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Q&A With "It's Christmas, Carol" creator Kandy Cleland

What makes this show unique?

When it comes to writing Stage Left Holiday originals, I always ask myself, “How can we offer joy, laughter, and meaning to our community during this holiday season?“ With our “Jingle My Bell” series, we took the audience on a nostalgic trip of sweet holiday memories back to the 1950’s. Counter that with our “Christmas at Mamaw Jo’s Stop-n-Go” where we offered hope for our patrons who grieved loved ones lost or lived in military deployment circumstances.

With our production of “It’s Christmas, Carol!”, we offer our audience the chance to experience Charles Dickens' powerful story played out in today’s culture. In the words of our protagonist, Carol, “Let’s face it, there’s a little bit of Ebenezer Scrooge in all of us.” As our audience follows Carol in her struggle to embrace her Polish roots while saving her family business, we offer hope, joy and laughter. As Carol finds redemption through her mysterious encounters with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, so do we.

You’ve written and produced multiple plays. When you set out, what’s your goal?

My plays always start with a need and a question. In this case, what story did my community need to experience this holiday season? Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is produced in some form or another in nearly every community & regional theatre around the world. And how many movies can you think of where star actors clamored to play the coveted roles?

I love the story of Scrooge’s transformation. I wanted to tell it in an unexpected way- to breathe modern life into it with hopes that our audience would see themselves in the story and ask, “Do I need a wake-up call in the middle of night by the Ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present and Future?” My goal was to have people leaving the playhouse cherishing their Christmas pasts, embracing their Christmas present, and living a life of service to family and friends to anticipate a happy Christmas Future.

You're known to take inspiration for your characters from real-life. Who or what inspired the characters in “Carol?”

I’ve heard it said that every writer’s work is autobiographical- and I believe that to be true. There’s a little bit of me in Carol’s character to be sure. Her preoccupation with work leaves her too busy to notice the needs of family and friends. That’s an ugly confession. I think I wrote this piece to force me to look in the mirror- to try to find that balance between work and family. It’s always a struggle and as life plays out, there are no clear answers. We see Scrooge’s big, instantaneous 180 degree turn-about and wish the same for us. I have a feeling that he, like me, still has his old workaholic tendencies, but I hope we’re both more mindful and kind to loved ones and strangers.

While the remaining characters were created with nods to Dickens’ originals, they come to life mostly through the setting I chose. I hail from New England, and affectionately chose Hartford, Connecticut as the setting for Carol’s store, Dickens Booksellers. My research led me to the nearby Polish community of New Britain. Suddenly, “The Family '' came to life complete with festive costumes, holiday traditions, and bossy Babcias! With the infusion of cultural tension, the characters jumped off the page and the story began to write itself.

COVID shut things down for a long time. How does it feel to finally open the doors to the public?

When the doors to the Trinity Playhouse closed on March 13, 2020, we thought it would be a few weeks until we were back on stage rehearsing. As the weeks turned into months, we remained creatively active and posted our past holiday shows online. Our community supported us with donations and grant funding. We kept active as we could via ZOOM meetings and productions where we learned how complicated the green screen and sharing of home videos to edit could be. Eventually our youth rehearsed, filmed “Guys & Dolls” on the stage with no audience- just three cell phones recording their amazing performances. Once I shouted, “And cut!” the orchestra and crew would applaud- but it sure wasn’t the same.

On Friday, November 12, 2021, we re-opened the doors to the public with MTI’s “All Together Now”- a cabaret style broadway review. As I surveyed the crowd of masked faces and took the stage with twenty-five community actors, joy filled my soul and I said to my good friend, Jacob Ward, “Look! Real people. It’s so good to see you here!” One week later, our K-8 cast was to take the stage for their fairy tale production of “Wake Up, Aurora!” and a cast member tested positive for COVID. Doors shut again. We’ve rescheduled their show for AFTER “It’s Christmas, Carol!” So doors open to the public feels like an unpredictable rollercoaster ride. Good thing I’m not afraid of rollercoasters. We’ll continue to play it smart, safe and take that exhilarating ride with our community.


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