No Humbugs Here. Christmas Spirits with Jeremy Webb!

It is magical and snowy and merry and bright in Halifax this morning, and if you would like to lift your holiday spirits to even more warm and cozy heights, I highly recommend catching one of Jeremy Webb’s productions of A Christmas Carol at the Neptune Studio Theatre, tonight December 23rd, 2011 at 7:30pm and December 24th at 7:30pm. Pay What You Can. No advanced booking, first come, first seated, a proceeds to benefit Phoenix Youth Programs.  Jeremy is also going to be at Park Lane Mall on Spring Garden Road today and tomorrow selling his new Christmas Carol CD. Catch him while you can! I caught up with Jeremy in the midst of his busy touring schedule and he provided me with this magical interview! Enjoy!

Amanda Campbell (AC): You just got back from touring Shakespeare on Trial around in the United States, where did you go? What was the best part of touring in the states and what was the strangest/weirdest aspect of touring through the states?

Jeremy Webb (JW): We spent 5 ½ weeks in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia (for one day) and it was quite an experience. Five people on the road together, so far a way from home and loved ones can be tough. We survived, but we also had an amazing time. We played some amazing venues: big thousand-seater houses with such history. One theatre was the oldest theatre in the south and the stage had seen Wild Bill Hickcock and Tom Thumb perform, as well as all the American Shakespearean actor greats… You could really feel the ghosts!

We got to meet President Jimmy Carter in a little Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia (his home town). We heard he taught Sunday school and would then pose for pics afterwards, so we all went, got checked out by his security detail. We must have looked like a strange family, the five of us!

We managed to eat relatively healthy, which is always the challenge on the road. But we got to experience the real Southern cooking – the chicken, the cornbread, the grits and gravy…

We even managed to get six days off with no shows, so we zipped down to Florida and got beach time! Simon Henderson and I went roller coaster and thrill-ride crazy. There’s a video circulating of us on this slingshot ride…

AC: Now you’re home touring A Christmas Carol around Nova Scotia. You are a touring MACHINE, how do you do it!? Any touring tips to share with our budding young theatre makers?

JW: I would say sleep while you can and never go outside with wet hair. I learned this a few years ago touring in Canada in December. I would always catch a mid-tour cold. Then I realized that if I dried my hair after a shower the colds wouldn’t be so frequent!  Christmas Carol is a well-oiled touring machine, not me. I have discovered that if the product is good then folks will book you to come play for them. You just have to prove yourself. This takes time. Once the venues trust you to deliver the goods then you are in. We just got invited back to do another US tour in 2012 and venues are already asking for next year’s Christmas Carol.

AC: You’ve been doing A Christmas Carol, a bit off and on, since 2003, how did it first come about? Did you always have a strong affinity with Dickens’ story? You played Cratchit to Nigel Bennett’s Scrooge at Neptune, please tell me the idea came from you looking around you and thinking to yourself, “Huh. I could play all these parts!” (laughs)

JW: In 2003, I needed a job for December, plain and simple. So I made one up. Got a couple of pals to help and did it as an expanded reading, really. It’s grown so much since then and been seen so many times by so many people. I have always enjoyed the story of Scrooge – it’s an actor’s treat. I wouldn’t normally be cast in that role (usually Fred, or Bob, or someone jovial) but with this show I play them all
and switch up quite a bit, starting the show and ending it as Dickens, so that’s how I can get away with playing Ebenezer. It’s ‘Scrooge’ as Dickens would maybe have played him: that’s what I imagine. I stole from every single version of A Christmas Carol, including the shows I’d been in. Nigel Bennett is in there, so is Brian Mackay…both great Scrooges. Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Alistair Simm, they are all in my show. Why deny it!?

AC: How did you come up with the idea to use puppets in the show? Can you talk a bit about the evolution of the puppets and the way that the ghosts have been portrayed in various productions?

JW: The puppets were born out of exhaustion and the need to give the audience a break from me playing roles; but still keep it as a one-man show. The puppets add another layer of production that enhance the show. To date there have been two ghosts of Jacob Marley, three ‘Futures’, four ‘Pasts’ and a whole bunch of ways that we portray Scrooge’s old love interest Belle. It’s fun to change it up and keep
them all fresh. Next year I want to create a mammoth Ghost of Christmas Present puppet.

AC: Do you have a favourite character to play within the show, does it change every night, or is the most fun in the switching from one to another?

JW: Not really a favorite, but I do enjoy many of them for different reasons. I love playing Bob’s tragedy. I like Scrooge’s realization moments as he finally understands where he’s been going wrong. I want to add more characters next year and go from a one act 85 minutes to a two act 100 minutes. I have the characters and scenes lined up; just have to learn the lines..!

AC: You recently performed A Christmas Carol with Symphony Nova Scotia! Tell us all about that experience!!

 JW: It was spectacularly tense. Not in a bad way! Just the sudden appearance of 40 musicians, with a conductor hanging off your every word and waiting to start one of 36 different music cues. Frightening! The reaction by the SNS audience was phenomenal. I was really moved by their enthusiasm after each of the shows and I think the musicians enjoyed it also! We had fun together. I worked them into the comedic elements of the show and they played along and even (in the case of one violinist) took it further and really entered into the nature of an Off The Leash show! I hope I get to do it again. We have had an enquiry from another Symphony in Ontario, so maybe the Symphonic Scrooge could be the way to go?

AC: You have a CD of A Christmas Carol for sale! How did that come about and why should we all rush out to purchase it for our loved ones this Christmas Season?

 JW: The CD came about because I’d always wanted to make one and I approached SNS to play on it. The CD is the entire show, plus about another 30 minutes of material from the book, with the symphony playing Scott Macmillan’s score underneath. This music he wrote especially for the CD and it’s amazing how it adds to the show! The CD is a great holiday gift and at just $20 plus hst even Scrooge couldn’t argue with that! It’s been selling well at the shows and is on sale at Chapters, Woozles, and HMV in Halifax. As well it available on line. www.offtheleash.ca

 AC: There are so many renditions of A Christmas Carol, plays, musicals, movies, TV Specials, do you have a favourite?

JW: Easy! The Muppet Christmas Carol. Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat are great and the whole thing really captures a great mood. When creating my show back in 2003, the Muppet movie is the one I watched
again first!

AC: What’s next for you, Jeremy Webb? Any sleeping in your future!?

 JW: Next up is more performances of A Christmas Carol, more Shakespeare On Trial and completing my next play Fishing. It’s a comedy about internet dating and very different in tone to the other two. Selling that show to venues right now. I also have another short film waiting to get made and…and…
oh so much more to do. 2011 was a great year professionally and personally and 2012 looks to be equally as magical. Oh and I might rest a little bit in January. But actors don’t like doing that! What if the month after that has nothing….!!?

See you at A Christmas Carol. Happy Holidays, Everyone from TWISI!

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