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Q&A: Teachers Bring 'A Christmas Carol' to Life

By Phyllis McGuire
Special to iBerkshires
02:55AM / Monday, December 02, 2013
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Andrew 'Drew' Gibson and Jeffrey Welch have been bringing 'A Christmas Carol' to life each year at the annual Holiday Walk.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Keeping with tradition, the 30th annual Williamstown Holiday Walk will bring together people of all ages for a celebration of  the holiday season. 
Entertainment and activities, including caroling and lighting of the Christmas tree at the bottom of Spring Street, inspire a holiday spirit in those who attend the free event. 
Organized by the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, the 2013 Holiday Walk will be held on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 3 to 6 p.m.
And in the warmth of The Log on Spring Street at 4:45 that afternoon, Andrew "Drew" Gibson and Jeffrey Welch will render a reading of Charles Dickens' classic masterpiece "A Christmas Carol." 
Gibson, a social studies teacher at Mount Greylock Regional High School, holds a master's degree in theater.  
"I worked as a storyteller when I was living in the Midwest," said Gibson. "In about 2000, I added to my repertoire 'A Christmas Carol.' It was a one-man show; I did all the parts. It  really was a lot of work, a lot of memorizing. Now that Jeff and I do the reading together, it takes the burden off ... ."
Welch, curriculum leader for both the social studies and music departments at Mount Greylock also has directed the school's musicals for the past 14 years. 
"I am not a trained storyteller per se, although as a history teacher you have to bring the element of the story teller to class every day, I think," Welsh said.
QUESTION: How many years have you and Mr. Gibson been doing a reading of "A Christmas Carol" at the Holiday Walk?
ANSWER: This is Drew's and my third year as part of the Holiday Walk. Our collaboration started out as a parish activity at Sts. Patrick and Raphael, where the performance was offered for two or three years before that.
Q: How did you become involved with the Holiday Walk?
A: Through Barbara Agostini. She is a parishioner at St. Patrick's who had heard the reading, and recruited us to participate in the Holiday Walk. 
Q: What do you find most satisfying in doing the reading?
A: I enjoy the reading because I have always loved each of the characters in the story, and I get to be them for about an hour. Dickens' use of language is so much fun, and I also love to see the audience transfixed during the reading.
Q: What do you find most challenging?
A: Finding the time to rehearse.
Q: How many times do you rehearse before a performance?  
A: Multiple ... it varies. 
Q: Do you own or rent your costume?
A: I own all my costume pieces. Drew has borrowed from Williams College in the past, but [now] owns most of his pieces. My swallowtail coat was tailored by a costumer friend of mine from Pittsfield, Sue Slack.
Q: The Holiday Walk comes at a very busy time of year. Are you working on any theater project at Mount Greylock now?
A: Shakespeare & Company [annul Fall Festival of Shakespeare] just finished. We'll be auditioning for the school musical — "Guys and Dolls" — in early December. We have great students ... they are so enthusiastic and talented. I would love to do the Scrooge musical, but our season begins after the holiday vacation, and we mount our show in March.
(More than 30 Mount Greylock students worked with Shakespeare & Company to produce "King Lear." The students performed in the play at the high school, and again on the Shakespeare & Company stage.)  
Q: At what sites, besides the Log, have you done the reading?
A: Well, we were at the St. Patrick's parish center on Southworth Street, and also at Goodrich (Hall, Williams College) ...that year we were physically and logistically opposite the service of Lessons and Carols, and didn't draw a great crowd. Plus, there was this noisy ventilation apparatus that made the experience rather like performing in a bus garage.
Q: Do you prefer one site over the others? If so, why?
A: The Log is ideal because of its half-timbered, ageless quality. It is ideal, I  think, for any 18th or 19th century subject. I could imagine "Drums Along the Mohawk," "Moby-Dick" or any other Dickens performance there as well. Plus, it is intimate but there is a good little space in front of the fireplace to create just the right amount of distance with the audience.
The Goodrich Hall year was probably the most challenging, and also suffered from the lowest attendance. It is a good thing that I have a devoted wife and four children to fill some seats.
Q: What is your earliest memory of "A Christmas Carol?"
A: I honestly cannot remember a time with "Carol" wasn't my favorite story. My parents brought me a hardcover version illustrated by the great British illustrator Arthur Rackham, and since his illustrations were mostly silhouettes, they left a great deal to the imagination. I also was taken with the 1970 film version of Leslie Bricusse's musical "Scrooge" starring Albert Finney in the title role. I watched it whenever it was on TV, and I think that Finney is the ideal Scrooge. 
Q: Did you ever direct or appear in an amateur production of "A Christmas Carol?"
A: Yes. In fourth grade I directed and starred in a class production of "A Christmas Carol."
Q: What do you most like about the story?
A: I think that, as a shorter work, it is one of the most accessible Dickens work for those not immersed in the 19th-century use of the English language. Plus, it creates the English ideal of the celebration of Christmas, and the characters are just so perfectly named and rendered ... classic Dickens. Additionally, I like the message of redemption and charity.
Q: What would you like the audience to take away from the reading you and Mr. Gibson do together? 
A: I would like for some of Drew's and my affection for Dickens in general, and this story in particular, to be contagious. It is such a classic tale.
Complete schedule of Holiday Walk activities can be found at

Tags: holiday event,   holiday story,   


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