BWW Blog: Mark Price of Off-Broadway's A CHRISTMAS CAROL - Truth, Ghosts, and Squishy Brains
One of the first theater influences for me as a kid wasn't a play or musical, but a touring company of Alvin Ailey Company that came through Jones Hall in Houston Texas. By the end of the solo piece "Cry," I was in tears, baffled by how I'd just watched a three act play with no words being spoken. The shifts from love and defiance were dizzying at times, but never melodramatic. And the storytelling was rooted in such truth that carried a legacy of history of those who had danced the piece before her. Flash forward to my first trip to New York in Junior Year of High School where I took a very expensive nap during one of my first Broadway shows until a helicopter onstage woke me up. It was no fault of the actors for not holding the interest of an over-stimulated teenager, but in hindsight, I could see how technology and budget robbed the intimacy of the story being told.
One of the things I love most about our humble Christmas skit is the storytelling, how the success of the play really depends on how five actors guide the audience along a well known story containing ghosts, elements of magic, and jarring shifts between past and present. There would be no crutch of a massive budget or technology to hide behind, or flying ghosts or helicopters. The challenge was to figure out different ways to mine such well-known themes, never losing sight of the truth of the story. Rather than just sharing my own perspective, I wanted to gain insight into other people's process as well. I asked Mark Light-Orr, who plays the ghost of Marley, among other characters in the show.
M.P. Tell me about your audition for this show. I understand you brought in mask work from the beginning?
M.L.O. So the audition request was to create a three to five minute piece based on characters from the story you thought you'd be right for. I was interested in Marley and Cratchit. With Marley, I knew I wanted to do something a little bit scary and weird. And because I have a background in mask work and puppetry, I began working with a neutral mask, which is a very scary mask. It's never looked neutral to me at all.
M.L.O. Right? One of the things you can do in mask work is put it on various parts of the body to see how it informs you. For example, if the mask is on the knee, what would that character would be like? I tried a bunch different postures, hoping to find something that was weird enough but wouldn't impede the voice too much. I ended up video taping myself, going through some of the lines with the mask on my head, and I watched it on my little camera and thought, "that's one of the freakiest things I've ever seen!"
M.P. Yes, quite freaky on stage! How different has the show been for you since that last incarnation last year in Delaware?
M.L.O. It's really different, probably 80 percent so. The story and shape is the same but many lines have been cut and altered. Joe seemed less interested in recreating what we did before and more curious about exploring it again for the first time using the same ideas.
M.P. What's been the most exciting and challenging thing for you with this production?
M.L.O. The most challenging has definitely been the set and the deck because in Delaware it was a large regional house and here there was less tech to work with. So one of the concerns has always been the safety of the set in a different space and venue. But that is also what made it exciting, because when that stuff does come together, when the revolve and set pieces are spinning together, it's kind of thrilling.
M.P. Agreed. So the best and worst things about Christmas time for you?
M.L.O. Well the worst thing is that I miss family members that I've lost, a common theme for some during this time.
M.P. I hear you, brother!
M.L.O. You find yourself thinking way more about these things during this time way more than any other time of the year, so it can be very melancholy. On the other hand, it's also terrific because it feels like one last big hurrah before we all kind of settle in for that long three months of January, February and March, before the whole city goes into a deep freeze, and everyone's wearing black all the time! So before that happens, let's have one last time before there are warm lights, great food, and lots of celebrations.
M.P. Yes to that! If you had to give a white elephant gift, what would it be?
M.L.O. (Laughing) Depends, to whom?
M.P. To the person who knows you best.
M.L.O. I was given a rubber brain filled with water the size of my fist for my birthday. If you squeeze it, the brain distends and you can see the water inside, which is the color of blood. It's absolutely disgusting but cool to play with. I've re-gifted that to someone else, who's re-gifted it to someone else as well. So the blood filled squishy brain would definitely be the one!
M.P. Okay, last question. Favorite non-traditional Christmas carol and who sings it.
M.L.O. Mahalia Jackson singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain."
M.P. Yes, love it! Thank you, sir.
M.L.O. Thank you, Mark!
From This Author Guest Blogger: Mark Price