& & by Julienne Gage & & & &

How, exactly, does a theatrical company approach one of the most well-known and most beloved Christmas stories of all time? How do you bring Scrooge and Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, and all those spirits of Christmas past, present and future, to life?

"I've seen the story of A Christmas Carol done a million different ways. Every single time, I end up with tears in my eyes," says Patrick McHenry-Kroetch, production manager and vice-president of the board of the Spokane Theatrical Group. A traditional version of A Christmas Carol will be the group's first winter performance, starting tonight at The Met and running through Sunday.

The play is full of Spokane talent. Patrick Treadway, a well-known Spokane actor, will play the part of Scrooge. Tom Hepler, who, along with the play's director Troy Nickerson tied for the AACT Nation's Best Actor in community theater award this year, will play the role of Mr. Cratchit. Marianne McLaughlin, a local actress, singer and director will perform as Mrs. Cratchit.

"When we did the first read, I looked around and I thought I would have been happy if I could have gotten one or two great actors," says McHenry-Kroetch. "Our whole cast is full of incredible talent."

McHenry-Kroetch says it's Mr. Cratchit who gives the seasonal spirit to the classic story. "I love that Cratchit is continually upbeat even though everything around him is dismal. That really speaks to what Christmas is about," he says. "It always kills me, that part where the Ghost of Christmas Future shows the death of Tim, and you see Cratchit break down for the first time."

With the lead, Treadway says he rather enjoys the role of crotchety old Scrooge. "I love the character before he changes," he says. "He's the quintessential curmudgeon." As an actor, Treadway enjoys the challenge of an almost villainous role. He says that most actors agree that the part of the bad guy always requires more character depth.

"This kind of guy really exists," he remarks. "He's a cold hearted son of a gun. I'd like to think he's far removed from who I am. He's somebody else, but he still exists."

Treadway, who came to Spokane after years of acting in the San Francisco Bay area, says he's been preparing for the Scrooge role for a lifetime. "When I was a kid, I used to make tapes of a one-man show of Scrooge," he says.

By teaching stage makeup at North Idaho College and acting at the Talent Resource Studio in the Valley, Treadway has taken the opportunity to use his Christmas Carol preparation in the classroom. Students in his makeup class have been working on the cosmetic aspects of the show as a school assignment. It's required some creativity since Treadway doesn't exactly look like old Scrooge.

"I'm concerned about the look. Scrooge is a stooped over old bald man. I don't want to shave my head and I don't want to wear a latex cap, because with two performances in a day, I'll suffocate," he says laughing.

The production of the Spokane Theatrical Group's A Christmas Carol not only includes some of Spokane's finest actors, it also draws from the community's considerable musical talent. While the group wants the performance to be traditional, they have enhanced it with some Christmas carolers and unique set design. Carol Miyamoto, the music director and pianist, has added in background songs for the sidewalk scenes. Civic Theater set designer Peter Hardie has spent a tremendous amount of time preparing the set.

One of Spokane Theatrical Group's greatest challenges is finding the balance between a traditional story and a unique performance. "[The cast] knows the story, but they will bring their own style to it," says Nickerson. "It's simple and honest. It's about change, so we have to keep the familiarity to it."

With such an experienced cast, these artistic interpretations shouldn't be too difficult. McHenry-Kroetch says that the hardest part of getting the show on the road was the five months of advertising, marketing and production. The group has never put on a winter production, because until this year, there was never room in the theatrical schedule. At such a busy time of year, actors have to prepare quickly. It usually takes them four to five weeks of rehearsal, but this cast has to practice with just two weeks.

The Spokane Theatrical Group has been producing plays for five years in Spokane. Treadway says they know how to put the pieces together. "They're committed to doing a stage production for family entertainment," he says. Noting the success of past Spokane Theatrical Group plays including Grease, Carousel, Big River and The Sound of Music, he says, "they always have good sets and plenty of acting talent."

The cast of A Christmas Carol was well thought out beforehand. Some of the actors were handpicked, while others auditioned. "As the director, you cast the entire show," says Nickerson. "It's your concept. You watch all the movements, oversee the costuming -- you're in charge of the whole ball of wax," he says.

Treadway has worked closely with the Spokane Theatrical Group, and so they asked him to play the role of Scrooge. He appreciates the artistic flexibility that the Spokane Theatrical Group has given him.

"They always give me a nice variety of parts," he says, noting that acting for the company gives him a great sense of theatrical fun.

Although he's had the opportunity to perform on stage and in commercials in the Bay Area, not to mention in the film The Basket, Treadway has always felt a special pull to acting in the Spokane community. "The caliber of people (in the audience) is really appealing," he says. "They're very appreciative and understanding. When you're acting, sometimes you have to play for the lowest common denominator, but it's not that low here. The intellectualism sinks into the audience," he remarks.

Next year, the Spokane Theatrical Group is hoping to branch out with an original play by Matt Hargot who has written a musical version of The Little Drummer Boy. For this year, they are confident that the classic message of A Christmas Carol will lose neither its splendor nor its sentimental effect on the audience. It's easy to be moved by the undaunted cheerfulness of Mr. Cratchit, but Scrooge, whose cranky outbursts are more similar to our own uncharitable moments, always provokes thought and emotion.

And Treadway knows that the depth of his Scrooge character is also fulfilling because of how it touches people. "It's traditional for family members to intervene and drag a Scrooge type to A Christmas Carol. I'm sure we'll get some this year, and of those, we'll reach a few."

& & & lt;i & A Christmas Carol plays at The Met, Dec. 14-17. It plays at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $12; $7 students and seniors. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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