Whether it's The Muppets, "Scrooged" or George C. Scott, almost everyone has a template for "A Christmas Carol" already in their minds.
Tina Dale, co-director of the Fort Smith Little Theatre production opening Nov. 9, says she was most influenced by Charles Dickens' original prose, which she studied in graduate school.
"We've both seen probably a dozen productions and films of it," she says of working with co-director Rikkee Black. "This is definitely a classic interpretation, even more so because we have a narrator who starts off telling the story, just as it was written. Our idea is to draw the audience into the pages that Dickens wrote."
Published in London in 1843, "A Christmas Carol" was not Dickens' first Christmas story. He had written "Christmas Festivities" in 1835 and "The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" in 1836, his interest a reflection of the Victorian era's changing ideas about the holiday and Dickens' own childhood tribulations.
"When Dickens wrote this, it wasn't the best of times," Dale muses. "Life was tough for many. The world has always had that -- those who have lots and those who struggle to make it through the week with enough food to eat. And today is no different. Life is tough for many.
"But that hope and belief that life is still worth cherishing and enjoying no matter the situation is something that has gotten many through all sorts of tough times," she adds. "Christmastime is time to remember what that hope and optimism can accomplish. ... It's a time to remember that by giving something to others, we can spread joy that comes back to us.
"Besides, how can you beat a ghost story for Christmas?"
Dale is not revealing details of the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Isabella Ree), Present (Megan Henley) and Yet to Come (Joanne Peterson), but the actors portraying Bob Cratchit, Scrooge and nephew Fred shared their thoughts about the show.
Jon Gustafson plays Scrooge.
"Wall Street" film character "Gordon Gekko [said] 'Greed is good.' Scrooge truly believes this," he says. "But one of things I am finding, Scrooge is not blind ambition or selfishness. He is a thoughtful thinker and skeptic of society and culture. This part of him has many influences among current and historic critics, including Dickens himself.
"As happens so often, when an actor does the character work during study and rehearsal, they find parts of the character's nature they had not seen previously, and that is certainly happening to me."
Ian Miller is Bob Cratchit.
"Cratchit has been a very challenging role," he says. "Normally I do a lot of comedies. And this character really pushed me in so many ways and made me really step outside my comfort zone. The thing about Bob Cratchit I found challenging is the vulnerability of the character. But I have to say my directors having faith in my ability to bring this character to life has been amazing.
"I just love that we can tell a beautiful old-as-time story that people know about and throw our own FSLT twist on it."
And Eric Wells is Fred.
"I see a little bit of me in this character," he says. "Fred and I are very alike in the idea of looking into the positivity in life. It makes him that much more special as a character to play.
"I hope [audiences] see and talk about the importance of having hope. That it can be seen in the redemption of Scrooge [and] can happen in any situation in life to anyone. That it will bring a sense of joy and hope in their lives, no matter what they are going through."
'A Christmas Carol
WHEN — 2 p.m. Nov. 12; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15-18
WHERE — Fort Smith Little Theatre, 401 N. Sixth St.
COST — $12
INFO — fslt.org or 783-2966