Rochester High School theater students will be presenting a new take on an old Christmas classic this weekend in their fall production of “Christmas Carole: A Modern Scrooge.”
The show, directed by RHS theater teacher Doug West, MFA, and written by his wife, Elizabeth West, is not only a modern version of the Christmas tale of love, loss and redemption but also a version with a female lead.
“The modernization of ‘Scrooge’ and a female-led ‘Scrooge,’ I don’t think it’s been done before in pop culture,” said Brandon Ryniker, who portrays Paul in “Christmas Carole”.
Playing just two nights, Dec. 6-7, “Christmas Carole: A Modern Scrooge” follows Carole Scrooge (portrayed by Raquel Shelton), the owner of a large department store, whose primary focus in life is making a profit. She doesn’t care about the misery hard working employees such as Robert Cratchit (portrayed by Austin Burpee) and she has isolated herself from loved ones, including her only family, niece Franny (portrayed by Elizabeth Conner). But a visit from the ghost of her former business partner Jake Marley (portrayed by Alex Walker) as well as the ghosts of Christmas Past (portrayed by Svea Hallin and Skyler Maki), Christmas present (portrayed by Lovina Andersen and Damon Andersen) and Christmas Future (portrayed by Walker) show her a different path worth taking.
“She realizes she doesn’t know the value of anything in life,” Shelton said. “She really becomes humbled and realizes what matters most is what she’s had all along, and that’s family.”
Elizabeth West began writing plays for her husband 15 years ago when he began teaching theater in high schools as a way to help schools on a shoestring budget be able to have theatrical productions without spending a lot of money on royalties for copyrighted material. Doug West explained that, for instance, a basic copyright to produce “Scrooge” would likely cost them about $120 per show.
“And a lot of content (Broadway productions) is inappropriate for high school,” he added.
Elizabeth West’s work is influenced by stories on the public domain and is royalty-free. But it is also able to be customized to fit the talent and abilities present in each individual cast. For instance, Elizabeth West explained that while the story of “Scrooge” has a lot of male characters, this year’s RHS theater department has a lot more girls than boys, as well as several talented senior girls they wanted to make sure to highlight in this production.
“She kind of writes for us because she knows us and our personalities and she knows our strengths,” Shelton said.
And as the cast begins to rehearse the show, she said they have the ability to make changes on the spot to parts that may seem awkward or confusing. Elizabeth West said she wants to collaborate with the students because it helps the finished product be stronger. The students said they also appreciate the opportunity to have input on the content of the shows they produce.
“That’s one of the things I like best about it. We get to be part of it,” added Walker.
About 75 of the school’s 600 students are involved in theater productions at RHS, from costuming and set building to acting and running sound and lights. Both Doug and Elizabeth
West said beyond saving money for the school, producing theater this way also gives the students experiences that will help them if they choose to pursue theatrical studies in the future.
From finding costuming components at Elizabeth West’s favorite costume store, Goodwill, to costume changes and set building, the Wests say their students get real world preparation for the world of theater.
“Our graduates here go off to college and can get an assignment in speech class and do it flawlessly,” Elizabeth West said.