Meet the director of A Christmas Carol: Christopher Corrigan
We chatted with Christopher Corrigan about our upcoming July show, A Christmas Carol: A 1940s Radio Show. He adapted the original Charles Dickens novel for the holiday season at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, and now he's directing the show for Summer Place audiences as well!
You know the story: grumpy old Scrooge learns the importance of family, generosity, and the "Christmas spirit" from a trio of spooky ghosts. In Christopher's radio play, Scrooge is the grouchy editor-in-chief of a big Chicago newspaper in the 1940s, and the lessons he learns about kindness and compassion continue to strike a chord both in his time, and all the way up to the 2020s.
Let's learn about what it takes to put on a radio show, and how the whole thing started in the first place.
Q. So how are rehearsals going?
Christopher: Rehearsals are great! I'm blown away from the way this cast has hit the ground running. We started our rehearsals on Zoom, which is very untraditional. But they were able to adapt beautifully and are bringing strong characters and choices to rehearsal every night!
Q. What would you say is your rehearsal “style”?
My rehearsal style kind of depends on how the actors I'm working with work. Sometimes actors want more guidance and others want more room to play—I try my best to determine what best suits what actor and go from there. With this process I've had a cast that has been enjoying playing, and it's been a joy to watch what choices they feel are right.
Q. Is the process for a radio show different from, say, a straight play?
I feel a radio show is different, but only in small ways. You are still making sure the correct beats and “fighting fors” are being hit. But one of the nice things about rehearsing a radio show is there really isn't a tremendous amount of blocking. They stand at their respective mics. I don't have to worry about making sure someone can be seen during a scene and all those more technical bits—that part is nice.
Q. What do you enjoy most about working with this cast?
This is my second time directing this adaptation and it's astonishing to see the different interpretations this group is taking to their parts. I came in with some preconceived notions on where I thought things would go, and right when I thought I could see what choice they were going to make next, BOOM, they went in a different direction and I love watching them do that. It's always a treat to hear them rehearsing.
Q: Would you talk a little about your role at Cantigny Park and how this script came about? What inspired you to set the story the way you did?
So when I wrote this show I was a programs and education assistant for the Robert McCormick House, the historic mansion, on the park property. Our museum educator approached me pretty quickly about us doing a radio show. [Colonel McCormick] ran the Tribune and founded WGN radio, so a radio play seemed like a great program for our museum. I chose Christmas Carol for the simple reason that it was in the public domain. The educator and I felt it was important to connect the show to the Colonel, so I set it in 1940s Chicago, which was also when the Colonel started "Chicago's Theatre of the Air" [on WGN]. The original script and show were peppered with a lot more references to the Colonel and his family. I cut those out of this version for Summer Place. Although I did leave one (I think just one) shout out to the Colonel—I didn't feel it would be right to cut him out completely.
Q: So if the Cantigny crowd liked the “in” references to Colonel McCormick, what do you think Summer Place audiences will enjoy?
I think the audience will enjoy Emma, our Foley Artist. The actors are wonderful and so is the piano player we have for the show. But I think one of the best parts of a radio show is watching someone keeping up with the actors and making sound effects live! It's just a lot of fun!
Q: And what can we take away from this performance?
I think Christmas Carol is one of those timeless stories—it will always have a place and it will always hit home. While I think Christmas Carol has many themes that can be played on and acknowledged in a production, I think this version lends itself to the idea of coming together. Scrooge spends so much of his life pushing people away and isolating, but ends up learning that the best way to live his life is with the love, friendship, and support of those around him. This, to me, is only mirrored in the fact that it’s a radio play. Christmas Carol is really a play within a play. The actors are taking on the personae of 1940s radio actors doing a show about coming together, and these radio actors have to come together to make the show happen. The idea is there… it's in sight but just out of focus for the audience. Hopefully that little detail is noticed by their subconscious.
Buy your tickets online for A Christmas Carol: A 1940s Radio Show, performing live and outdoors at the Wagner Family Pavilion of 95th Street Community Plaza on July 16, 17, and 18 at 7pm. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets—and maybe a Christmas decoration or two to join in the spirit! See you there!