No story about College of Notre Dame drama department would be complete without shedding light on the origins of A Christmas Carol, the department’s Christmas production.

The production is the brainchild of department chair Mike Elkins. “I felt we were in a hotbed of resources with musical theater in Belmont and the theater department had always had a great reputation. I was looking to do something in addition to what the theater department was doing that could bring all these forces together,” he said.

He was in Colorado on the annual family vacation when the idea hit him. While he was in high school in Sacramento, the movie “Scrooge,” a musical, came out. One movie house was offering free admission in exchange for a toy for a Toys for Tots program.

“I’ve been in love with Christmas Carol since fourth grade, I still have my original gray-covered paperback from fourth grade,” he said. From there it was just a matter of logistics.”

Elkins slotted the production after the fall theater schedule was complete and before the spring season started. The first year there were four performances, now there are eight.

“The second year was the toughest. Many of those who pitched in to get it on its feet left and casting was tough,” said El­kins. The problem didn’t last.

By the second or third year the houses were full; by the fourth or fifth year Elkins had to issue tickets because the house was full at every performance. Last year, the production’s twelfth, 5,000 people attended.

All performances except the gala are free. Toys and food for various programs are accepted at the door, but it is purely voluntary. “I don’t want those same people who may be getting that food and those toys to not also come and see the free performance, it’s for them as much as anybody else,” said Elkins.

Because Christmas Carol is one of his favorite stories, Elkins auditioned for Scrooge.

He has had the role for 12 years now. The cast is a combination of students, teachers and staff and residents from community. “We had open auditions this last October and had 130 young performers, age 16 and under, and about 60 adults,” Elkins said.

One former student who still helps out is Laurie Sigelman, CND graduate and drama teacher at Carlmont High she was drafted for A Christmas Carol nine years ago and has been stage manager for six of those years.

The cast for A Christmas Carol this year was 62, plus 10 stagehands and miscellaneous volunteers, many under age 18, so Sigelman has to keep track of about 100 people during performances.

She is the first one at rehearsals and the last to leave, so typically arrives at 6:30 p.m. and leaves around 10:30 p.m.

The phrase “the show must go on didn’t come out of thin air,” said Elkins. “Productions involving this many people are bound to have glitches. One of the biggest is that the production takes place at the end of the semester, so time is crunched for faculty and students.

Less predictable, more romantic, “The lights went out opening night two years ago in a storm. The cast made up by emergency lights and candles and flashlights. We warmed up on stage by flashlight and said we will be ready when the lights come back on — we will perform,” he added.

“This happened again on our second Saturday this year. The first time it happened it was kind of a legend, so when it happened again, the people in the cast this year actually felt they were lucky that they had gotten to go through it, too,” said Elkins.

Everyone had to vacate because there were no lights. Audience members turned on auto headlights to illuminate the parking lot. “Our lobby choir went out and sang Christmas carols for 45 minutes. We passed out candy canes and suckers. As people got costumed and made up they went out and sang carols for the audience. Out of the six hundred people probably 500 stayed,” said Elkins.

This article was written by William Cracraft/Freelance News Service and first published in 1998 in the 75th Anniversary Edition tabloid published by Alameda News Paper Group. Any accompanying photos were also taken by William Cracraft. It is reproduced here as a portfolio piece.


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