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Joslyn Castle Literary Festival makes it all about Dickens

November 4, 2015 3 comments

The Joslyn Castle Literary Festival gives Jill Anderson the opportunity each year to take the work of one or more of her beloved authors and let her imagination run wild with possibilities for programming events around their fiction.  Having already previously gone through this exercise with the Bronte sisters, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Bram Stoker, she’s made Charles Dickens the focus of her passion for the 2015 festival – “Dickens at the Castle.”  The Dickens theme is getting expressed in multiple ways but perhaps the highlight is John Hardy’s one-man A Christmas Carol.  The November-December fest includes lectures, concerts, and other events.  My story about the fest for Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) follows.

 

Joslyn Castle Literary Festival makes it all about Dickens

Artistic director Jill Anderson and Co. devise “Dickens” of a time

John Hardy’s one-man “A Christmas Carol” highlights fest

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the Nov-Dec-Jan Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

A leading light of Omaha stage, Jill Anderson, has brushed up her Dickens in preparation for the Joslyn Castle Literary Festival. The five year-old event Anderson formed and serves as artistic director for is celebrating the prolific Charles Dickens after previously highlighting the Bronte sisters, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Bram Stoker.

“Dickens at the Castle” is the latest iteration of this new fixture on Omaha’s cultural calendar. Per tradition, the November 14-18 and December 12-13 festival offers a live theatrical production, panel discussion, lecture and concert. Anchoring it all this time is a one-man performance of A Christmas Carol by actor-director John Hardy.

That Dickens classic is the basis for the popular musical adaptation the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) has produced for 40 years. That connection compelled OCP and Joslyn Castle Trust (JCT) to partner for the 2015 fest. It’s not the first time they’ve conjoined. Earlier this year OCP held its 90th anniversary party at the Castle. George and Sarah Joslyn built the Scottish Baronial Revival Castle at 3902 Davenport that hosts the festival. These early Omaha philanthropists supported the Playhouse in its infancy. Sarah donated the land for the theater’s first home near the Castle. She later built the Joslyn Art Museum as a memorial to her husband and as a gift to Omaha.

None of this legacy is lost on the people who make the festival happen.

“We see every event at the Castle as an opportunity to honor the remarkable lives of George and Sarah Joslyn,” says JCT executive director Gina Primmer. “Like Dickens himself, both George and Sarah lacked extensive formal education but were very committed to lifelong learning through the arts and literature. Our festival guests will see first-hand how this magnificent home is designed in celebration of arts, literature and entertainment.”

A well-made match
Proceeds from the festival support the work of the Trust, which preserves and shares the Castle and its history through programs that enrich the community through the arts, culture and education.

The mansion includes a library, music room and ballroom. Hardy’s show will be in the library. Jill Anderson says “there’s something just kind of fun about presenting a literary classic in the library.” Celebrating great literature in a great home is her idea of paradise. “The Castle is a magical place. It sets your imagination going. This incredible building has been recognized as a treasure to our city. It’s a tremendous blessing to be able to take great literature into a gorgeous space like that with its beautiful architecture and the turrets. It’s enchanting.”

Anderson says the library is such an intimate space it will require ingenuity by Hardy to make it accommodate his vigorous performance.

“Doing theater within a private home you’ve got to be resourceful and figure out how to make that work. It’s going to be very challenging because he’s going to be adapting it to a much smaller space than he’s accustomed to working in, so that’s going to call upon all his creativity.”

She’s says even as JCT leadership has changed since launching the fest in 2011, “Consistently the executive director and the staff have recognized the Lit Fest is in line with the Castle’s mission, particularly the portion that deals with the Joslyns’ legacy of cultural enrichment.”

Hardy and his one-man Christmas Carol
She’s excited to have Hardy aboard. She previously brought him to Omaha to perform his original one-man show, Rattlesnake. He’s directed at the Rose Theatre and acted-directed for the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival. They met working at the Barter Theatre in Virginia.

“He’s just one of those artists who has a spark of genius I think. He’s always pushing for an edgier, very raw, committed style of theater. It has an extra energy that keeps it unpredictable and exciting. So when it came time to choose who the literary figure would be I knew he had this A Christmas Carol. So, why not do Dickens? It’s already a world-class drama and we just needed to build the festival around it.”

