Meet the Artist: Bill Raymond
By Fiona Kyle, Artistic Apprentice
You have been a beloved member of Hartford Stage’s annual production of A Christmas Carol in the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge for 17 years. What are your most treasured memories from working on this family-favorite?
The joy. The work. The camaraderie. The humor. The company of the Hartford Stage. The audience. Michael Wilson’s brilliance and transcendent perceptions. Max Williams’ extraordinary inventiveness. All of my good friends on stage, ghosts and otherwise. The entire city of Hartford. The fifty times fifty times fifty times fifty blessings of Charles Dickens. Winter snow on Church Street when it’s too deep for kids to travel and the generous moms and dads who travel anyway— because the show and the snow must go on. George and Anne Richards who will fly us to the moon, if need be and do. The shows of tears and laughter on a daily/nightly basis. The oh-so-excited five year old boy who sat downstage right with his mom and who could not stop yelling, “Mr. Scrooge! Mr. Scrooge! Mr. Scrooge!” until Mr. Scrooge walked over to him, knelt down, and said, “Hi, how are you?” Mr. Scrooge put him on his shoulders in gratitude and he became part of that show, just like Tiny Tim—that was a show stopper. An everlasting freshness that fills the heart with hope and caring.
You’ve revisited Scrooge every year: how have you kept it fresh for yourself as an actor?
Every year, for nearly 20 years—except for two—I have traveled from Manhattan to Hartford to merge with my old friend Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost Story of Christmas. The question is often asked, “How do you keep it fresh for yourself as an actor?” I don’t. It keeps me fresh, it always will. Even when I no longer perform it, it will be with me and I am thankful for that. Michael Wilson wrote, adapted, and created this wonderful production, and I stand in awe of him. Max Williams is a constant delight and a well of imagination. He is fresh and wise and funny, and I stand in awe of him too. I worked with Rachel Alderman last year when she was the Associate Director. It will be a dear pleasure to work with her this season.
What ways are you similar and/or dissimilar from Scrooge? Have you learned anything from him?
Many children ask me “Why would I want to be Scrooge?” and I often answer “Scrooge wants to be me because it’s serious fun and I’m always sure of a happy ending. From top to bottom, from bow to stern, it’s rich on purpose with lots to learn.”
Every year we have two teams of new and returning children to make up the youth ensemble. Can you talk about the experience of working with the youth ensemble for A Christmas Carol?
They always amaze me, they always surprise me, and the fact that they do what they do is incredible. And what they continue to do years after. Danielle Bonanno and Erik Bloomquist created CPTV’s original drama The Cobblestone Corridor, both of whom were past youth ensemble members. They’re both incredible and smart, and I was glad to work with them on that project.
You are an accomplished actor outside of Hartford Stage, both onstage at theatres such as Mabou Mines, on screen in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and the acclaimed television show “The Wire.” You’ve won two Village Voice Obie Awards for Performance for Cold Harbor and A Prelude to Death in Venice, and have received many other accolades throughout your career. Can you tell us what got you into acting?
It goes back to 1956, the first time I was on stage. I had seen this show, a road-show, Time Out for Ginger. Later, in that same show, I played a skinny kid—I was 99 pounds at the time. I got to punch a kid who was being rude to Ginger, and I got the biggest laugh in my entire life. That was the seed of my acting career. I worked with Ronnie Davis in the RG Davis Mime Troupe—later the San Francisco Mime Troupe. I studied at his studio, and we did performances at the Actors Workshop in San Francisco. I left because I wanted to talk. I did a play called Pantagalize by Michel de Ghelderode, a four-hour play with five hour-long monologues, and so I came out talking. That was the beginning of things for me. From there I went to LA, then I went to New York, and then I went to France, England, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Tokyo, and Canada.