Appalachian Theater Group Gives Dickens Classic A Regional Twist

By
Lorraine Wochna

Dateline
Updated Wed, Nov 27, 2013 10:34 am

The members of Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble are eager to share the fruits of two years of creative labor.

When audiences gather at Stuart’s Opera House from Dec. 13-22 to see An Appalachian Christmas Carol, they will experience a new holiday play that was written for, and is native to, the region. 

But more significantly, they will be privy to an evening’s entertainment born out of extensive input from community storytellers, historians and musicians. 

In this new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday ghost story, Guysville, Ohio, playwright Merri Biechler has spun a tale that is newly relevant to our region--and she didn’t do it alone.

Biechler’s research has taken her to the Little Cities Archive in Shawnee, as well as the archives at the Alden Library. In addition to Shawnee, she has conducted onsite research in New Straitsville, Moxahala, Millfield, Glouster, The Plains, Chauncey and New Marshfield.

Biechler consulted extensively with local historians, including Cheryl Blosser, president of the New Straitsville History Group and the co-author of Agents of Change: The Pioneering Roles of the Miners of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds in the Nation’s Early Labor Movement.

L-R: Nora Sullivan (Betty), David Haugen (Eb Scrooge) and Walker Evans (Boy Scrooge) [2012 production]

The desire to get this story right is literally "bred in the bone" of David Russell, the scenic designer of An Appalachian Christmas Carol.

Assistant Professor at the Division of Theater at Ohio University, Russell was born in Zanesville, and grew up in Perry County. Russell’s grandfather was a coal miner who lost an arm in a mining accident and died of black lung disease. His uncles were miners until the 80’s. 

With local musicians performing live during every performance, An Appalachian Christmas Carol is steeped in regional traditional music.

Ohio University Professor Jack Wright’s book and accompanying CD, The Music of Coal, has strongly influenced the play, and this music has provided a three-year underscore to the evolution of the production.

In the course of development, Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble invited local audiences and supporters to respond to two early drafts of the play. With a significant amount of time set aside for feedback sessions at each of these readings, a dialogue emerged and a standard was set for community input.

L-R: Tom Fiocchi (Bob Cratchit), Janice Paxson Evans (Mrs. Cratchit) and Walker Evans (Tiny Tim) [2012 production]

The members of Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble have always envisioned the beautifully restored Stuart’s Opera House on Nelsonville’s Public Square as the perfect place to bring this new holiday tradition to life.

For An Appalachian Christmas Carol, Stuart’s is as much a character as a performance venue, and was chosen for its vibrant past and its intimate connection to the history of the region.

During the regional mining heyday, trains ferried local miners and their families to meetings and performances at Stuart’s Opera House. The stage itself will be lit to reflect how the Opera House might have looked at the turn of the last century.

Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble receives support from the Ohio Arts Council, the Athens Foundation, the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the O’Bleness Foundation.

For tickets and show times, visit www.stuartsoperahouse.org. For more information about Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble, visit www.brickmonkey.org.

L-R: Janice Paxson Evans, Miki Brooks, Tom Fiocchi, Kat Bramley, Nora Sullivan, Tom Quinn, David Haugen, Jared Davis, Walker Evans, Casiha Felt, Brian Evans, Zane Evans, Lorraine Wochna [2012 production]

Photos by Rebecca Whittington

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