24 December 2010

"Marley Was Dead."

I was arrogant enough to sign up for Drama 1 my freshman year of high school.  It was my very first class of the day.  I was one of just a few students in the class who weren't at least juniors.  Most of them had been in several plays and pretty much were the drama department of the school.  I only knew two girls who sat near me, and while they were friendly, we weren't friends.  To say the least, it was rather intimidating.

Our final assignment going into Christmas break was to select an excerpt from a written work and present a dramatized reading of it to the class.  We were instructed to photocopy the pages and have them on a black folder.  I decided that I would nod my head toward the calendar and selected Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.  For my birthday the previous year I had received a two-cassette audio recording of Patrick Stewart's one man dramatization of it, which reminded me how much I had always enjoyed the story.  I have always loved the opening line:

Original cassette release.
"Marley was dead."

That's how you open a Christmas story!  We were allotted more than enough time in class to familiarize ourselves with our source material.  In truth, I cannot account for how I actually passed the time (though I suspect it was spent doing homework I'd failed to complete the night before).  I never made it past the second page of the book.  I just kept deferring, until it was showtime.  The morning I was scheduled to present, our teacher was absent for one reason or another, but we were instructed to present anyway for the class and our substitute teacher.  I was the last one on that morning's docket, and part of me hoped that time would not allow for me to go.

Naturally, though, there was sufficient time remaining when my turn came up and off I tottered to the center of the room.  I don't wish to belittle my classmates who had performed, but the truth is that when I first stood there I looked out and saw quite a lot of bored and tired faces.  A few of them had outright laid their heads on their desks, not even pretending to be cognizant of their surroundings.  It felt like I'd walked into a honky tonk with a guitar and the barflies couldn't be bothered to look away from their beer.

"Marley was dead," I began.  "To begin with; there is no doubt whatsoever about that!" I continued.  We followed Ebenezer Scrooge to his counting house, and I knew I hadn't reached the minimum time requirement for my performance.  Some commentary about Bob Cratchit, still not enough time.  In comes Scrooge's nephew, Fred.  I'm up to four distinct voices now (narrator, Scrooge, Cratchit and Fred).  I will readily confess to having stolen Patrick Stewart for my narrator, but the rest I originated on the spot not because I was against further thievery, but because I could not recall how he had voiced them.  Heads have raised, eyes are alert, but I've got time yet to go.  Away with Fred; in with the two charity collectors (voices five and six, respectively).

Now, as you may recall, Scrooge toys with the two after they fail to grasp that his initial rebuff was quite sincere.  The game concludes with Scrooge, not terribly politely, shouting, "Good afternoon!"  It felt the perfect moment for emphasis, and so I slammed shut my book for emphasis.  I was receiving a standing ovation as the public address speaker intoned our dismissal (having long since replaced an actual bell).  It was spectacular; I'd remained in position, sustained frequent eye contact, created voices for each character and had been lavished with the most dramatic applause of the morning.

Naturally, I was terrified of repeating the performance the next morning for our teacher--as we were all required to do.  If you can picture student desks arranged like an L, her desk was the intersection of the two sections of desks.  I sat in a row adjacent to her right.  To her left sat one of the juniors who regularly played leading roles in the school plays.  To this day, I can distinctly recall him leaning to our teacher as I rose to present, saying, "He does Dickens well."  I doubt I was expected to overhear the praise, but I did and it was rather flattering.

I was, of course, apprehensive about catching lightning in a bottle twice but at least I knew when I was going to stop.  I was relieved and encouraged when our teacher audibly laughed at one of the lines that had gone over the heads of my classmates (rather than have Scrooge utter such a vulgarity as, "Go to Hell," Dickens diplomatically writes, "...and he went the whole length of the expression").  I felt the energy was down from the previous performance, but it was still solid.  At the end, I was given a grade of 97.  I lost 3 technical points because I read from the book and had failed to make the requisite photocopy.  I did well in the class overall, but I was especially pleased with that 97.

To this day, I can recite the first few paragraphs from memory.  I have also been in absolute awe of Patrick Stewart, for being able to create voices for every character in the story, for being able to recall every piece of the (admittedly abridged) text and for being able to go out night after night on stage and wow the audiences.  I've always resented not living in New York or London, where he'd done his limited performances.

Alas, there is no recording of either of my performances but Patrick Stewart's was issued on CD in 2006 and is well worth every penny.  I always liked to spread out my listening of it over four nights, lying in bed in the dark listening to each of the four cassette sides a night, concluding on Christmas Eve.  It's a little trickier on CD, so I try to just split it up over two nights now.


  1. Hello.
    Your Christmas Carol post is really nice.
    Personally, I used to read and watch the "Christmas Carol" almost EVERY year since.. more than 12 years.
    I am not a native English speaker but I share the opinion: Mr Stewart is really great. Well, even if I was introduced to the subject by the 1984 adaptation with Mr George C.Scott in... 1984.


  2. Thanks for reading and for your comment. I actually haven't read the original novel for myself in nearly twenty years. I need to do that. I hope you and yours enjoyed a Merry Christmas! :)

  3. Marley was dead....;).

    Thank you. It was my pleasure. You know, I am not keen on commenting, but your post did sth on me ;). You may congratulate yourself ^^. Or Patrik Stewart =).
    Yes, I enjoyed the Christmas this year in a quiet particular way, thank you. I hope you had a good time.
    Due to some circumstances I spent it alone. But, never the less with a nice, not too complicated dinner (which I did) and a glass of good (white) wine, I spent a cosy time.
    It is a strange and particular experience. IMHO, it is worth to have such an experience to better understand the solitude and thus, more care, learn to respect a simple BEING... in everyday life.
    It is not about material gifts, nor about $, but simple sharing, respecting and being...

    My bestEST ;) New Year's wishes and greetings to you, Travis, and all those who read this.

    God bless us, everyone =).