It’s been 30 years since A Territorial Christmas Carol debuted at Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre and helped spawn the downtown transformation that has meant an influx of tax dollars and holiday cheer for Oklahoma’s original capital.
As the theater begins its pearl anniversary of the production, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol by Oklahoma playwright Stephen P. Scott, Pollard Theatre’s artistic director W. Jerome Stevenson said it’s the last chance to see the current iteration of the play performed annually at the Pollard since 2001.
“This will be the last year we produce the show exactly this way,” Stevenson said. “There will be fundamental casting changes, perhaps new direction for the show and looking forward to that. This incarnation is being sent off with all of our fondness, love and memories.”
A Territorial Christmas Carol began at the Pollard in 1987 and sparked a townwide celebration that evolved into a month’s worth of events highlighting the city’s history in full Victorian regalia.
Guthrie’s territorial Christmas celebration begins Nov. 25 with a parade and the naming of a territorial governor. The celebrations continue with an historic home tour Dec. 9 and Victorian Walks on Dec. 9 and Dec. 16. At 1 p.m. Dec. 16, Santa will fly into the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport for a free event and a Christmas Organ concert is held at 8 p.m. at Guthrie Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 900 E. Oklahoma Ave.
Andrea Post, Guthrie Visitor Bureau’s executive director, said an average of 10,000 people visit the town for territorial Christmas celebrations each year and spend an estimated $360,000 in the city.
“It’s a living window into history that is a unique interactive,” Post said. “We have a rich history that you don’t see other places because this was the close of the Wild West, the last portion to be settled. It commemorates a time when people sat around and caroled. The beauty and magic of the atmosphere is romantic.”
The adaptation is set in Guthrie during the Oklahoma Land Run and showcases themes of brotherly love and redemption through the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.
“We see ourselves in Scrooge,” Stevenson said. “He’s not just a stereotypical version of mean; he’s a person who has been hurt and broken. He has all these incidents in his life that cause him to harden up and close off. The story reminds us that it is so easy for us to fall into that trap.
“It reminds us that we’re connected and each event plays a role in who we become and how we are viewed. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to turn that cynicism into cruelty, and that story resonates with our audience, and across the country.”
While many of the cast changes from year to year, in particular the roles for children, veteran Pollard company member James Ong has portrayed the role of Scrooge since the turn of the millennium.
Ong doesn’t play a businessman like the Dickens version. The Oklahoma Scrooge is a pioneer eking out a living.
“He’s different than any other Scrooge I’ve seen,” Stevenson said. “He has a Santa Claus-esque personality to begin with, so finding the harshness and coarseness, the broken part of him is the real discovery for the audience.”
Shows run Nov. 24-Dec. 23, and many play to sold-out audiences, which Stevenson said has led the production to have the largest audiences the theater will see all year. A Christmas Carol, in many different adaptations and variations, is the most produced play in the country, Stevenson said.
“There’s no other show that plays to so many people who already know the story and still want to be moved,” he said.
Stevenson was involved with the Pollard’s production as an actor before taking over as artistic director. He takes pride in the fact the production introduced generations of children to their first professional production. The theater extends its casting call across central Oklahoma, looking for children to play roles even if they don’t have previous professional experience.
“Sometimes there will be more than one child from a family in a production, and they become part of the larger Pollard family,” Stevenson said. “It’s been very gratifying to see the Pollard become such an integral part of people’s lives beyond seeing a show on the weekend.”
From year to year, Stevenson said he’s always looking for one more nuance to make the audience have a more joyous time or the one change that will make Scrooge’s plight resonate that much more, but the production has stayed largely the same for 16 years. He said he will likely hand over the reins next year as director of the play.
“It’s about time that it take a different look in terms of what the casting looks like and what some of the moment-to-moment work in the show is like,” Stevenson said. “I’m excited to see someone else get ahold of it and shepherd it down the road. As artistic director, I’ll be here and an integral part of that, but letting someone else shape the story and present it to a new audience with a new sensibility.”
A Territorial Christmas Carol
Nov. 24-Dec. 23
120 W. Harrison Ave, Guthrie
Print headline: Guthrie tradition; The 30th anniversary of Pollard Theatre Company’s A Territorial Christmas Carol will be the final production in its current form.