She says audiences should come prepared to be surprised by Hardy’s 40-character rendition.

“They can expect a completely unexpected reading of the story. They can expect humor where they least expect it. They can expect some pretty exciting tour-de-force character shifting. And they can expect him to get at the heart of the story. Getting down to what the story really is trying to say fascinates me.”

Hardy says, “I’ve seen one-man versions of this and it’s nothing like the one I do. The one I do is not storytelling, it’s theater, it’s characters involved in a world from moment to moment.”

Anderson says Hardy makes it all seem real. “He brings a startling honesty to his acting style that always takes me off-guard in a wonderful way. He will use very little in terms of set and costume but he will transform things and find every possible way to use the things he does have on stage with him. It’s not about huge production values, it’s about creative transformation.”

She says his Carol and the Playhouse’s couldn’t be more different.

“The Playhouse makes it a tremendous spectacle – so much color and beautiful effects and lavish costumes. Music is a major element of it. It’s this kind of confection of a production and it’s lasted all these years because people love it – they eat it right up like candy.”

By contrast, she says Hardy’s “theatrical style is really stripped down, really elemental.”

The panel and lecture programs (see side story) examine Dickens’ influences and motivations.

The Dickens formula
“Dickens had a powerful agenda with all his novels, It was usually to expose some sort of injustice,” she says. “That was his thing. He was a whistle blower but he didn’t do it in a humorless, dour way. He did it through social satire. What could just be an angry man stridently shouting out discontent with British society is instead clever, it tickles your funny bone, it has great pathos. You can’t miss the social commentary but it’s wrapped up in these episodic stories that are fun to follow. They were actually presented to the public in serial form through different publications, so they’re designed to keep you wanting more.

“They feel like they come to you in little delightful parcels and you fall in love with these crazy, amazing characters.”

“We see every event at the Castle as an opportunity to honor the remarkable lives of George and Sarah Joslyn. Like Dickens himself, both George and Sarah lacked extensive formal education but were very committed to lifelong learning through the arts and literature. Our festival guests will see first-hand how this magnificent home is designed in celebration of arts, literature and entertainment.”
(Gina Primmer)

“Dickens had a powerful agenda with all his novels, It was usually to expose some sort of injustice,” she says. “That was his thing. He was a whistle blower but he didn’t do it in a humorless, dour way. He did it through social satire. What could just be an angry man stridently shouting out discontent with British society is instead clever, it tickles your funny bone, it has great pathos. You can’t miss the social commentary but it’s wrapped up in these episodic stories that are fun to follow.”
(Jill Anderson)

“I’ve seen one-man versions of this and it’s nothing like the one I do. The one I do is not storytelling, it’s theater, it’s characters involved in a world from moment to moment.”
(John Hardy)

She admires Dickens’ facility for finding hooks to reel readers in and artfully keeping them engaged.

“He is a master of creating characters that are truly pitiful and struggling against poverty or disability. They’re up against tough odds and it all comes from his biographical background. His father and mother ended up in debtor’s prison, effectively making him an orphan at 10. He had to fend for himself working in a rat-infested factory that made boot black. He was thrust into the heart of the underclass in Industrial Revolution-era London. The filth, the misery – he lived it.

“His examination of class and the disparity between upper class and lower class is something he was very qualified to do.”

Hardy believes Dickens was ahead of his time in terms of insight into human psychology. He feels the power of the work also resides in how Dickens propels characters and thus readers through situations.

“You only really come to know a character when they’re engaged in doing something and therein lies the key I think to A Christmas Carol. It’s not an accident this story has been made into a play and a movie again and again because it’s so active, somebody’s always engaged in doing something. It’s on its way somewhere a hundred percent of the time. It’s never static, it’s not reflective. It moves past a moment into the next moment. Even as a book it really doesn’t take a breath.

“It’s a series of actions that characters do and that reveals them. So it reveals rather than describes.”

Jill Anderson

Jill Anderson

 

A literary love-in
Anderson is moved that area lit lovers reveal their passion for the classics by supporting the festival, whose audience keeps growing.

