On December 26, 2015, Michael Baron’s production of A Christmas Carol will play its 400th performance on the Ford’s stage. This presentation of the Charles Dickens classic is in its seventh season. Since its premiere in 2009 through the end of the 2014-2015 season, 189,324 patrons have attended A Christmas Carol at Ford’s, an average of 31,554 patrons per year.
Each year, a company of 18 adult and 13 child actors bring the story to life. Several actors have been with the show for multiple years, including some who have performed since the production debuted in 2009. Quite often, children also return and play different characters as they grow.
Through all these milestones, this company has three actors who, as of the start of this current season, have been with this particular incarnation of the show since it began in 2009 and have never missed a performance. Michael Bunce, Amy McWilliams and Anne Stone have performed in every single show since day one in 2009. Stone portrays the Fruit Vendor and Ghost of Christmas Present, and McWilliams plays Mrs. Cratchit. Bunce has appeared as the Second Solicitor and as Undertaker for the past six seasons and steps into a new role this year: Bob Cratchit.
When asked about their experience over the past seven seasons, these three shared insight into the show itself and what keeps them returning each year. “One of the main reasons I keep coming back is the people—not just the cast and stage management and our wonderful company manager. It’s the entire Ford’s crew and staff,” Stone says. “We really have a sense of being The Carol Family.”
McWilliams agrees, saying, “Onstage and off, we are a community. We create and tell this story together.”
“Having done a handful of different productions over the years, this production seems for me to be the best representation of Dickens’s story,” Bunce says. “People said to me the first year that we would be so busy it would make us hate Christmas. I have found the opposite to be true. Living with this production, moving around in the middle of this story, takes me a little out of my selfishness and stirs an awareness of how my actions affect others around me and of the idea of everyone being ‘fellow passengers to the grave’.”
Over the course of seven years, the rehearsal time has been shortened dramatically, as the majority of the actors have already performed the show before. For instance, from last season to this season, 16 of the 18 adult actors returned to the show.
“When I think back to our first season,” Stone says, “it took 10 days just to tech through the mechanics of costumes and scene changes for the show. Now the new people joining the cast have only 11 days of rehearsal before our first preview!”
For McWilliams, who has played Mrs. Cratchit in three different versions of the show at Ford’s over the past 19 years, her first entrance in the current production is one of her favorite moments. “The very first entrance into the prologue with my Tiny Tim,” she says, “we sing along to the carol, hold hands and skip onstage. It’s just a fun way to start into work!”
Actors often clamor to participate in this Washington tradition. After not being cast in previous Ford’s Theatre versions of A Christmas Carol, Bunce appreciates that the stars finally aligned for him to join this cast in 2009.
“Long ago many of my cohorts, after graduating from college and maybe doing some local theatre, got their union cards being cast in Ford’s A Christmas Carol. Entering the union and having Ford’s on their résumé opened up all sorts of possibilities. Back then, after many auditions, I was never so lucky,” he recounts. “Who would have thought that I would be doing it for so long now?”
But it is really the heart of the story that keeps these actors coming back. “It’s about family, one’s immediate and the human family; about how any and every person can find redemption and joy, and that we are all capable of giving and receiving kindness,” McWilliams says. “It’s a beautiful story and this adaptation in particular speaks to me.”
This spirit of giving that McWilliams refers to manifests in another beloved tradition for the entire company: collecting money for those in need. Since 2009, A Christmas Carol audiences, cast, crew and staff have raised more than $461,500 for local charities, including Covenant House Washington, Martha’s Table, Miriam’s Kitchen, So Others Might Eat (SOME), Bread for the City and Thrive DC. This year they collect on behalf of N Street Village.
Of course, Dickens’s story of salvation, redemption and benevolence revolves around Ebenezer Scrooge. Ford’s has been fortunate to have D.C.-favorite Edward Gero in the role for the entirety of this production.
“Over the years, Edward Gero and I have developed a special relationship between Scrooge and Christmas Present,” Stone shares. “Scrooge’s redemption still emotionally affects me. And when he embraces his nephew and wishes him a merry Christmas …well, I’m tearing up just thinking about it!”
Editor’s note: This story also appears in the 2015 playbill for A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre.
Patrick Pearson is Director of Artistic Programming at Ford’s Theatre, and also is a freelance director. Patrick has his MFA in Directing from California State University, Fullerton.