BWW Interview: Director Brian Crowe and A Christmas Carol at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ 12/4 through 12/29

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The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) concludes its successful 57th season with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, adapted for the stage by Neil Bartlett and directed by longtime company member Brian B. Crowe.

Neil Bartlett's unusual adaptation of A Christmas Carol has not been performed on the STNJ Main Stage since 2011, when it was met with acclaim from audience members and critics alike. This version of A Christmas Carol uses a small ensemble of actors to bring an abundance of characters to life, animate and inanimate, from the merry Fezziwigs to Scrooge's complaining light bulb. Bartlett uses this intimate, all-hands-on-deck approach to the novella because, as he writes in his introduction to the script, "[Dickens] wrote the story not just to be read, but to be read out loud, for an audience. His words don't describe; they enact." This production that is ideal for all this holiday season embraces Scrooge's final redemption, but does not run away from the trials he must endure and the inner darkness he must encounter in order to get there.

Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing director, Brian B. Crowe about his career and the upcoming production of A Christmas Carol.

Crowe is in his 24th season with The Shakespeare Theatre where he is the Director of Education. Directing credits: Titus Andronicus, The Bungler, Coriolanus, Pericles (2013), Oliver Twist, Timon of Athens, The School for Wives, The Winter's Tale (2008), Henry VI: Blood & Roses, Julius Caesar, Love's Labour's Lost (2004), The Tempest (2002) and The Comedy of Errors (2001) on the Main Stage; Love's Labour's Lost (2015), The Learned Ladies, A Midsummer Night's Dream (2007), and The Taming of the Shrew (2006) on the Outdoor Stage. He has directed dozens of productions for the Theatre's education department. Other directing credits include 12 Miles West, The Human Race Theatre Company, Dayton Playhouse, and the Act-Up Theatre Festival. He received BFA degrees in Directing and Acting from Wright State University.

WHAT WAS YOUR VERY FIRST DIRECTORIAL EXPERIENCE?

My family would tell you that I started creating theatre at a very young age, staging mini-versions of popular stories while still in grade school with the kids in our neighborhood; everything from a musical based on Noah's Ark to our own rendition of GREASE. Most notable among these projects was a stage adaptation of THE CLASH OF THE TITANS based on the Harry Hamlin film. With the encouragement of one of my teachers, I wrote, directed, and created costumes for the play which was performed by and for my classmates. It was wild, with a giant two-person Kraken made out of bedsheets that split in half when it was defeated. I was fortunate to have family and teachers who supported and encouraged my many off-the-wall ideas. I don't think I'd be doing what I'm doing now if not for their backing, confidence, and encouragement. Officially, my first credited work as a director was on Thornton Wilder's THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER as a high school senior. I later went on to pursue a double major in directing and acting at Wright State University.

WE KNOW YOU WILL SOON BE CELEBRATING YOUR 25TH ANNIVERSARY WITH STNJ. CAN YOU SHARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT BEING A LONG-TIME COMPANY MEMBER?

Next year I will enter my 25th season at STNJ and I will also celebrate my 50th birthday. It's a profound feeling to consider that for half of my life and the majority of my professional career I have been a part of this exceptional organization. Over the last two-plus decades I have had the pleasure to work with, learn from, and create with a marvelous array of talented artists that call STNJ home; theatrical veterans and promising up-and-comers, both on stage and behind the scenes. It is truly a theatrical family, and it is an honor to be a part of an institution that has become a theatrical home for so many artists. Probably the most poignant aspect of working here for a quarter century is seeing the many students -some who started with us as young as ten years old- returning as young professionals or members of the professional company, on stage or in our offices. That has been incredibly edifying. And I think that is one of the primary reasons I have been here as long as I have; the company's passionate commitment to supporting and nurturing the next generation of theatre artists.

WE'D LOVE TO KNOW A LITTLE ABOUT THE CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM FOR THE SEASON FINALE THAT YOU ARE DIRECTING, A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

This play requires great imagination and fearlessness on stage, and I could not have been blessed with a team more ready to dive into the wild challenges ahead. I have worked with most of the cast before, so we were able to hit the ground running. Ames Adamson takes on Dickens' brittle protagonist. He is an audience favorite at STNJ, and I know patrons will be blown away by his delightfully dark (and later giddy) curmudgeon. Interestingly, Ames is the one artist to have been involved in all three performances of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at STNJ over the years, having played The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present in 2007 and 2011 respectively.

FOR THEATERGOERS WHO HAVE SEEN A CHRISTMAS CAROL BEFORE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THEM TO KNOW ABOUT THE UPCOMING STNJ PRODUCTION?

No doubt most of us have seen A CHRISTMAS CAROL in several of the hundreds of versions that exist on stage and film. We're all familiar with the general story and the themes it explores, and for many the tale is a special part of annual family holiday traditions. There are versions from the Muppets and Disney, or the innumerable re-imaginings of the tale of film, or the musical variations that ring out each winter across the country. Though delightful and often filled with spectacle, for me they often short-change the audience and lessen the powerful lesson of redemption that Dickens offers. Bartlett's adaptation is very different in that regard. He certainly doesn't shy away from the magic of Dickens' tale, but he also reminds us that it is a ghost story first and foremost, a uniquely dark and Victorian ghost story. Scrooge's journey to redemption is a deeply uneasy one, but it is made all the more rewarding, bright, and joyous because of disturbing corners through which he must travel. This production, with the darkly creative work of our incredible design team, allows us to melt in and out of the fantasia that is Scrooge's past, present, and future, his dreams, memories, and nightmares on the path to reclaiming his humanity. I believe it's a truer telling of Dickens' classic than many have seen before, and I have found it more moving and powerful for that. Audiences will see the story they know and love, but with a unique approach.

ANYTHING ELSE, ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING YOU WANT BWW NJ READERS TO KNOW.

At its heart, A CHRISTMAS CAROL asks us to reach out to our fellow travelers in this life, to make connections, and to shun the desire to shut ourselves off, to fall into a selfish and seductive isolation. In a time when we seem more divided than ever, and especially in this holiday season, I hope that we all take some steps (even baby steps) towards connecting once again. It doesn't need to be something huge. Put down your phone and truly see the people who are around you. Say hello. Start a conversation with a stranger on the train or while waiting in line for a coffee. Check in on your elderly neighbors. Call up an old friend you have not spoken with in ages. However you do it, connect with the people and the world around you. You will only be richer for it.

A Christmas Carol will be performed at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey from December 4 to December 29 in their F.M. Kirby Sheakespeare Theatre located at 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road) on the campus of Drew University.Tickets for A Christmas Carol begin at just $39 for preview performances and $59 for regular performances. The Theatre is proud to continue its 30 UNDER 30 program which provides patrons age 30 and under with tickets for only $30 with a valid ID. For tickets and information, please call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit https://www.shakespearenj.org/.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian B. Crowe and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey



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