Three ghosts in the machine: Citadel's A Christmas Carol goes online

·3 min read

Christmas and its yuletide traditions come but once a year.

But, like everything else, there will be some adjustments for 2020.

For Edmontonians, one of those traditions has been the Citadel Theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, theatre lovers will still be able to watch this year's production — recorded and ready to stream at home through the theatre's website.

"We certainly spent the last six months trying to figure out how to save Christmas," director Daryl Cloran said in an interview for CBC's Radio Active.

"And we feel like we did."

Restrictions around performances meant production had to be tailored to the reality of the pandemic. The number of people in group scenes was limited while all the songs were recorded in studio with actors lip-syncing during scenes.

It was a new experience for much of the cast, returning from last year's production. A hybrid between live theatre and a movie, scenes played out in front of three cameras on a stage bereft of an audience.

"A few people describe the experience as almost like filming a sitcom," Coran said. The new format also allowed the production to utilize camera techniques like unique angles and close-ups.

Raoul Bhatt
Raoul Bhatt

It's the second year the theatre will be using a new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. Playwright David van Belle had to further adapt his script, set in the 1940s and featuring beloved holiday songs, for the conventions of filming.

The runtime has also been trimmed from two hours to around 90 minutes — plus a few tweaks.

"Because there are people who saw the show last year, there are some new things that I hope that people will be pleasantly surprised by."

Van Belle recounts a recent conversation with a technician, who asked him about switching out Frank Sinatra's upbeat version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for Judy Garland's more melancholic rendition.

The crew member said the lyrics were perfect for the time, quoting them back to him.

"Someday soon we will all be together if the fates allow — until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow," he said.

Raoul Bhatt
Raoul Bhatt

Van Belle said keeping in line with health orders meant some of the personal connections formed during production were curtailed.

"There was never this sense where everybody was there," he said. "But also a huge amount of joy for me to see that there were so many people that were employed on this project."

This month the Citadel Theatre tested out streaming recorded performances with A Brimful of Asha. The show played before a limited, distanced and masked audience in the Shoctor Theatre, which normally seats 650 people.

Cloran, who is also the theatre's artistic director, said future shows with smaller casts are planned to be available both live and streaming. Some shows postponed in 2020 are also slated for 2021, depending on gathering restrictions.

"I know lots of other theatres in Alberta and across Canada have just had to sort of shut the doors and not do anything," he said.

"For us to be continually trying to keep that connection going, I think that does help us keep moving forward."

The Citadel Theatre's A Christmas Carol will be available online from Dec. 15 to 31. A donation drive for the Edmonton Food Bank will again be a part of the production.