‘A Christmas Carol’ coming to The State Theatre

WILLIAMSPORT — The 40th and final annual performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” by Tony M. Lentz will take place at The State Theatre in Williamsporton Tuesday, Nov. 28 and Monday, Dec. 18.

The performance begins at 7 p.m. each day and will take place in The Attic upstairs space.

A Christmas Carol was the first work performed publicly by Charles Dickens, and the success of his 1853 reading for a Birmingham, England, charity led him to consider reading professionally. It was considered shocking for a major author to take to the stage, but it became a lucrative career for Dickens. This was especially true in the United States, where unscrupulous publishers pirated many of his works. He cut the three-hour story down to an hour-and-a-half, removing the most emotional moments (because he didn’t feel comfortable performing them) and most of the social criticism as well. The story became one of the most popular works in his repertoire, and Dickens became one of the most well-known and highly-paid readers of the 19th century. At one time tickets to his readings were scalped for up to $26 each, a remarkable sum for the time. Dr. Lentz’s two-hour adaptation of the story retains examples of the emotional power, social criticism, and rich description that display the full array of literary powers at Dickens’ command.

Dr. Lentz is a retired Penn State instructor and former director of the Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP). He was a consultant for the FAO in establishing the first public speaking course in India in 1987. Lentz is the author of Orality and Literacy in Hellenic Greece, and helped establish PSU’s Education Abroad program to that country in 1989. He taught presentation skills, especially the application of oral storytelling skills to the performance of written literature.

Dr. Lentz first encountered this type of performance in 1965, his freshman year, when he saw A Christmas Carol performed by Professor Earl Wynn at the University of North Carolina. (An annual reading there is a tradition dating back to the 1920s, when Prof. Frederick Koch–a mentor to Betty Smith and Thomas Wolfe–performed it. Koch started the UNC Theatre Department and was a key supporter of outdoor drama like “The Lost Colony.”)

The story was performed in a comfortable reading room with paneled walls, overstuffed chairs and sofas, fireplaces at both ends, and a lectern in front of long windows facing the Morehead Rose Garden. Lentz’s imagination filled with snowy London streets, fantastic ghosts, and the glow of the Christmas Season as seen through the eyes of a reformed Scrooge. When he arrived at Penn State in 1980 he found records of the University Readers sponsoring a reading of the story dating back to Christmas, 1947, the year and month he was born.

He first performed the story from his hand-typed 82-page script at Wingate College in North Carolina in 1978. He will be 70 on Dec. 20, and will have performed the story in each of the last 40 years.

This performance is dedicated to the late Professor Wynn, in honor of his gift to North Carolina students, and to all those touched by the story over the years.