WINNETKA – Call it a Dickens fall in Winnetka, with the productions of Oliver! and A Christmas Carol showcasing only two weeks apart at the Winnetka Community House. The Children’s Theatre of Winnetka is putting on Oliver! November 16 – 19 and Toby Nicholson’s original production of A Christmas Carol is playing on December 2 – 3.
“We thought it would be a good time to combine the two shows and make it a Dickens fall,” Toby Nicholson, director of A Christmas Carol and co-director of Oliver! told DailyNorthShore.
Both productions tackle the issues of poverty and wealth, themes the directors believe are particularly relevant today. “You can see the same themes throughout both productions and I hope people notice,” Cathy Hirschmann, co-director of Oliver! said.
Oliver! is a children’s production, comprised of about 90 actors in grades 4th through 8th grade. According to Nicholson, Dicken’s compelling characters were particularly challenging parts for the children to learn. “They are wild, interesting characters and the kids are having fun doing those,” he said.
The children had to stretch quite a bit and build off their emotions to relate to some of the characters whose impoverished lives in Victorian England are starkly different from their own on the North Shore. Hirshmann created posters for the children to learn about Victorian England. “It is so outside of their realm of experience,” Hirshmann said.
At the beginning of each production, the directors always talk about the arc of the characters and how the actors can relate to them. Hirshmann said they always try to find something good about a character, which can be tricky when a lot of the characters in Oliver! and A Christmas Carol are horrible people on the surface. “It is really good for them to understand that not everything is black and white,” Hirshmann said.
In addition to the shows November 16-19, Oliver! is also performs two separate shows for underserved students from visiting schools. When the performance is over, the actors have the opportunity to answer students’ questions.
Running A Christmas Carol just two weeks after Oliver! not only touches on the same themes, but was also practical given that the productions take place in the same era and share some of the same scenery and costumes. Unlike Oliver!, A Christmas Carol includes adults and children in the cast. Many of the adults have theatre experience which made it easier to direct, Nicholson said.
Nicholson describes A Christmas Carol as a play that has some music and dancing, but it is not a musical. The audience can expect a lot to Christmas carols of the era sung by the chorus. Nicholson says it is the perfect holiday production. “It’s about the spirit of giving and finding it in yourself to give to other people,” he said.
The fact that North Shore residents have the opportunity to see A Christmas Carol without going to Chicago is also a perk. “We like to think of it as our own Christmas Carol so you don’t have to go downtown,” Connie Yonan, a member of the Board of Governors of the Winnetka Community House told DailyNorthShore.
The fact that the Community House puts on two fall productions of this quality is unique. The shows bring people into the Community House so that people see all that it has to offer. “The Community House is a fabulous place for these types of activities. The theatre is outstanding,” Yonan said.
Oliver Twist! will be showing November 16-19 at the Winnetka Community House. Tickets are $10 per person. A Christmas Carol will be showing December 2-3 at the Winnetka Community House. Tickets purchased before November 1 are $20 per adults, $10 for children 12 and under. Tickets purchased after November 1 are $25 per adult, $15 for children 12 and under. Tickets for both shows can be purchased at www.childrenstheatrewinnetka.com.