By Jonathan Williams
Christmas is this weekend, which means many people are scrambling to see as many more light displays, Christmas concerts and other festivities as they can before Christmas morning is here. And though reading or viewing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a tradition for many, the Alliance Theatre‘s annual production has become a tradition for many Atlantans. For veteran stage actor Chris Kayser, who has been involved in the show for 19 years and is reprising his role as Scrooge once again this year, A Christmas Carol has become a part of his holiday tradition on an even deeper level. As the show comes to a close on Christmas Eve, Kayser takes a moment to talk to Wrestling with Pop Culture about what being part of this holiday tradition means to him.
I’ve seen you in various plays over the past decade or so, including A Christmas Carol a few times. As one of Atlanta’s most accomplished stage actors, how do you decide which roles you will take and what has kept you playing Scrooge for so many years?
Being in A Christmas Carol is not like being in a Broadway hit, where the run stretches into months, years. It’s just one of six, seven, eight shows I do every year. It’s an all-star Atlanta cast. I get to work with fabulous singers that I don’t normally work with (I’m such a drama guy). I get to work amid the trappings and resources of the Alliance Theatre. I love being a part of a holiday tradition in my hometown. Dickens is one of the giants of literature and this story is worth telling and re-telling. All actors want to play parts that have an arc, a character that is affected and changed by the events of the play. And this is one of the greatest examples of arc. I hope I’m a better actor each year when I tackle this role, so I try to bring to it the full weight of my age and experience. And, oh yes, both my children were born on the 23rd of December, two years apart, so I need this doggone job. The play, the job, the role have had a very real impact on my life so I make sure I respect it, take it seriously and try to give my very best each and every time out.
Many things about the Alliance’s production of A Christmas Carol (including you playing Scrooge) have stayed the same for many years. Why have you reprised the role of Scrooge so many times? How would you say your portrayal of the character has evolved over the years?
I don’t set out to do something different every year – particularly if it’s just to entertain myself – while still being open to the possibilities. I just try to tell that story to the best of my ability. What has certainly changed is my perspective. And that has to do with age (I’m 62) – looking back, dealing with regrets, looking ahead to the time I have left, how to use that time.
When the time comes to pass the Scrooge torch, are there any actors you’d like to see play the role in your absence?
The role is a little Lear-like in the sense that when you’re old enough to play Lear, you’re too old to carry Cordelia. The run is a very tough, grueling physical challenge. (nine shows a week, 10:30 a.m. matinees). Tim McDonough, Eddie Lee, David de Vries?
Whether it the Grim Reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come or Tiny Tim, redemption is a dominant theme of this timeless tale. What would you say is the most important thing for audiences to take away from this production of A Christmas Carol?
Redemption, no doubt. If you’re still breathing, there’s time to mend your ways. [There are] so many stories in the Bible about how God loves the people who wake up at the last minute.
What other shows do you have planned following A Christmas Carol?
Next up for me is The Ladies Man at Theatre in the Square. A flat-out door-slamming French farce with a great cast. We close A Christmas Carol on the 24th and we start rehearsals for The Ladies Man on the 26th. Hey diddly dee, an actor’s life for me.
For more information, go to www.alliancetheatre.org.