A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre Celebrates 700 Performances
A retrospective featuring cast and crew perspectives, including actor Craig Wallace and stagehand Chris Gramza.
The December 29, 2022 performance of Ford’s Theatre’s A Christmas Carol marks its monumental 700th performance of this production, originally directed by Michael Baron. To celebrate this performance, we took a backstage look on this year’s production with Craig Wallace, our seminal Ebeneezer Scrooge portraying the role for his sixth year, and Chris Gramza, a stagehand who has worked on A Christmas Carol at Ford’s for all 700 performances! We asked them to share their journeys with A Christmas Carol over the years and reflect on what this story means to them as we near the end of this year’s run.
Ford’s Theatre: Talk to me a bit about your journey with Ford’s and A Christmas Carol. What’s it like to return to this production, and what has this story grown to mean to you?
Craig Wallace (Ebeneezer Scrooge): I joined the company in 2016. The rehearsal process can be described as a whirlwind. Most of the artists have been in the show for years, so our two-and-a-half-week rehearsal period is about remounting the show while plugging in the young company and any new performers along the way. It was daunting and exhausting.
The veteran members of the company serve to inform, uplift and lead by example. Their care and attention go a long way towards developing a new family for the upcoming performances for the year. Now that I’m a veteran, every year I look forward to reconnecting with old friends while onboarding new ones. It’s a testament to the strength and camaraderie of Ford’s A Christmas Carol company.
Christopher Gramza (Stagehand, IATSE Local 22): This production of A Christmas Carol has grown to mean so much not only to me, but to my coworkers and the audiences in Washington, D.C. I was in the middle of my Christmas Past flying track during the sensory friendly performance last week [December 11], when I looked out to the balcony and saw a family that I had seen years before. Sister, Brother with headphones rocking to the music, Mom, with Dad in the row behind…the same image from 2019.
I have developed a friendship with what I call my “Capitol Hill 30-Somethings” who have come to the show every year since 2015 and stick around at the end for a photo and a chat. My partner, Amy McWilliams, who played the role of Mrs. Cratchit for eight seasons of this production, made a lasting impression on me and members of the cast. When collecting in the lobby for that year’s charity, she was approached by a grandma, mom and daughter, [who said]: “My mom brought me here when I was her age, and now it’s her turn.” That is what this show has come to mean to me…family and tradition.
This show means so much to so many people. It has become their holiday tradition. We may enjoy the friendship and get excited when the audience is great…but we must never forget we have taken the audience with us for the last 700 shows, and it’s because of them that we get to continue to perform this wonderful show.
This year’s production has three eyes from a directing team: what does this sense of collaboration at the forefront of leadership add to this show that’s been around for 700 performances?
Wallace: Three sets of eyes create new opportunities to make new discoveries, as well as deepen what we’ve already created. José Carrasquillo, Craig A. Horness and Erika Scott — along with our stage managers Brandon Prendergast and Taryn Friend — have taken great care to ensure that they are on the same page when it comes to communicating to us the maintenance of the original vision while also exploring how to keep the show vibrant, immediate and fresh.
Over the past 700 performances working on this show, what has been your favorite backstage memory? What do you want audiences to know about what it’s like for the crew at A Christmas Carol?
Gramza: Working backstage is somewhat similar to what the audience sees onstage. I often say that “Ford’s Theatre is a Game of Inches,” or compare it to the Fezziwig dance. Stage left is an acrobatic show of flying bed and desk, plus the ground game of the Marvel car and Fezziwig pallet. Stage right has the automated scenery controls for the spinning bed, clock and crypt, the fireplace, both vendor carts, the giant tree and the Ghost of Christmas Future, plus the flying ropes. Add in-hand props, tables, costume changes, actors walking from one side to the other in hoop skirts and all of us crew … the backstage is as finely choreographed as the onstage. If you stand in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ll get a fireplace in the face.
And like onstage, we’ve had production members come and go. I know of at least three who have gone to Broadway, and three who have passed away. The new stagehand is given finely tuned paperwork by stage management of what the person did before them. They just need to learn the dance … and where to stand. What the audience doesn’t see is the 23 people working backstage … the stagehands, wardrobe and the stage management team, making sure everything happens seamlessly so the actors can perform dressed and lit and be heard, on a stage with props and furniture.
I have only been onstage once in my 700 shows. The fire alarm went off with a flier in the air. I walked out in the middle of the scene to get her out of the air and to safety. If you see us…something has gone wrong. “I wear black and stand in the back” is my mantra. As an extra stagehand to the staff, I am fortunate to be asked back every year. I look forward to the future seasons of A Christmas Carol with Ford’s Theatre.
What has it been like to do the full-fledged classic production for the first time since 2019 – including reuniting with returning cast members and working with new people?
Gramza: When the world was shut down in 2020 because of COVID, the theatrical community suffered too. So, when Ford’s decided to mount the huge task of recording a radio play version of A Christmas Carol in conjunction with WAMU … all I could think of was “Christmas is saved!” As luck would have it, Amy and I were invited to a pre-release Zoom call with the cast who did the recording. When the people started showing up on screen, it was a great emotional release to see our friends for the first time in 12 months. When the Narrator spoke … we looked at her square. When the Ghost of Christmas Past spoke, we looked at her square, and so on throughout the broadcast. At the end, the signoff was bittersweet, not knowing what the future would hold for us. It is so good to be back with the cast and crew, making the magic with this full production.
Wallace: It’s just a major victory that we are back in full swing. When the pandemic hit, we didn’t know what the future of Christmas Carol would be……ever. We were able to do the radio play in 2020, which was Ford’s gift to the community, followed by a staged version of the radio play in 2021. These presentations were a way to let our friends know that our goal was to one day return to the production everyone has come to enjoy. And while there are many challenges that come with having all those folks together backstage during a pandemic, we are back and filled with excitement and joy that we can bring the full show to those who have missed it.
Learn more about A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre here.
Daniella Ignacio is the Communications Manager at Ford’s Theatre. Learn more about her at www.daniellaignacio.com.