Composing A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Young Charles Dickens At the age of 31, Charles Dickens had already lived through several reversals of fortune and circumstance: from an idyllic early childhood, to the trauma of separation from his family, to a tentative career in journalism, to the triumphant reception of his fictional writing, including The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

In 1843, now with a wife and four children to support (he and Catherine–nee Hogarth–would eventually have ten), his monthly income threatened to decrease due to lower sales of the magazine in which his current novel (Barnaby Rudge) was being serialized.

movie posterAs well-depicted in the 2017 film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, Dickens was in need of cash. Yet this motivation seems to have created writer’s block rather than fresh enthusiasm for his craft. Meanwhile, other passionate interests continued to distract him, especially issues of social injustice against the poor, specifically children.  Earlier that year, Dickens had toured a mining community and threatened to write a pamphlet on the appalling state of its child laborers. Indeed, ever since his own experience working in a factory as a boy (while his father was in debtor’s prison), he had been passionate for reform of child labor laws and better education to lift them out of poverty.

Fortunately for the world, he changed his mind about the pamphlet. He chose instead to continue his practice of exploring the flaws of the 19th century through the medium of story. Nicholas Nickleby had already spoken strongly to the state of education, and Oliver Twist to the plight of orphans languishing in ill-run workhouses. Now he would turn his attention to the need for philanthropy in order to transform society.

illustration from book

from the 1st edition, illustration by John Leech

“A Christmas Carol in Prose” exceeded his expectations in generating a spirit of generosity among the well-to-do. And it succeeded in elevating the status of Christmas celebrations in general, in ways he likely had not foreseen. Even today, an emphasis on the holiday as a time for family gatherings, feasting, gift-giving and making merry, can be traced back directly to this classic story, the most popular that Charles Dickens ever wrote.

The enduring appeal of A Christmas Carol can be seen in its ubiquitous presence at the holiday season, and in its vast number of adaptations: Wikipedia lists 57 stage versions, 20 film versions, 26 made-for television productions, 20 radio plays, 11 audio recordings, 4 operas, 7 graphic novels and 10 parodies, plus a long list of derivative works. And this list is certainly not exhaustive.

all for One‘s upcoming production was dramatized by Doris Baizley and received its premiere in 1977 at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles.  For tickets and more information, go to the all for One website.

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“A Christmas Carol” is tuning up…

ACC posterIt is a rare theater season in our community that doesn’t find SOME company putting forth an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ season-defining classic, A Christmas Carol.   afO has thus far resisted the temptation to throw its own offering into the ring…until we ran across Doris Baizley’s delightfully clever and fresh retelling, which is tailor-made for the intimacy of the black box theater where we perform.

First presented at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, in 1977, the production proved so popular that it was revived for five subsequent years.

In this version, a down-on-its-luck British travelling troupe is wondering if the show really CAN go on, after discovering that their Tiny Tim has been fired and their Scrooge abandoned them in Budapest. Continue reading

BENTLEY’s playwright, Michael Wilhelm

BENTLEY poster for blog

We are three weeks into our rehearsal process, but it has been several years since Michael first approached me with a draft of this play. afO hosted a first read-through with some of our actor friends in July of 2016. However, I had no idea that the original idea was much older than that.  Here is playwright Michael Wilhelm with a tantalizing look at how Bentley came to be written.


“Many of the things I write have an excruciatingly long gestation period.  Bentley was no different.   The core of this story is a situation that I witnessed many years ago.  (I would go in to more details here but…spoilers…)  So I held on to this idea, often pondering in my idle time how the details would work out, plot-wise.  I didn’t know if it would end up being a movie script, novel or a stage play. I really needed to find the right vehicle to present it.  That proved to be a long search, over many decades, in fact.  Until some years ago I was browsing through a bargain bin of $1 DVD’s and I stumbled across the classic screwball comedy, My Man Godfrey.

At first I had not even considered putting the two together.  I was just thinking of possibly adapting the movie for the stage.  As I tinkered with adapting the film, I found more and more of it fell apart under scrutiny.  Then I got to thinking: why not reformulate the premise of this 80-year-old classic comedy to fit into the popular culture we live in today?  Thus,1930s high society and debutante balls give way to reality television and Twitter.

I would have to strip the original story down to its basic framework.  With a new setting and the elimination of the social satire of the 1930s, I needed to tell a new story.  This is where my original idea, the one I’d been holding onto for so long, came into play.  It could become the new premise of the story. As it turned out, it was a perfect fit.  Unlike the original film, Bentley has a spiritual curve that opens the humanness of its characters to the possibility that they can change their lives and the world around them.

How does this all play out?  Quite profoundly, I think.  You see, Bentley is an experiment.  Something new stuffed into something familiar, then blended together to create a new modern fable of redemption. I hope you’ll come and see it, and tell me what you think.”


Michael & Cindy Wilhelm

Michael with Cindy, his wife of 36 years

Michael Wilhelm (playwright) has been writing as far back as junior high school, where he penned fables from the Kingdom of Swoons. He was a writer on The Riverfront Radio Playhouse back in the late ‘70s over WIPU. He scripted and performed a one- man show based on C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.  Michael also wrote sketches for the Interseeding Ensemble, a Christian drama ministry. He’s authored a trilogy of novelettes chronicling the adventures of an aromatic super hero known as Skunk-Guy. Turtle Soup (2011), his first world premiere play, was produced by all for One, with Michael in the starring role of Gale Harris. (Michael has acted frequently with afO since 2003.) He is currently producing a radio comedy podcast titled The Temp.​ Michael is married to Cindy, and they have a lovely teenage daughter, Josette.

Introducing…BENTLEY!

BENTLEY poster for blogThe 26th season of shows produced by local faith-driven theatre company, all for One productions, is soon to begin. But behind the scenes we’ve been hard at work all summer to ensure that our audiences will enjoy the same excellent, family-friendly, thought-provoking and values-rich fare they’ve come to expect.

To all those characteristics, one should add:  unusual.  Fully three-quarters of afO’s offerings are either area premieres (no other company locally has done it yet) or world premieres (no one else has EVER performed the work).  This is a fairly unusual category for any community theatre to boast of, but afO is producing its EIGHTH world premiere in the past ten years! In fact, our current season’s opener, Bentley, is the second premiere to grace afO’s stage this calendar year. (Sam Ward’s one-man musical, David, was performed just this past February.)

We will introduce Michael Wilhelm and give him a chance to tell you a bit about the inspiration for this delightful comedy-drama, in a later post. For now, here is a list of the cast members (who are already in rehearsal and having a blast getting ready for our September opening):

Nate Chen      as     BENTLEY
Bridget Bogdon     as     TASHA CARVER
Megan Speith     as     PAM CARVER
Connor Beer     as     SIMON CARVER
Kevin Keats     as     DRAKE CARVER
Teresa Bower     as     ELLEN CARVER
Jennifer Netting     as     MARGE
Matt Faley     as     HERSCHEL
J. Scott Kump     as     LT. BROOKS

Tickets are on sale now through the ArtsTix box office, (260) 422-4226 or at their website.