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Interview: Director Susan Speidel of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Chatham Playhouse

Interview: Director Susan Speidel of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Chatham Playhouse

Interview: Director Susan Speidel of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Chatham Playhouse

The Chatham Community Players production of A Christmas Carol relates the well-known story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from a "mean old geezer" to a more kind and generous soul. All of Charles Dickens' beloved characters are present, including the three spirits that visit Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, The Fezziwigs, and, of course, Tiny Tim. What separates this version, produced exclusively at the Chatham Playhouse since 1988, is that Dickens appears in the production and serves not only as narrator, but also as a character that befriends Scrooge and walks beside him during his life-changing journey. The libretto, by Philip Wm. McKinley and Suzanne Buhrer, incorporates letters that Dickens wrote to family and friends into the story, adding resonance and relevance to the times that he lived in, as well as our own. Music and Lyrics are by Philip Wm. McKinley and Suzanne Buhrer, with a Libretto by Philip Wm. McKinley.

I had the honor of interviewing the production's Director, Susan Speidel.

Please tell us about yourself.

I've worked in theatre for almost 50 years, as a performer, director and educator. I currently teach for the Theatre Conservatory at Kean University, for Osher Lifelong Learning at Rutgers University, and for Elefante Music and School for the Performing Arts. I've directed over 70 professional, community, college, and high school productions and performed in regional theatre, cabaret, and concerts with the Key West Pops, the Portland and Seattle Symphonies, and the Orchestra of St. Peter's by the Sea. I hold a master's degree from NYU and earned a doctorate at Drew University. I've also received the NJ Governor's Award for Theatre Education, the NJ Theatre Alliance Applause Award, and two BroadwayWorld/NJ Regional Awards.

Please tell us about your involvement in theater.

I started singing in my early teens and soon began performing in local and school theatre. I worked professionally for a while, before becoming interested in theatre management. I eventually found my way to the Tony Award winning Paper Mill Playhouse and became the theatre's first Director of Education, creating award-winning theatre education programs including the Rising Star Awards and the Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory. Since then, I've taught high school and college theatre, and I've also continued to perform in musicals and cabaret venues in both New Jersey and Florida. In addition to directing at Chatham Players, I've worked with them over the past few years to expand their educational offerings, teaching after school theatre classes and overseeing the Summer Youth Theatre.

What inspired you to direct this piece?

I was fortunate to be invited to take over the show from Philip Wm. McKinley, the original librettist and director, after he had guided the production in its first few years at Chatham Players. While there were a few years that I wasn't involved, due to other commitments, this production marks my 12th time directing the show, and it has been a real privilege to share the production with the cast, crew, and audiences over the years. I'm always moved by the story and by the passion of everyone at Chatham Players to share this wonderful tale.

What do you want your audiences to take away from this show?

One of my favorite parts of the original story, and of the show, is a speech by Scrooge's nephew, Fred. He says that Christmas should be a time, "...when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." I'd like the audiences to take that thought with them, as they leave the theatre, and hopefully incorporate it into their daily lives..

Any upcoming projects you will be working on after this? (Directing, acting, etc.)

I'll be directing a production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for CDC Theatre in Cranford, NJ, opening in February. I'll also be directing Chatham Player's Summer Youth Theatre production next July and August.

Anything additional you would like to add?

One of the great things about Chatham Players is their commitment to their community. Groups like Covenant House from Newark, Turning Point, the Chatham Senior Center, Straight and Narrow, and the Chatham Girls Scouts are invited attend the productions for free. Several of these groups will see A Christmas Carol. I really admire this outreach program and, of course, it also ties directly into the message, the "ghost of an idea," that Dickens was writing about.

How can people buy tickets to this show?

Tickets are available at The production runs December 9th to the 21st.

The cast features Jules Baker (Martha Cratchit, Ensemble), Lisa Barnett (Mrs. Dickens, Laundress), McKenna Burns (Molly, Fred's Maid, Ensemble), Leo Caravano (Tiny Tim), Peter Corley (Fred, Young Scrooge, Undertaker), Anthony DiAmbrosio (Mr. Cheevers, Topper, Ensemble), Ed Faver (Ebenezer Scrooge), Nick Foil (Bob Cratchit), Tracey Lynn Haskael (Mrs. Fezziwig, Charwoman), Josiah Irwin (Dick Wilkins, Ensemble), Susie Paplow (Christmas Past), Rachelle Rennegal (Mrs. Cratchit), David Romankow (Charles Dickens), David Simon (Marley, Mr. Fezziwig, Christmas Present, Pawnbroker), Emma Stoicesue (Belinda Cratchit, Ignorance), Lucas Stoicesue, Ajay Tolia (Frederick Cratchit, Boy in the Street, Christmas Future), and Marin Wilson (Fan, Harriet Cratchit, Ensemble).

The musical director is Jake Cannon, with special musical arrangements by Ken Watkins and Helen Gregory. Set Design is by Roy Pancirov, with Scenic Painting by Dean Sickler. Lighting Design is by Ed Whitman. Costumes are by Frances Harrison. Props and Set Decoration by Carol Peterson Saso. Joe DeVico is the Producer and Joelle Bochner is the Stage Manager, with Eileen Cadorette as Assistant Stage Manager.

Photo Credit: The Chatham Playhouse

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