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A Chritsmas Carol

Apple Box Community Theater presents a holiday classic

INDEPENDENCE -- Bob Page says that acting is necessary for children.

"It changes people's lives," he said.

"It makes them into better students and better people."

Page can't boil down the theater's transformative effect into a single sentence or anecdote, but after years of working in children's theater, he has seen its power many times.

Shy children become confident. Taking on new roles opens up closed minds.

"Theater changes and enhances people's lives," Page said.

Page is passionate about acting. It's a good thing too. This fall he faces the task of bringing together a cast of more than 30 adults and children, most of whom have never acted before, and molding them into a high-caliber cast, ready to perform one of the most beloved Christmas plays of all time.

Apple Box Community Theatre will present Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" at Talmadge Middle School Dec. 6, 7 and 8.

The play tells the familiar story of a miserly old man -- Ebenezer Scrooge -- who realizes the true meaning of Christmas.

Page himself will play Scrooge. He is also involved in directing the play. Originally, Salem actor Wayne Ballantyne was slotted to portray Scrooge, while Page planned to direct.

However, the role of Scrooge is physically demanding.

"[Ballantyne] had some bad luck with his health, and it was more than he could handle right now," Page said.

So the two swapped roles, less than a month before the first performance.

Suddenly having the part of Scrooge won't be difficult for Page. He's played the role 72 times before, during his years as a theater professor at Western Oregon University.

This version of "A Christmas Carol" dates back to 1986, when Page's son, Patrick, an actor who recently portrayed "Lumiere" in "Beauty and Beast" on Broadway, came home for the holidays.

"I told him I was looking for a good adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol,' he went into his bedroom, sat down at the table, and two afternoons later he had this adaptation for me, all written out longhand," Page said.

"I still have that longhand version of the script."

That was the beginning of what was to become a beloved holiday tradition in Monmouth. Starting in 1986, Page and a cast from Western would perfrom "A Christmas Carol" nearly every year.

"We would do 12 to 13 shows in one week -- morning, afternoon and night," Page said.

"We filled the house at every performance, and that theater holds 600 seats. We had to turn schools down who wanted to come see it, because there wasn't room."

However, it was three years ago that Page last put on the show at Western. He said people still tell him they remember it and ask him if it will ever be performed again. But he's a little worried that things won't be the same this year.

"They would all come see it if it were at Western," he said. "People think that because it's at Talmadge, it's going to be some little Mickey Mouse show. It's not. It will be just as good as it was before."

This is the third show Page has directed since Talmadge and ABCT joined forces.

"Apple Box Theatre was looking for a home, and they didn't have a theater program at Talmadge," he said."It was a natural thing to do."

Productions of ABCT are open to students at Talmadge, as well as adult members of the community and kids from surrounding areas.

Shelli Hattan of Dallas has been interested in acting for some time, but had never done community theater before.

"Also, my daughter was interested in it, so it was a fun mother-daughter adventure," she said.

Hattan's daughter, Alison, plays Sam, a young version of Scrooge's sister.

Hattan plays the role of Mrs. Cratchet.

"Being a mother, it's easy to fit into the role," she said. Other things about the play present challenges, however.

"The language has been a challenge," she said.

"Dickens speaks from that British style, and the flow of it isn't like we speak."

For Page, one of the biggest challenges in directing children's theater is the age of the performers.

"Getting the kids to be quiet," he said. "That is always the hardest part."

Though Page said he has played the role of Scrooge "far too many times," he is still fascinated by the character.

"He is an absolutely amazing old man," he said.

"Anyone who can make an absolute change in his life has to be amazing. He had that ability to change in him there from the beginning. It just took the right stimulus to make it happen."

Page hopes that community members will remember Scrooge and the "Christmas Carol" from the past and come to see the new production.

"It is going to be a wonderful show," he said.

There will be two private performances for the students at Talmadge. The public can see the show at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 6 and 7, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and students under 18 with identification.

All performances will take place at Talmadge Middle School, 510 16th St. in Independence. Tickets are on sale at Rick's Place, 123 E. Main St. in Monmouth.

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