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Get in the Christmas spirit

Monster Theatre offers its take on A Christmas Carol

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Monster Theatre's Tara Travis and Bruce Horak have experienced a few white-knuckle drives through B.C. this month while touring their festive A Christmas Carol.

"For the most part it's been not too bad," Travis said recently after a harrowing trek to Prince George. "We have really good studded snow tires and we plan our routes carefully. Still, when you're driving in virtually blind conditions it can be stressful."

Snowy roads in December might be predictable, but the Vancouver company's take on the traditional Charles Dickens' holiday story is anything but. Travis and artistic director Ryan Gladstone (who penned the script) came up with the idea for the play after performing the original version as part of the Monster's Mini Masterpieces, a short take on a classic tale geared to kids.

In this version, audiences are transported to a play within a play. A curmudeonly theatre director (Horak) is putting on a production of A Christmas Carol when his entire cast of 100 grows tired of his grumpy leadership and quits right before the first performance.

Only the anxious stage manager (played by Travis) is convinced to stick around, and ends up trying to play the entire cast.

"It's about their relationship," Travis said. "I'm the (Bob) Cratchit to his Scrooge. It's about us working together and finding ways to make it happen and tell the story. We ultimately bond and he learns about the true meaning of Christmas through our adventure."

While there are lessons to be learned, the play is heavy with seasonal sentiment, as well. "One of the reasons the actors quit is because the director has no Christmas spirit," Travis said. "He's not honouring the true meaning of the play. The way the play culminates is learning what the Christmas spirit is all about. He thought it was about spending money on people. The more money you spend, the more you care. He learns it's about people coming together and spending time with the ones you love."

To that end, the pair uses puppets, masks and young volunteers from the crowd to play around 50 characters. Puppeteering, acting and keeping an eye on the kids who wind up in the play can be a bit of a challenge, Travis added.

"I guess in more traditional acting there are less technical skills involved," she said. "In a more traditional role you have your one character and one journey and you focus on their arc. The work we do in Monster Theatre, you're managing an upwards of 18 character arcs. It's learning them all separately and piecing them together and picking up where they were the last time you saw them."

It might be difficult work, but it's the kind of acting to which Travis has always been drawn. From a young age she and her sisters would put on backyard plays and charged neighbours to see their "fairytale" shows.

"I was always into physical theatre and working with masks and characters," she said. "I was never one for naturalistic performance. I've done a lot of it, but I was always drawn to the larger scale stuff. Through masks I was drawn to puppetry."

While Travis doesn't want to ruin the surprise for Whistler audiences, she said the puppet characters include the famous three spirits of Christmas past, present and future. "The ghost of Christmas present in particular is quite a fun reveal," she added.

Despite the fact that the performance is geared towards kids, younger children usually aren't able to grasp the complicated concept of a play within a play and keep up with multiple characters. "We say five and up," Travis said. "It's a complicated idea."

Drawing on multi-level humour like, say, Pixar movies often do, the production also holds appeal for the parents in the crowd. "Because (Monster Theatre usually) entertains adults, often the parents are laughing harder than the kids are," she said. "We try to layer our humour and have something for everyone."

Catch the production on Dec. 22 at Millennium Place at 7 p.m. A pre-show craft station will be open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets, available at artswhistler.com, are $22.50 for adults, $11.50 for kids, $15 for seniors and students and $17.50 for Whistler Arts Council members.

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