“It’s great there are people in this city who appreciate great literature and recognize it tells us something about the human condition. It’s fantastic we’ve lasted five years. I hope we last five more.”

With so much great lit out there, Anderson should never run out of illuminating, stimulating subjects.

“If there’s a literary figure that has sparked my passion or my imagination I know i can produce a good festival around that person, I just know it. You have to have the impetus to be able to create something that has energy behind it. The ideas usually hit me like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. I don’t sit around and chew on it a lot.
I wish for the inspiration to come.”

Several ideas for next year’s theme have already asserted themselves but nothing is definite yet. It’s a fair bet though that The Bard will be featured since Anderson’s a self-described “Shakespeare fanatic.”

Meanwhile, she’ll continue delving into all things Dickens, assured in the knowledge her infatuation will result in a well-rounded experience for attendees.

For details and tickets, visit http://joslyncastle.com or call 402-595-2199.

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Hardy’s one-man “A Christmas Carol” highlights Dickens-themed literary festival

November 3, 2015 4 comments

There’s something appealing about a lone actor assuming dozens of roles in a one-man performance of a multi-character play and John Hardy is bold enough to tackle a much read, seen and loved work, the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.  He performs his adaptation at this fall’s Joslyn Castle Literary Festival, whose theme “Dickens at the Castle” is celebrating the great author’s work in many other ways as well, including lectures and concerts. But clearly Hardy’s one-man rendition of this work that so many of us are familiar with through theater and film versions is the main attraction.  I profile Hardy and the “Dickens of a time” he has bringing this work to life in the following story I did for The Reader (www.thereader.com).  By the way, if you’ve never been to the Joslyn Castle, use this as your escuse because it is a must-see place in Omaha that really has no equivalent in the metro.  You should also check out the arts and culture programming that goes on year-round at the Castle.

John Hardy

 

Hardy’s one-man “A Christmas Carol” highlights Dickens-themed literary festival

Actor to bring timeless classic to life by enacting dozens of characters

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol has long haunted actor-writer-director John Hardy. Though ghosts have yet to visit him ala Scrooge, the story’s held an enchanted place in Hardy’s heart ever since he got his Equity card acting in a professional stage version.

Much theater work followed but he soon tired of others dictating his artistic life and took creative matters into his own hands. He’s since developed a pair of one-man shows he now tours nationally, including a solo rendition of Christmas Carol. He will perform his adaptation of Carol at the free Nov. 14-December 13 Joslyn Castle Literary Festival, “Dickens at the Castle.”

Joslyn Castle is located at 3902 Davenport Street.

The festival includes lectures, concerts and other Dickens-themed events. But Hardy’s one-man Carol stands apart. In his energetic show he assumes more than 40 roles across a spectrum of Victorian and Industrial Age archetypes.

The well-traveled Hardy is no stranger to Omaha. He performed his other one-man play, Rattlesnake, here. He directed Othello at this past summer’s Nebraska Shakespeare Festival.

Able to pick and choose his projects, he’s reached a golden period in his performing life. But getting there took years of searching.

This native of Texas grew up in New Jersey and got bitten by the theater bug attending plays in New York City. He studied drama and stagecraft under his muse, Bud Frank, at East Tennessee State University. He no sooner graduated then went off to do the starving acting bit in the Big Apple, making the rounds at casting calls and booking work on stage and screen. A stated desire to create “my own opportunities” led him to Calif., where he co-founded a theater. Then he earned a master of fine arts degree at the University of Alabama, where he started another theater.

He soon established himself a director and acting coach. Once fully committed to following his own creative instincts, his original one-man play, Rattlesnake, emerged.

“You know how it is, you come to things when you come to them,” Hardy says. “Freedom explains all good things I get. Man, there’s nothing like liberation.”

In casting around for another one-man play, he returned to his old friends, Dickens and Christmas Carol.

“As much as I had done it, I always felt like there was something else there. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. But there’s a reason why that play is done and why that book’s become a play and become so many movies. I feel like people were searching for it, just as I was, too.

