Sue Newman of Newman Family Productions sat down with Don Cunningham one afternoon recently, in preparation for the 50-plus birthday celebration since Christmas with Scrooge came to Salt Spring and writing this article. Tickets are on sale at Salt Spring Books and selling quickly. Showtimes are Dec. 14, 15, 16, 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17 also have 2 p.m. matinees.
BY SUE NEWMAN
Don Cunningham was our first Bob Cratchit. You might know him from the Lions Club garage sale, but when my family arrived on Salt Spring, in July of 1970, he was a meat cutter at the Salt Spring Trading Company, a grocery store, where TJ Beans is now located. Just down the road on McPhillips Avenue was our little store and several other businesses in tiny buildings on stilts along the stream, where Barb’s and Apple Photo are today. Arty Crafty, it was called, after Virginia and Ray. (She’s Arty, he’s Crafty!) We sold art supplies, small musical instruments and model trains, planes and automobiles.
As well, as one does in a new community, one jumps right in and gets to know the neighbours by writing a musical play. A store and a show to meet islanders with similar interests . . . what can I say? The Newmans were in love with with Salt Spring!
So, what would the story be about? Salt Spring’s incredible history, of course! My folks had read David Conover’s Once Upon an Island, which preceded their move from the Southern California rat race and the Viet Nam war and, after reading Bea Hamiliton’s version of Salt Spring’s past, that decided it.
Well, it so happened that Don Cunningham’s mom Margaret, who provided our first welcome wagon kind of dinner invitation, was also an encyclopedia of island facts. After furious note-taking by my parents, Margaret told Virginia that the script would need to be “a little bit gentle here, because some of these people are still alive.”
And so it was, with a respectful nod to First Nations, local descendants of pioneers and the Stark family, and a tribute finale to the Salt Spring Women’s Fire Brigade, the Newman family was making many friends.
After the success of Salt Spring Madness, as it was called then, they were ready to put on another production. Ray had said it was madness to try to make a living doing theatre on a little island. Apparently, the madness was worth it.
It was the summer of 1971. Don came by to work on some model airplanes — for a free flight — with Ray, and soon enough, Virginia was casting him as Bob Cratchit in the barely conceived notion of their new musical play that would be based on Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol.
Once again, my school pals and those of my sister Amy, our in-laws, the Keepings, the Ramseys, Withrows, Lomases, Johnsons, Andersons and more would number in the cast, including Lillian Horsdal — Valdy’s mom — as the Tipsy Maid), plus friends of big brother Bruce Eason. (He also wrote music in the show.) Over the next few years, there were more productions.
Enter Dawn Randall. She had a little book and stationery shop called “etcetera,” which at the time was more or less where Yvonne Lam’s Ganges Stationery is now.
A wonderful thespian in her own right, immersed in the Salt Spring Players, Dawn was an early cast member who has returned this year. Both her children were Cratchit children: Kris as Tiny Tim and Kirsten, a Spotty Dog. (You have to see the show.) She recalls that Kris couldn’t remember his cues, so Don and he had a signal: a clunk on the shoulder was the time to say, “God bless us, everyone!”
Fast forward and our version of the Scrooge story has had many islanders and their families carry the torch. In my family, my children, brother Paul’s daughter, a grandchild of my sister Wendy, Bruce’s children and some of his grandchildren have taken their turns jumping through hoops, having a very small chicken or kicking up their heels at the Fezziwig Ball.
As well, most island halls, a couple of churches and ArtSpring have seen Scrooge and company within their walls.
Newman Family Productions is so proud to be on its feet again, and Fulford Hall is the place to see Christmas with Scrooge this year. In 2019, the show was re-imagined “in the round,” or oval, actually, to resounding applause. With a “cast of thousands,” as Ray used to say, the show boasts members from the very first production, from the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s remounts and some since 2017. With a few brand-new families, we also have three generations in two families.
Patrick Cassidy and Kevin Wilkie return to the stage as Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, respectively, although it’s hard to respect Scrooge until the end of the play.
With grateful support to Salt Spring Arts, Mouat’s, Windsor Plywood, Thrifty’s, Whiskers, Salt Spring Books, Pharmasave, Moby’s and more, Christmas with Scrooge is proud to be presented by Graffiti Theatre and Country Grocer.
In addition to regular show dates, Dec. 13 offers a “pay what you wish” ticket, in keeping with efforts to bring everyone to the show who wants to come. (Those tickets also must be purchased at Salt Spring Books.)
Of special note, Levi Hickson will play the Ghost of Christmas Past and Peter Cratchit. He is also the last of the young children from the 2017 cast still with the show. Now, practically grown up, he is leading the next bunch of Cratchit children in their Christmas with Scrooge family experience of blissful community theatre.