Musings on A Christmas Carol and theatre coverage in Edmonton

I saw A Christmas Carol at the Citadel last week and guess what: it was my first time. Yeah, that’s right: I had never seen the longest-running theatre show in town, which has been going on for 15 years. I’ve previewed the show – twice – back when I was doing regular theatre coverage for Vue and yet I never actually went and saw it. It’s my own fault: I’ve had plenty of chances to do so but I just never did. Mea culpa.

This isn’t really a review of the show – not that this show, of all local plays, needs one. (I can’t tell you how wonderfully freeing it is, not to have to scribble notes in the dark and then try to decipher them the next day.) Simply put, I really enjoyed it. I completely understand why it has become such a longstanding tradition as it’s just so warm-hearted and well-executed. I particularly enjoyed the renderings of the spirits: the spritely yet commanding Ghost of Christmas Past (by the way, where can I get my own fibre-optic-and-feathers costume?), the jovial Ghost of Christmas Present (I basically aspire to be that guy, in presence if not physical reality) and the silent, ominous and deliciously looming Ghost of Christmas Future.

Admittedly I’m a super-biased audience member, as I grew up watching the original 1951 film version of Scrooge (black and white, not the technicolour rendition) every single Christmas Eve. (Right after we watched the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas! of course.) I can assure you that if you also grew up with Scrooge, you’ll adore Tom Wood’s stage adaptation – it follows the original film pretty damn closely. Tom Wood also does a decent curmudgeonly miser, though I don’t think anyone will ever be able to top Alastair Sim. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t know anything about the story, I encourage you to go at least once to see what all the hype is about. Also, you’ll finally understand all the references that have been undoubtedly flying over your head until now.

 

This trip to the Citadel was also the first time I’d set foot in a theatre since the Fringe, aside from a show at the Walterdale a few weeks ago. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, as I haven’t gone that long between plays in – oh hell, probably something like six or seven years. The gap was driven by the fact that I’m no longer being paid to preview and review shows anymore, and I didn’t realize exactly how much I missed theatre until I was there, sitting in the Maclab, waiting for the lights to fall.

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Local arts coverage is not in a good place right now. We’ve entered a time in which the bulk of local performances are going to be lucky to get any print coverage. The recent gutting of Postmedia’s arts section, and specifically the loss of long-time theatre reviewer Liz Nicholls, coupled with the previous loss of most of Vue’s editorial staff (ahem), assures this. Put simply, the local papers – even the alternative weekly one that was often the only place where local indie shows got any press – don’t have the resources or manpower to cover local theatre (or music, or film, or books) anymore.

I’m worried that this will mean smaller houses, as people just won’t hear about shows anymore. I’m also worried about the impact that it will have on the quality and type of performances that we get. I know most theatre professionals could take or leave the reviews (especially if they come with the dreaded star rankings), but there’s no denying that having a solid backbone of constructive criticism strengthens the scene as a whole. It will be really sad to lose large-scale and ongoing conversations about the arts and all the wonderful, tragic and poignant things it makes us think about.

I’ve considered picking up my illegible little theatre notebook and reviewing shows here, on my personal blog. But that would be adding to the problem, wouldn’t it? The longer we continue writing for free, the more we aren’t going to get a replacement for the broken journalism model that free online writing has been neatly eviscerating for years.

I may still post the odd, meandering post spurred by a show that leads into a discussion about something else – like this one. After all, that’s really what personal blogs are for. And I’ll be keenly watching the developments in arts coverage across the city. There’s a big vacuum right now, and something is going to fill it.

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