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December 3, 2010

The Scrooge Diaries – Joseph Ziegler

Joseph Ziegler

Joseph Ziegler. Photo: Sandy Nicholson.

Joseph Ziegler is an actor, director, and Founding Member of Soulpepper Theatre Company. Ziegler just recently finished a run of Death of a Salesman where his portrayal of Willy Loman garnered much acclaim. For A Christmas Carol, Ziegler reprises his celebrated role of Ebenezer Scrooge, which he first played in 2001.

Monday, November 29

Today was my first day of rehearsal for A Christmas Carol. The rest of the company started on Friday, but I was busy with Death of a Salesman, which closed last night. The run was fantastic, intense, relentless. So it feels a little odd starting on another play so soon. But we’ve done it before, and as I walk into the rehearsal hall, I am reminded of many Christmas Carols past. The props, the furniture, my shoes, top hat and walking stick are all there. And many of the same people. It has been a happy group, over the years: actors, stage managers, designers and our adapter/ director, Michael Shamata. He welcomes us all and we begin a read-through. When Oliver Dennis as my clerk, Bob Cratchit, asks me to give some debtor a break, I say “Bah, humbug!” and I know right where I am.

Tuesday, November 30
We’re rehearsing the section where the Ghost takes Scrooge to revisit his younger days, and Christmases past. An important part of the story is how Scrooge has become hard, miserly and cruel. In our play, as in the book, Scrooge sees a younger version of himself, and watches as the young boy is left by himself at boarding school one Christmas and, on another Christmas from the past, how his relationship is severed with the true love of his life, Belle. We have an archival DVD of our production, to which we refer occasionally when we’re trying to remember how we did a scene last time. It’s very useful for everyone, but at the same time, it’s a little disorienting: revisiting the past of some characters revisiting the past. I’m struck by how fat Scrooge seems to have gotten since that last time we did it.

Wednesday, December 1
One of my favourite scenes in A Christmas Carol is when the Ghost of Christmas Present brings Scrooge face to face with two destitute children, Ignorance and Want. In our show, they’re played by Owen and Alison, who also play Tiny Tim and his sister Belinda. Scrooge asks, “Is there nothing to be done? Is there nowhere for them to go?” The Ghost throws Scrooge’s own words back in his face, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” How does Scrooge react? He does nothing. But his conversion is well under way. In our production, the ghost shows him the children, and vanishes. Scrooge tries to follow him, turns back and the children have disappeared. He is left alone to face the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And at that point, Ignorance had to use the washroom.

Thursday, December 2
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come looms out of the mist and the darkness, and Scrooge says, “Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spirit I have seen.” The Ghost will not speak, and Scrooge is forced to put all his thoughts and questions into words. Today we were rediscovering the moment of Scrooge’s epiphany. He’s brought to his own graveside, and, as he sees his fate, Scrooge begs for another chance. The ghost is silent, inexorable. Scrooge vows to change his ways. When Scrooge is most desperate, the Ghost and the graveyard disappear, and Scrooge is back in his own room. “Alive! I’m still alive! The shadows of things that would have been may be dispelled!” I never get tired of playing this moment of ecstasy, when Scrooge realizes he is being given another chance.

Friday, December 3
It will be my 58th Christmas this year, and I don’t remember any unhappy ones. I’m probably pretty lucky that way. Christmas is a big deal at our house here in Toronto, just as it was in the house where I grew up, in Minneapolis. So playing the last scene of A Christmas Carol is a lot of fun. Scrooge discovers joy and happiness, not only in the season, but in other people as well. Today we did our first full run-through of the play, which is not bad, considering that rehearsals started a week ago. It wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot of heart in it, which is an essential ingredient for any company doing this play. I look around the room, after the run, as Michael gives us some notes. Everyone looks a little giddy, flushed and excited. Ten days ’til opening! God bless us, every one!