Bangor actor, director and educator Ken Stack has played Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” a whopping 30 times, and has even adapted his own theatrical version of the story. But in his decades of bah humbug-ing on stages across eastern Maine, he never foresaw his taking on not just the role of Scrooge, but also every other role in Charles Dickens’ timeless parable — and in puppet form, no less.
Stack’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” will be produced by the Penobscot Theatre Company for its all-virtual 45th season, in a version unlike any other. The company has collaborated with The Object Group, an experimental theater company based in Atlanta, Georgia, to create an hour-long film of Stack’s “Carol,” using an array of specially made puppets and sets to bring the story to life.
Stack voiced more than 20 characters for the film, which will screen online between Dec. 12 and 27 for those who purchase a digital ticket at penobscottheatre.org.
“It was a great stretch for me,” Stack said. “Doing multiple characters onstage allows for visual transitions between characters. Now, I had to create these character changes by voice only. And, I must admit, it was work — five different Cratchits within 5 seconds. But it was absolutely worth it.”
The Object Group, founded by theater artist Michael Haverty in 2012, has created puppet versions of an array of literary works over the years, from Sumerian epic “Gilgamesh” to William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” and, most recently, Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.” Over the summer, PTC artistic director Bari Newport reached out to Haverty, whom she knew when she lived in Atlanta, about collaborating on Stack’s “Carol,” a project Newport said he was intrigued by.
Over the fall, Stack recorded his vocal parts with PTC technical artists Sean McGinley and Tricia Hobbs, and Haverty set to work creating multiple puppets and tiny sets for the show, most of which are either rod puppets or papercraft puppets, and capturing them on film. The end result is a fantastical, colorful take on “Carol,” inspired by puppet and stop-motion filmmaking such as that done by Terry Gilliam, Jan Svankmajer and Tim Burton, and by the tradition of one-man “Carols,” like those made famous by Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Winters.
“It was a natural partnership and I was thrilled to be a part of it,” Stack said. “Not only does it suit the times and the constraints we all face, but it also opens up new creative paths and partnerships. I think this will be an enjoyable and highly unique version of the Dickens classic.”
While the Dickensian puppets were being created, PTC managing director Jen Shepard and her cohorts at Bar Harbor-based comedy theater ImprovAcadia were busy readying another show to run in repertory with “Carol” — an improv comedy holiday show, this year titled “Deck the Balls,” which will start on Dec. 10.
PTC has co-produced with ImprovAcadia an adults-only holiday improv show for the past two seasons. Though an in-person show was not possible this year due to the pandemic, Shepard, along with her husband and ImprovAcadia co-founder Larrance Fingerhut, have reimagined the show for a virtual audience. Shepard, Fingerhut and fellow improv performer Mike Schuman will give 13 interactive, R-rated performances in total Dec. 10 through Dec. 27, all broadcast live via a Zoom link sent to ticket holders, from a studio set up in Shepard and Fingerhut’s living room.
“It is as close to real-time interaction as we can get,” Shepard said. “Live interaction is really the key to so much of improv, so we had to really rethink how we do a lot of our classic improv games to make it work for this context. It has been an amazing challenge.”
ImprovAcadia was not able to have a season this year because the small size of its downtown Bar Harbor theater space made it impossible for audience members to stay socially distant. Shepard said she’s really looking forward to doing “Deck the Balls,” since it will give her and her collaborators a chance to reconnect with longtime patrons they haven’t seen all year.
“We’ve had people buy tickets from all over the world, because they couldn’t come to see us this summer,” Shepard said. “I so missed saying hello to everyone we would normally see each summer, so it’s really gratifying to be able to do this show.”
Tickets for “A Christmas Carol” are $40 per household, and the show will be available to watch whenever ticket holders want, and as many times as they want, through Dec. 27. “Deck the Balls” tickets are $60 per household, and are for a specific showtime. All tickets are available to purchase via penobscottheatre.org.