On Nov. 14, Camdenton students received a visit from Gerald Dickens, the great, great grandson of esteemed author Charles Dickens.
Gerald, an actor and producer hailing from Oxford, England, gave two performances of his solo rendition of "A Christmas Carol' to middle school and high school students at the Camdenton High School's RC Worthan Auditorium. During his show, Gerald brought "A Christmas Carol' to life leaping, sobbing and laughing as he entertained depicting 26 characters of the classic tale, with just a table, wing chair and hat rack accompanying him on stage.
"He held their attention the entire time as evident with silence, laughter and standing ovations at both performances," said school board member Selynn Barbour who helped organize the event.
As stated in a press release, Dickens bears more than a passing resemblance to his famous ancestor. Historians report that "A Christmas Carol" was his favorite piece to perform. According to Gerald, his great-great grandfather adored theater and initially wanted to be an actor but pursued writing as a career for practical purposes.
For many years Gerald says that he himself "avoided anything to do with Dickens like the plague." But in 1993 when a friend asked him to do a reading of "A Christmas Carol" on its 150th anniversary of publication to help raise money for a historical restoration project, he couldn't turn him down. To his surprise, he enjoyed doing it and has been delighting audiences around the world with his rendition ever since.
However, Gerald's visit at the school was much more than two enactments. Barbour said there was instructional time before he arrived, during and after he performed as students helped produced his show.
"Gerald sent the script over from England ahead of time. The students ran the lights, made certain of the sound quality, complete with sound effects, set the stage and even researched and introduced him," she said.
After his performances, Dickens answered questions from students and listened to what they were doing in their lives and what they hope to accomplish. Coincidently, students of the Laker Theatre Company were preparing for their musical rendition of "A Christmas Carol" in November during his visit.
International Baccalaureate student Nick Horne, who will play Scrooge in this year's musical, said he was able to have a few one-on-one conversations with Dickens backstage during the course of the day and I was able to ask him questions how he created his own Scrooge and made him in to real person.
"Gerald really helped me see Scrooge in a different light than just the mean old grump, but in to a more human individual aspect who just was heartbroken so many times throughout his life that just made him very hard and malice," said Horne, who acted as stage manager for Dickens performance. "And he also showed me throughout the piece that his great-great grandfather created how Scrooge comes into this transformation from a mean man to a man that's giving and lighthearted and warm. It was really neat to see how Gerald made Scrooge build up character scene by scene in his own production of it and how Scrooge changed, so I really enjoyed watching him and talking to him about his character analysis."
Barbour said Dickens visit was made possible by a number of supportive people, especially the community to make Gerald's visit happen full circle.
"A big shout out goes to Camdenton's theater director JoBeth Nicklas and her students. My small part is, that by community support our family, gift and home decor shop, Country Crossroads, has been sharing American-made, Byers' Choice Carolers for over 15 years. They have an immensely popular series entitled "A Christmas Carol,' made popular by author Charles Dickens," Barbour said. "Because of our on-going, win-win relationship, the company, Byers' Choice, offered me two years ago the opportunity to have Charles Dickens' great-great grandson, Gerald, an English actor, to come to our area."
"Most areas have Gerald give community performances. Instead, I thought who better to inspire than our students! As we are constantly reinforcing how reading is vital. This could open up teacher and student dialogue about this classic writer. This year also happens to be the 200 anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth," Barbour added.
Barbour noted that Camdenton High School became the first school in the nation to host Gerald Dickens' one-man performance of "A Christmas Carol."
"I am thankful to many and am overjoyed that our students experienced in person a man that is directly related to success and critical acclaim," Barbour remarked. "Most importantly experiencing that our youth, too, have choices and combined with hard work can also succeed in their lives."
This weekend the talented students of Camdenton High School's Laker Theatre Company will present their interpretation of the musical, "A Christmas Carol" based on the book by Charles Dickens.
Las Vegas-based company, Flying by Foy, spent several days at the high school rigging the mechanical flying system and teaching the students proper safety techniques. This is the same company that was used last year in the production of "The Wizard of Oz" and several years ago in "Peter Pan."
"We have tried some different things this year with our flying," states director Jo Beth Nicklas in a press release. "Since this is our third time working with Flying by Foy, and all of our students who operated the system last year are returning to do it again, we were able to work out some different and unexpected effects. The song, "Link by Link' with the Ghost of Marley is a particularly intricate number that has taken hours of rehearsal to work through."
The production involves more than 75 talented student performers, numerous musicians, many backstage crewmembers and countless hours of work from the high school's theater arts and costume design and construction classes. Rachel Harmon will serve as stage manager this year and will be running the entire show from her post backstage on the performances. All of this is overseen by faculty members in the theater, vocal music, instrumental music and family and consumer science departments, who collaborate on the production as a whole. A new collaborative addition this year is a backdrop painted by the CHS Art Club.
"Having the expertise of the teachers and students of the visual arts department has allowed us to add this intricate backdrop I think our audience is really going to enjoy," Nicklas told The Lake Today.
The backdrop is inspired by a city of London scene in Camdenton High School Alumni and Hall of Leader Member, Chuck Fischer's, pop-up book based on "A Christmas Carol." Fischer is a well-known artist who currently resides New York City.
The show will take place at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Saturday Dec. 8 and at 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and children and $7 for adults. For phone orders and more information, call 573-216-8926. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.camdentonschools.org for an added convenience fee. Limited seating may be available at the door.