It’s beginning to look a lot like a pandemic Christmas at the Dallas Theater Center. The Tony Award-winning theater reimagined its traditionally spectacular production of “A Christmas Carol” into a simple, heartfelt filmed theatrical piece, In the Bleak Midwinter: A Christmas Carol for Our Time, now available to view via the theater’s website.
Dallas Theater Center closed for in-person performances in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The theater spent months working with artistic unions and health officials to develop health and safety protocols so this holiday tradition could continue.
During a three-week rehearsal and filming process, everyone working on In the Bleak Midwinter was regularly tested and required to fill out daily health evaluation forms. Actors wore masks during rehearsal, only removing them for filming, and they remained at least six feet away from each other on and off stage. Sanitization was a top priority.
“It was a little surreal and done under the most stringent of safety and health precautions. Everybody was really excited to just be in the space doing their craft and together, although masked and very far apart from each other,” Sarahbeth Grossman, the theater’s Artistic Producer, said.
Traditionally, Dallas Theater Center’s production of A Christmas Carol is elaborate with period costumes, musical numbers, crowd scenes, and a large cast including a dozen children and 20 adults. The large-scale production has been a Dallas holiday tradition for decades, drawing thousands of playgoers every year.
In the Bleak Midwinter is set in the present day with Ebeneezer Scrooge facing his fears and heartbreak in a modern hospital. The cast consists of the eight members of the theater’s Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company. “We were able to really beautifully translate it to a digital film version that everyone can watch safely in their homes. But it is not the usual Christmas Carol. It’s very different,” Grossman said.
Kevin Moriarty, Dallas Theater Center’s Enloe/Rose Artistic Director, created this film adaptation, revisiting the Dickens classic and stripping the story down to its essentials. “It’s much more of an intimate, psychological exploration of the essence of the Dickens novel. It’s all about the characters that you know and love but synthesized down into the essence of what does it mean to love, what does it mean to lose those you love, what does it mean to build up fences and protect yourself from the scary, traumatic things in the world and how to come through the other end of that and actually find hope, love and redemption,” Grossman said.
Thanks to the production team’s innovation, the characters travel through time in this simplified production. “We’ve devised this wonderful series of walls and projection screens so that we could use projections to move Scrooge and the other characters through time in an instant,” Grossman said. “A simple, sleek production, but at its heart, everything Dickens wanted it to be.”
As the pandemic continues, Grossman finds hope in creating this new version of a holiday classic. “Just getting back into the space under the safety conditions and actually filming In the Bleak Midwinter, which will be the first content we provide our subscribers for this year, was such a joyous and hopeful thing. To know that we can all have each other’s backs, we can create the art we believe in in a safe way and we can continue to tell stories that mean something to our community,” Grossman said.
She is grateful for the generous support of people who believe in the theater’s mission. “As a result, through some incredible fundraising efforts and the support of our board of directors and incredible donors and patrons, we have managed to stay intact since March so there hasn’t been a single furlough or lay-off among our institution,” Grossman said.
The financial support allows the theater to plan a 2020-2021 season. “We’ve planned a very careful and thoughtful season to provide fun storytelling, interesting storytelling, uplifting storytelling that reflects our audience and the diversity of our audience, but is still safe,” Grossman said.
Beyond filming its work, Dallas Theater Center plans on creating outdoor in-person theatrical experiences in January and February with Something Grim(m) devised by the Brierley Resident Acting Company and War of the Worlds: An Immersive Theatrical Experience, written by Moriarty.
In the spring, the theater hopes to welcome small, socially-distanced audiences back to the Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District with Cake Ladies, a world premiere by playwright-in-residence Jonathan Norton; Tiny Beautiful Things, based on the novel by Cheryl Strayed and adapted by Nia Vardalos; and Working: A Musical, based on Studs Terkel’s book with original songs by Stephen Schwartz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Taylor and others.
The season reflects Dallas Theater Center’s determination to come out of this pandemic as a stronger theater with a reinvigorated mission. “It a renewal of the understanding of the sheer importance of storytelling and theater and performing arts in the life of a community. It is very often theater that can lift the issues that are most important to the community and create conversation around those issues in a safe space where everybody feels welcome and can voice their perspective and be heard by others. And it is very often through a theatrical experience that any given individual might see a different point of view and actually start to understand that point of view and change the way they think about the world they live in,” Grossman said. “That’s the power of theater.”
Learn more: https://www.dallastheatercenter.org/