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A Christmas Carol returns live to Maclab Theatre

Ted Dykstra leads the cast as Ebenezer Scrooge
2411 Citadel sup CC
The Ghost of Christmas Present (John Ullyatt) forces Scrooge (Ted Dykstra) to face his miserly actions in A Christmas Carol playing at Citadel Theatre from Nov. 27 to Dec. 23. IAN JACKSON/St. Albert Gazette

Anyone who has ever spoken to actor Ted Dykstra finds him intelligent, perceptive, creative, funny, and generous of spirit — the direct opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge, the bitter, cold-hearted skinflint who despises Christmas. 

Yet, since Dykstra performed Scrooge in 2019 at Citadel Theatre’s updated version of A Christmas Carol, he has become the quintessential miser who discovers redemption and a new meaning to life. More than that, his dynamic performance shines a light on the poverty of body and spirit many suffer through what is supposed to be a joyous, bountiful time. 

In 2020, theatres were dark across the country due to COVID-19. Citadel Theatre’s artistic director Daryl Cloran and writer David van Belle adapted the script to film, and Dykstra performed Scrooge in front of cameras for an online production. 

While the former St. Albert resident has lost count of the number of film and television roles he has played, live theatre is his enduring passion. For one thing, no live performance is ever the same from night to night. Secondly, a lengthier theatre run allows an actor to mould a character fully. 

“In a film, they capture one performance of every scene. That’s it. It’s captured forever and you can never learn from it or go anywhere else with it. You just have to be satisfied with what they captured on that day. Sometimes it’s your best. Sometimes not. I have more control over a stage performance,” he said. 

Despite his longevity as a performing artist, the Toronto-based actor-director, who cofounded Coal Mine Theatre, an 80-seat storefront theatre in 2015, rarely watches his performances. 

“I don’t enjoy watching myself. I hardly ever watch any because they don’t interest me that much. I mostly do TV and film for money. This [film version of A Christmas Carol] was more of a labour of love and of course I watched it. I thought Daryl and the team did an exceptional job keeping it theatrical but moving it to a visual medium. It surprised me. It was much better than I thought it would be,” Dykstra said. 

But as A Christmas Carol returns live to the Maclab’s thrust stage, the actor rehearses on a tight schedule — six days a week, eight hours a day. Scrooge is a complex, multi-layered character and we wondered if the experience of COVID affected, changed, or enhanced Dykstra’s interpretation. 

“I don’t know if it affected my Scrooge as much as it affected myself. I feel the journey of what he goes through affected him. I think it will affect how we all react to the show. It will affect the audience and our actor's brain. Our actor brain will be affected by being in a room with a lot of people watching us ‘cause I haven’t done that in two years. The last time I acted on stage was in this show two years ago. So, it will affect Ted. I don’t think it will affect Ebenezer.” 

A major change in the show is Patricia Zentilli in the role of Emily Cratchit, the widowed mother of a brood of young Cratchits. Alison MacDonald was cast in the original adaptation updated from Victorian England to 1950s America. 

“Alison had some vocal troubles and she had to rest. I’ve known Patricia for a long time. In fact, I directed her in Little Shop of Horrors in Toronto many years ago, and I’ve known her since then. We’re good friends and it’s lovely to have her in the role,” Dykstra said. 

As for the type of performance she delivers, he added, “I can see her offstage life very evidently in her performance. She’s a mum, and she’s going through a tough time, and bringing all that to her performance. I don’t know what it would be like to watch her performance from the audience. But it’s completely amazing to see two different people nail a part yet you can see they are not the same. I hesitate to define the differences. I leave that to the audience.” 

The script has been tweaked, costumes have been improved, and new set pieces will be visible. The only big change is a smaller cast to accommodate pandemic protocols.  

“We’re also trying to accommodate understudies because if someone does come down with it, they need to be replaced. There’s a team of people ready to jump in.” 

In closing Dykstra noted one of the great pleasures of the production is making a pitch for food bank donations at the end of every show. 

“We set the record two years ago, which is really saying something. One of the worst things for me last year was wondering how the food bank would survive without the substantial amount of money the Citadel raises. I’m playing the part of someone who looks back on his life and I’m asking people to be generous.” 

In closing, he laid out an eloquent argument for buying tickets to the show. 

“It’s a beautiful show. It’s a timeless story and it doesn’t lose its heart. I think it will make a believer out of anyone in terms of hope and goodwill, in people and mankind, and that redemption is possible for anybody. It’s been updated in a gentle way. We recognize all the music from black and white movies, including A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. All those feelings — that's what is in the show. Of all the Christmas Carols across the country, this is the one to see.” 

A Christmas Carol plays in the Citadel’s Maclab Theatre from Nov. 27 to Dec. 23. Tickets are available at 780-425-1820 or the box office at www.citadeltheatre.com.