Weekender

Puppets to tell interactive ‘Christmas Carol’ at The State Theatre

Puppeteer Adam Swartz will perform “A Christmas Carol” on Saturday.
Puppeteer Adam Swartz will perform “A Christmas Carol” on Saturday. Photo provided

Christmas might be over, but it’s not too late to see a story about one of the biggest New Year’s resolutions ever made, as Adam Swartz Puppets presents Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” on Saturday.

The interactive adaptation of Dickens’ classic holiday ghost story features a variety of puppetry styles and silliness suitable for all ages.

Swartz grew up in Lemont and said he was 8 or 9 years old when he decided he wanted a job where he never had to grow up and could just play with toys. In 1999, Swartz started professionally performing as a storyteller and puppeteer with Middle Earth Studios. His puppet company has been performing for summer reading programs at libraries for several years. He travels to schools, libraries, camps, arts festivals, theaters and streets to perform puppet shows and present hands-on workshops.

Swartz’s wife, Kathy Morrow, collaborates on the writing and direction of the show and contributes some puppet design ideas, while Swartz does most of the puppet design and builds all the puppets, props, costumes and sets.

“A few summers ago, we were chatting with a librarian about what kind of puppet shows would be fun for other seasons, and we thought of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” he said. “We have always loved this story and many adaptations of it.”

Swartz said he grew up watching the Disney cartoon “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”

“It was the last project Henson worked on, and is incredibly well done, so it holds a special place for us,” he said.

In “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge returns from work late one Christmas Eve to be haunted by the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley. Jacob is followed by three more spirits, the ghosts of Christmases past, present and yet to come, who take Scrooge on a journey of self-discovery through many times and places.

Because this show is an adaptation, Swartz said they made sure to read the original unabridged story several times and listen to the audio book to make sure they knew it well.

“We wrote and rewrote our adapted script several times and made changes as we rehearsed,” Swartz said. “We found music, worked out sound cues and blocking and I designed, tested, created and recreated the puppets and we made changes as we rehearsed.”

Because their shows require a lot of participation from the audience, they believe the show is not really complete until they have performed it a few times.

“We created this show last year and have done it several times now, so it feels like a more finished piece,” Swartz said.

When rereading Dickens’ original story, Swartz said he and his wife were reminded that Scrooge does not get scared into changing his ways because of the threat of an unpleasant afterlife. Rather, Scrooge reflects on his behavior and changes as the story progresses.

“We want to emphasize that Scrooge was once a happy person with a capacity to give happiness to others — he just lost that along the way,” he said. “This makes his story more believable and relatable.”

Swartz believes that like Scrooge, we all lose our way sometimes, and that we may need someone who believes in us to help us find it again.

“We also try to emphasize Scrooge’s relationship with his family by including some scenes that are often left out of other adaptations,” he said. “The unconditional love of family is also key to Scrooge’s redemption.”

For the show, they also tried to be as true to the original text as possible, while making it accessible to all ages.

“I became a little obsessed with making sure we were staying as true as possible to the original text and heart of the story,” Morrow said. “We threw in a few unique lines and we always do some improv with the audience. But we don’t usually do adaptations, so that was a fun challenge.”

Swartz said he hopes that they will have alleviated the fears of anyone who is nervous about puppets or ghosts, as they try to make the characters accessible and not scary. Above all, he said he wants everyone who sees “A Christmas Carol” to leave the theater feeling happy and hopeful.

“They will interact with hand puppets and human characters, see shadow puppets, make sound effects and even play parts in the story,” he said. “We hope they will talk about what they saw and did together — both the plot of the story and the experience of the puppetry.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Adam Swartz Puppets presents Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”
  • When: 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.thestatetheatre .org
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