I, Ebenezer opens tonight at Northeast State/Blountville

The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge has fascinated generations of audiences with its universal themes of greed, loss, class, and redemption. The Northeast State Department of Theatre brings this classic back to the stage with I, Ebenezer, a brilliant and original retelling of Scrooge’s Christmas adventure.

Adapted from the beloved tale A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the play is a family friendly production that deals with the human side of the beloved holiday story. I, Ebenezer tells the story of bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, head of a multinational company that specializes in steam-powered robots.

Playing Scrooge is Richard Jackson, an actor who continues to stretch his range of performances from Ben in Night of the Living Dead, to Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, and Peter in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“This play opens up his life and you get to see and understand why Scrooge became so bitter and angry; honestly, it was the most emotionally taxing play I’ve done,” said Jackson. “As in Christmas Carol, he finds what made him happy was to have a giving heart. In this play, the audience gets the insight on that change of heart and his rebirth.”

Written and directed by Northeast State Theatre faculty member Brad McKenzie, the play’s motif reflects the steampunk storytelling genre where the world’s technology operates on steam power. McKenzie wrote the adaptation after facing a crossroads in his own life.

“This is the second play I have written and directed, and while some of the underlying themes and subtext are very personal to me, it is also universal to the human experience,” said McKenzie who is also directing the play. “I am so impressed with my amazing cast and designers. I have pushed them hard on this production, and it has been a joy to see them grow as artists and human beings.”

Caitlin Haltom portrays Eliza Scrooge, Ebenezer’s wife and confidant typically unseen as a character in the story. Eliza plays a pivotal role in her husband’s life. She noted the transformation during the play of Scrooge as he is referred early on to the more humanized “Ebenezer”.

“She’s a strong-willed, loyal wife who knew Ebenezer the way he once was,” said Haltom. “Her presence is really important to the growth of the story and how the characters and their styles relate to the audience.”

Ebenezer also shifts the characters of Eliza Scrooge and Sarah Cratchit from the shadows to the spotlight. Both women play prominent roles influencing their husbands and the storyline.

Sarah Cratchit is played by Hannah Duncan, a theatre major performing in her fifth production with NST. Duncan aspires to be a director and has done yeoman work on stage and behind the curtain during her two years with Northeast State Theatre. Her portrayal of Sarah stands strong for her family and against Scrooge taking advantage of her husband.

“Where Bob Cratchit is passive and let’s things happen without much fight, Sara is very fierce and proud,” said Duncan, “She emulates the things she sees among the wealthier people and strives to take what the family has earned to let people know even though I am poor, I matter.”

Heather Christian portrays Marlene, an original character who combines the roles of ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. She whisks Scrooge away on his time-traveling journey giving him and the audience a peek into what turned Scrooge into the man he has become.

“I think Marlene feels pity for Scrooge in watching what he was and what he becomes,” said Christian. “She, like all the female characters in this version are strong women, which to me is really cool.”

Make-up designer Dustin Lawson went to work putting the faces on the human and robot characters. He recruited assistant make-up designer Lorrie Anderson to create the Victorian-meets-steam look for the characters.

“The only steampunk themed make-up we do is for Marley-bot so we used bronze with brown and gold colors,” said Lawson. “We were given a good amount of freedom to come up with designs that fit the characters.”

Anderson makes her first foray into design with this production. A theatre major at Northeast State, she played Lucy in the NST’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and has performed onstage at Theatre Bristol and the Johnson City Community Theatre.

“I love designing, but I have an affinity for acting,” she said. “Joining the technical crew for this I gained such great respect for them because it so difficult to do this work. Brad and Elizabeth (Sloan) truly foster respect between actors and crews in every production.”

Austin Sparks portrays Marley-bot, a first-generation automaton who provides comic relief during the play’s darker moments. Named for its inventor Jacob Marley, Sparks underwent a significant make-up and costume transformation to become the play’s only speaking robot. Trained in forensics and pantomime performing, Sparks spends up to 90 minutes getting into make-up and costume for his role.

“Marley-bot fills in the dark scenes of the play and reflects the personality of his creator, so whenever there is a particular dark scene, he is there to lift your spirits,” said Sparks, a computer programming major. “I took inspiration from the C3P0 droid character in Star Wars the way he moves and responds to people.”

Costuming these past and futuristic characters is Marty France, a theatre major, with extensive stage experience. France has overseen the creation of more than 20 costumes to frame the Ebenezer characters.

“The costuming and make-up stage shops are right in the same room so we could collaborate and say, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea,’ ” said France. “It is a challenge for each character but once you have that idea in your head to do what you want it will come together.”

Elizabeth M. Sloan, the play’s producer and director of Northeast State Theatre, says I, Ebenezer captures all the story’s essential elements while giving students an opportunity to use their imaginations and what they’ve learned.

“I’m proud of this production. I think it is so brave that Brad is willing to push himself artistically by writing this innovative adaptation of such a beloved and classic story,” said Sloan. “His willingness to risk and push himself out of his comfort zone artistically is inspiring for not only for me but for our students. They have really taken on the design, acting and technical challenges beautifully. I’m so proud of all of their work.”

Many Ebenezer cast and crew member are prepared to graduate from Northeast State next spring. This play and the spring production of The Laramie Project mark the end of sorts to their collaborative efforts as students.

“Brad and Elizabeth work very hard to teach students and actors and technical crew to have respect for each other,” said Lawson. “We’ve been together in many productions, and whenever they do a musical I’m coming back!”

Northeast State Theatre students have won acclaim and awards from the Region IV Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for four consecutive years. The program’s reputation gives students moving to four-year institutions considerable respect from academic and theatre professionals alike.

Performance dates are Dec. 4 -6 and Dec. 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. Two matinees will be performed on Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 and free to Northeast State students who present valid student identification.

For information about tickets or how to purchase tickets call the Box Office at 423.354.5169 or email Travis Brooks at tcbrooks@northeaststate.edu.

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