entire cast and crew for a marvelous and spirited holiday production! 
A Christmas Carol, its message and its making, is a reminder that there is good, beauty, and joy all around us if we take the time to find it,” Sarah shared. “We wish you and yours a very merry and safe holiday season, and as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone!”

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