YPT Christmas Carol

The Young People's Theater, pictured here in a 2015 production of “Grease,” has adapted with smaller casts and Zoom rehearsals during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday and Saturday a middle school cast presents “A Christmas Carol” at the Sheridan Opera House. (Planet file photo)

It may be January, but the spirit of Christmas as captured by English novelist Charles Dickens in 1843 is worth remembering year round. While the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Young People’s Theater was initially set to perform the classic tale the weekend before Christmas, the show was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. With the county now at Level Orange on the COVID-19 risk dial, the young actors will take to the Sheridan Opera House stage Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. each night. 

Current restrictions limit the audience to 50 people, with tickets sold in advance in pods arranged at six foot apart from one another. Masks will be required for the entirety of the show. For those that wish to see the show or support Young People’s Theater by purchasing a ticket, the performance will also be filmed and available online the following weekend for $10 for an at-home theater experience.

Artistic director Leah Heidenreich chose the timeless classic as a fitting choice for the end of a long and challenging year, the themes of compassion and caring for others offering particularly poignant messages in light of current events.

“This is a story that has been cherished for nearly 200 years,” she said. “It resonates. Scrooge realizes that greed and money are things you can’t take with you and don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s joy, relationships and love that will count at the end of our lives. It felt like the perfect story for us to do.”

The cast, composed of 10 young actors from grades six through eight, has kept the show fresh with Zoom rehearsals since its postponement. With the limited cast size due to the restrictions, every actor is playing multiple characters to fill out a show that normally would boast a cast double or triple the size.

“Navigating creating the magic with only 10 people was a challenge, but it’s been amazing because the kids have been so committed and passionate,” Heidenreich said. “It's amazing to see what they can accomplish even when all the odds are stacked against us. They’ve created a magical piece of theater.”

In “A Christmas Carol,” the infamous miser Ebenezer Scrooge goes to sleep on Christmas Eve night after a cantankerous day of refusing to donate to a Christmas charity, rejecting an invitation for Christmas dinner and begrudging his hardworking employee, Bob Cratchit, the paid holiday off. That night, he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who provide the curmudgeon with startling glimpses into the lives of those around him and into his own future if he continues on his self-centered path of greed. After visiting his own future funeral with the Ghost of Christmas Future, in which only businessmen who’ve been promised lunch are in attendance, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man, determined to trade his miserly ways for a life of generosity and goodwill.

In the Young People’s Theater production, Bob Cratchit’s young son, Tiny Tim, is played by sixth grader Ruby Cieciuch. During Scrooge’s noctambulant tour, the ghost of Christmas Present shows him the warm yet impoverished home of the Cratchits, where he learns that young Tim will succumb to his illness if his circumstances do not change. For Cieciuch, playing the role of Tiny Tim offered a chance to reflect on the ability to choose one’s reaction despite difficult circumstances.

“Even though Tiny Tim’s family is really poor and going through a lot, they can look past it and enjoy Christmas dinner together, and give to others,” she said. “It’s an empowering and positive role, and I feel like we all need a character like that right now.”

Scrooge, on the other hand, offers a stark example of how not to live. 

“He’s the kind of man who doesn’t care about anybody but himself,” she said, “But he has all these influential people in his life who show him what it is to care for others and how much better that can feel rather than staying isolated by himself.”

Acting, according to Cieciuch, offers a unique way to simultaneously step into a character while embracing one’s authentic self.

“You can really step into other people’s shoes and see their perspective,” she reflected. “It opens up your eyes and your mind. That’s something that I love about it.”

While the stage lights of the historic Sheridan Opera House remained dark throughout the weeks of Level Red and most of the pandemic, the staff of the venue are looking forward to bringing the joy of live theater back to the storied space.

“We are just so happy to safely welcome small groups of people into the building,” said Maggie Stevens, the venue’s marketing director. “It's been a brutally quiet winter with not being able to program, and the opera house is a space that should be filled with music and theater, and kids and adults enjoying live performances.”