“The other thing is it had a built-in commercial appeal. People have heard of it, it’s known.”

Tried and true is fine, but Hardy imagined a fresh take on the classic.

“I’ve seen one-man versions, but they’re nothing like the one I do. The one I do is not storytelling, it’s not described. Mine is dramatic theater, It’s characters fully involved in this world, this existence from moment to moment. I’ve never seen that in a one-man Christmas Carol. In the others, there’s always a separation – it’s storytelling with a hint of characterization here and there. Whereas mine is moment to moment characters living through this world, which makes it distinctly different.”

The more Hardy dug into the book and play, the more he discovered.

A Christmas Carol must have a universal thing in it because it never dies and therefore there must be some very human thing that most of us can see in it and relate to in it.”

He believes Dickens possessed insights rare even among great authors or dramatists in exploring the experiences that shape us, such as the transformative powers of forgiveness, humility and gratitude.

“It’s a thrill to have anything to do with Dickens or talk about him. Dickens is just one of those people like Shakespeare that seems to have a window into the human experience that few people have. The more we get to know about ourselves through his work then the closer we get to not killing ourselves and I would like to participate in that endeavor,” he says.

“The psychology of the human being – that seems to be what he has an insight into in a way that is almost never if ever spoken. In other words, what he does is allow characters to engage in living from moment to moment and doesn’t necessarily draw conclusions about it. He doesn’t explain their behavior, he allows them to live.”

That approach works well for Hardy, who abides by the axiom that “you only really come to know a character when they’re engaged in doing something – forget about someone describing them or they describing themselves.” And therein lies the key I think to A Christmas Carol,” he adds.. “It’s not an accident this story has been made into a play and a movie again and again because it’s so active. Somebody’s engaged in doing something. It’s on its way somewhere a hundred percent of the time. It’s never static. It’s not reflective. It moves past a moment into the next moment and you can’t stop and think about it.”

“Even as a book it doesn’t have that page-long description of reaching for a door handle and turning it and that kind of thing. It’s in the room, it’s taking in the room, it’s dealing with what’s in the room and going into the next room. It never stops moving forward. It really doesn’t take a breath. It lends itself to the dramatic universe as opposed to the prosaic. It’s a series of actions characters do – and that reveals them.”

In his one-man show Hardy is our avatar embedded in the story. He embodies the entire gallery of characters immersed in this fable of redemption. As he moves from one characterization to the next, he seductively pulls us inside to intimately experience with him-them the despair, tragedy, fright, frivolity, inspiration and joy.

“Seeing a person move through that whole thing is even more human,” he says. ‘We see ourselves passing through it as this one human being passing through it. Maybe we are everyone in A Christmas Carol –Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit – and Scrooge is everyone, too.”

Because this is Hardy’s vision of Carol, he can play the omnipresent God who let’s us see and hear things not in the original text.

“I get to do things the book and the plays don’t get to do. For instance, in the book I think Tiny Tim says one thing – ‘God bless us everyone.’ He says it a couple of times. Well, I get to have Tiny Tim say whatever I want him to say. In the book Bob Cratchit explains to his wife what Tiny Tim said when he was carrying him home from church on Christmas morning but I get to have Tiny Tim actually say that. I get to have him actually experience these things and you get to see him live a little more. That’s the kind of thing I can do.”

Hardy’s well aware he’s doing the show in a place with a special relationship to the Dickens drama. The Omaha Community Playhouse production of Charles Jones’ musical adaptation is a perennial sell-out here and in cities across America where the Nebraska Theatre Caravan tours it. Hardy auditioned for the Caravan himself one year.

“It seems like half of everyone I know in the business has had something to do with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan or with the Playhouse or A Christmas Carol. It’s kind of like six degrees of separation – you’re not far away from knowing someone who knows someone who was in that.”

As for his own relationship to Carol, he says, “I’ve been with that story for a long time.”

His one-man homage kicks off “Dickens at the Castle” on November 14 at 6:30 p.m. A pre-show panel of local theater artists, plus Hardy, will discuss adapting the novel. For dates-times of Hardy’s other performances of Carol during the fest and for more event details, visit http://joslyncastle.com/.

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