It’s not surprising to interview an actor who is “in character” offstage during a rehearsal. Staying in character is a technique many successful actors use to perfect their onstage performance.
So it was not surprising that Jeffrey Mason — who plays the mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge — spoke in a British accent for an interview Sunday during a rehearsal break for this week’s opening of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
What was more surprising was that the director, Susan Mason, also spoke in a 19th century British accent — especially since the husband-and-wife team are both San Francisco natives.
Susan talks her talk, and she expects all 19 actors, including the half-dozen children in the 19-member cast, to “maintain” their characters and accents throughout rehearsals, even offstage and during breaks.
The play opens 8 p.m. Friday at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City for a four-week run, ending in a Christmas Eve matinee, said Sue LeGate (pronounced leh-GATE_ of LeGacy (pronounced LEG-a-see) Productions.
From Off Broadstreet to on Broad Street
After several years and several dozen performances of light musicals at the Off Broadstreet Theatre, LeGate decided to “do something different.”
She formed a family business, LeGacy Productions, and in 2007, the theater company produced the drama “A Few Good Men.” It starred veteran Hollywood actor Alvis LeGate, her son and business partner.
Ever since, LeGacy Productions — currently consisting of Sue LeGate, Alvis LeGate and Dave Halford — has developed a reputation for presenting quality productions, ranging from the heavyweight drama “On the Waterfront” to most recently an “original adaption” of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” by Nevada City actor/playwright Gary Wright.
Fluid and faithful
Perhaps nobody is more “in character” than Jeffrey Mason because he also wrote the original script for this production of “A Christmas Carol.”
“My goal was to stay as faithful as possible to Dickens’ novella,” he said in a scholarly British accent.
In collaboration with Susan Mason, his wife of 34 years, Jeffrey Mason wrote a script that was both faithful to Dickens’ story and “fluid” enough to accomplish their common goal of integrating multiple set changes into a play that, literally, doesn’t stop. Except for one intermission.
To accomplish frequent scene changes, they are using a series of freestanding, triangular backgrounds called “periaktoi.” The cast members simply rotate the periaktoi as the scenes change.
“(The actors) had to get used to being both actors and crew — while staying in character,” Susan Mason explained in her clipped British accent.
“They’ve adapted very well,” she said proudly, as she watched her actors run through a smoothly rehearsed series of scenes — and set changes — in full costume with no break in the action.
‘A community of community theaters’
The demise of the Actors’ Equity Foothill Theatre Company was a blow to Nevada City’s professional reputation, but it left a fertile field for community theater companies, Alvis LeGate noted.
“We all work together,” he said, referring to CATS (Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra), Quest Theaterworks, Sierra Stages, Synthetic Unlimited and other regional theater groups. They perform and crew in each other’s productions, and some companies even share the same storage space.
“We’re a community of community theaters,” he said.
And as a community theater, LeGacy gives back.
“We always do a benefit show for a local nonprofit,” and for this production, there will be two benefit performances, he said.
The 2 p.m. matinee this Sunday is dedicated to the Seven Hills School Science Camp. Next Thursday’s 7 p.m. show will benefit RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) of Nevada County.
A nightmare with a happy ending
Notorious in English literature as a mean-spirited businessman, Scrooge has no use for Christmas, much less sympathy for his hapless employee, Bob Cratchit (Brian Arnold), and his crippled, dying son, Tiny Tim (Reyn Smith).
Scrooge’s life, however, is forever transformed on Christmas Eve when he is visited by the terrifying apparitions of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Jay Barker) and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
Scrooge awakens Christmas morning a changed and generous man who now embodies the spirit and joy of Christmas, making it a perfect family show for the holidays, Sue LeGate promised.
She is especially enthused because for the first time in 34 years, the Sacramento Theatre Company is not producing “A Christmas Carol.” This makes Nevada City the prime destination to see one of the most beloved Christmas stories in one of the most historic theaters in California, she said.
“Until you have seen a Christmas show at the Nevada Theatre, you haven’t seen a Christmas show. It’s magical!”
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.