By Ilene Sørbøe, Artistic Intern and Assistant to the Director of A Christmas Carol
I was born and raised in Norway. This August, I moved to Chicago to be an artistic intern at Goodman Theatre for the fall season. I was informed beforehand that I would be working on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I had an idea of the story—its plot, characters and message. What I did not know was the production’s deeply rooted tradition in American theater. It didn’t take me long to realize just how much this Christmas tale means to the Goodman’s audiences.
The holidays are a time of traditions. Year after year, we hang up the same Christmas decorations, eat the same food and listen to the same Christmas music. These actions are more than a routine or a habit. We do them because they are necessary steps towards finding our Christmas spirit. These steps worked last year, and the year before last year—why fix something if it isn’t broken?
Photo: Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.
We ask the same questions every December: How will the turkey turn out this year? What should I wear on Christmas Day? Baked potatoes or mashed potatoes? And small upsets cause just the right amount of delightful variety, without stepping outside of the traditional frame of the Holiday.
I respect and understand these traditions; we have Christmas traditions in Norway too, they just don’t include going to the theater to see A Christmas Carol. But being a passionate theater lover, I cannot explain how excited it makes me to see grandparents holding the hands of their grandchildren entering the theater for the first time. It’s the start of something new, the beginning of a tradition.
Maybe next year, little Andy will not cry when Marley’s ghost appears—after all, he will be a whole year older. Or perhaps Andy will not cry because Marley’s ghost is less frightening than in the production the year before. We collect our memories based on small modifications, comparing this year’s Marley with last year’s Marley. We can handle subtle changes, but we feel alienated if they are too radical—like someone has pushed us outside of the holiday frames we have created.
I am grateful to have been a part of this production of A Christmas Carol and to experience an important Christmas tradition of the American theater. Perhaps A Christmas Carol will now become one of my Christmas traditions—the perfect way to usher me into the holiday mood.