Young Actors Bring ‘A Christmas Carol’ to Life

Happy actors take a bow at the end of an incredible show. Pictured, from left: Ginger Levy, RileyBlackburn, Elijah Braide and Flora Case

What’s more adorable than preteens putting on a Christmas play? Even younger kids putting on the same show.

That’s exactly what happened over the weekend at the Malibu Playhouse, where young children, preteens and then teenagers staged the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” with each age group putting on its own special performance geared to their specific ages.  

The Christmas-themed performances were the culmination of weeks of rehearsals for the children studying acting and stagecraft with the Young Actors Project. 

This “Christmas Carol,” however, was an adaptation with a new twist.  Instead of taking place in Victorian England, the plays were updated to more modern times in America—1966, to be exact. 

“I updated the show because when Charles Dickens wrote it he wanted to reflect his times and his society.  It’s about a man who goes through a moral transformation from evil to good,” playwright John Litten explained. “I’m interested in telling stories where people rediscover their hearts especially around the holiday season. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a holiday trope that we’ve all known.  I wanted to update it so kids could grasp a new kind of Scrooge. 

“I made him more diabolical—more hard-edged,” Litten continued. “Instead of being a reserved British curmudgeon, now he’s more bombastic.  He’s loud, narcissistic.  I think this Scrooge mirrors what we’re going through politically.” 

Shoshana Kuttner is the after-school program’s founder and produced and directed the weekend’s plays. The different casts of 20 kids each have been rehearsing since September in a cell phone-free zone. 

“We have a range of actors who it’s their first time and we also have professional actors,” Kuttner said. “We put them all together. I train them exactly the way I train my adult students. It puts everyone at the same level. We’re all working on technique together so everybody rises.  

“We have kids that start out really shy,” the director continued. “They don’t have a voice. The most important thing I teach is to grow self-expression and how to use your voice.  Everything you share comes through your voice. We do a lot of vocal training.”

Fourteen-year-old Ava Bradley, a Malibu High School freshman, not only played a few roles in the teen cast, she also played violin for one scene.  Bradley works crew for the younger casts, saying, “I love acting and I love helping the kids.”

With 25 YAP productions to her credit, 15-year-old MHS sophomore Ashlyn Kunerth played Bob Cratchit and crews on the younger shows.  

“It makes me really happy to teach them and see them do their play,” Kunerth said. “I feel honored to work with such talented people.”

One of those talents is Jonah Blue Williger. At only 17 years old, Williger is the resident hair and makeup designer for the group. The teen started as an actor and is now a theater technician and will pursue theatrical design in college. 

“There’s something magical about the live aspect of theater,” Williger said.

“A Christmas Carol” may have been updated for the Malibu Playhouse, but according to Kuttner, the message is the same. 

“Kindness is magic,” she said. “A kind word and a kind deed has a big impact on the people around you. How you treat people and what you say—the helpful actions and the service you do in the world and the community is of a higher value than any of the stuff you collect or any achievements or the jobs you have.  Identifying with how you treat people.

“Our version is set in 1966,” the director continued. “It’s an adaptation.  It’s set then as a parallel to the rise of the corporation.  Scrooge was all about building his business and you have all of the conflict of at what cost—what cost to the people who are left behind and outside of the corporate world. We go back to the ‘20s and see how Scrooge grew up. We see the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and then present day 1966. 

“This is empowering to kids to have a sense of pride of doing things on their own,” she said. “They work hard and then they get the pride from being able to see a project all the way to the end.  They fulfill a commitment. That’s really big.”