Fes­tive frights

Christ­mas sea­son great time for ghostly fun

Cape Breton Post - - ARTS/ENTERTAINMENT -

I have al­ways found Christ­mas to be a spook­ier time of year than Hal­loween.

Maybe it’s be­cause one of the first “grown-up” books I ever read on my own as a child was Charles Dick­ens’ “A Christ­mas Carol.” Maybe it’s be­cause it’s win­ter and cold as a grave, it gets dark early and on Christ­mas Eve, the world slows down so much. It gets so quiet, it am­pli­fies ev­ery creak and bump in the house.

Or it could be be­cause for the last eight years, I’ve had a stand­ing ap­point­ment at Syd­ney’s McCon­nell Li­brary to read a Christ­mas ghost story.

Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Todd Pet­ti­grew be­gan this tra­di­tion nine years ago. It raises money for Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Li­braries book clubs and it’s a way of in­tro­duc­ing Cape Bre­ton­ers

Davies, as Master of Toronto’s Massey Col­lege, would write an orig­i­nal tale ev­ery year at the Col­lege’s an­nual Gaudy Night sup­per con­vened around the hol­i­days. Davies’ sto­ries were col­lected and pub­lished in book form as “High Spir­its,” avail­able on loan from the CBRL, of course.

I was in­vited in the sec­ond year to read along with Pet­ti­grew and play­wright and theatre arts in­struc­tor, Scott Sharplin, as part of my “du­ties” as the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Li­brary’s sto­ry­teller in res­i­dence. Then, we be­gan to write of our own Yule­tide spec­tral ad­ven­tures and in­vited lo­cal play­wright, Jenn Tubrett, to make a quar­tet of con­trib­u­tors.

Over the years, we’ve had mur­der­ous ghosts prey­ing on school kids, evil San­tas, a spell­ing bee of the un­dead, zom­bie turkeys, the bloody truth be­hind a beloved Christ­mas carol and a séance of ghosts try­ing to con­tact the liv­ing among the first­hand ac­counts of Christ­mas haunt­ings.

Two years ago, we had enough orig­i­nal sto­ries (ten, ac­tu­ally) to pub­lish our own col­lec­tion, “Christ­mas Stalk­ings,” which was pub­lished by Third Per­son Press, a lo­cal pub­lisher of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion.

It sold very nicely, thank you very much.

On Tues­day, De­cem­ber 11, 6:30 p.m., at the McCon­nell Li­brary, we’ll as­sem­ble again with our fresh­est sto­ries of the hol­i­day un­dead. A Capella group, The End­notes, will per­form some lovely ren­di­tions of hol­i­day stan­dards. And there will be copies of “Christ­mas Stalk­ings” avail­able for pur­chase and au­thor sign­ing. They make great “stalk­ing” stuffers for both the liv­ing and the, ah, metabol­i­cally chal­lenged.

Like all pro­grams of the CBRL, this event is open to ev­ery­one and free of charge, though do­na­tions may be of­fered at the door to sup­port Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Li­brary book clubs across the region.

Which brings me back to the orig­i­nal Christ­mas ghost story, “A Christ­mas Carol.”

Two years ago, High­land Arts Theatre direc­tor, Wes­ley Col­ford, an­nounced that sea­son’s pro­duc­tion of “A Christ­mas Carol” would be the last for the fore­see­able fu­ture. The show’s au­di­ence had other ideas.

Pop­u­lar de­mand for what had be­come in three short years a fam­ily tra­di­tion for many folks made its re­turn to the HAT stage in­evitable the very next De­cem­ber.

I have been lucky to been a part of ev­ery per­for­mance run at the HAT and af­ter five years have fi­nally learned my dance steps — mostly.

There was even one year when the Gaudy Night read­ings at the McCon­nell and a “Christ­mas Carol” per­for­mance were sched­uled for the same evening. I, in my play cos­tume, was the first to read at the li­brary, and, af­ter my read­ing, walked the two blocks up Bentinck Street to the HAT to make my en­trance (with a cas­ket) at the be­gin­ning of that night’s per­for­mance. I sub­se­quently worked it into my next Gaudy Night story.

The HAT show is one of four dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tions of “A Christ­mas Carol” I have been for­tu­nate enough to be part of. The first was at the Lyceum in the late 1970s; at the Savoy un­der the di­rec­tion of El­iz­a­beth Board­more; at the Southend Com­mu­nity Cen­tre in Syd­ney di­rected by Brian Gal­li­van and now, at the HAT with direc­tor Col­ford, who also did the stage adap­ta­tion. I have happy mem­o­ries from all of them.

Mu­si­cal direc­tor Barb Stet­ter and chore­og­ra­pher, Cyn­thia Vokey, re­turn along with many of the cast from pre­vi­ous years, some of whom started as street waifs or Cratchit chil­dren and have grown into more ma­ture roles. We’re an ex­tended sort of fam­ily now which fits the show be­cause so many fam­i­lies have made us a part of their hol­i­days.

“A Christ­mas Carol” runs from Wed­nes­day, De­cem­ber 12, to Sun­day, De­cem­ber 16, at 8 pm nightly.

CON­TRIB­UTED/CAPE BRE­TON RE­GIONAL LI­BRARY

Lo­cal au­thors, shown from left to right, Ken Chisholm, Jenn Tubrett, Scott Sharplin and Todd Pet­ti­grew, bring orig­i­nal tales of Christ­mas ghosts to Syd­ney’s McCon­nell Li­brary, at the an­nual “Gaudy Night” read­ings on Tues­day, De­cem­ber 11, 6:30 p.m. The event raises funds for the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Li­brary book clubs.

Ken Chisholm The Cen­tre Isle

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