Rachel Alderman

StageNotes - A Christmas Carol

Behind the Scenes: An Interview with A Christmas Carol Director Rachel Alderman

By Sara Berliner, Education Apprentice  

Rachel AldermanTell us a bit about your journey through theatre and how it has brought you to Hartford Stage.

I started out as an actor. That’s what I studied in college, although I always had a penchant for directing and producing. When I landed in Connecticut, I worked for the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in a variety of capacities. But I missed being in the theatre year-round. A friend suggested that I apply for the Hartford Stage apprenticeship program. I wanted to learn to produce at a regional theatre level and get back into the rehearsal room again. Five years after my apprenticeship, I joined the staff full time. It is great to be back.

Was your first time seeing A Christmas Carol as the Artistic Apprentice?

I think I went to see it before I became an apprentice because a friend’s daughter was playing Fan. It was magical. I was so moved by the integration of the children’s ensemble, the Hartt students, and the Equity ensemble seamlessly into one community. That intergenerational experience was so powerful. It’s holiday entertainment, but it’s also holiday ritual as you reflect on your year and think about the year ahead.

You are in some ways “inheriting” this production from original adaptor Michael Wilson and the directors that followed him, Jeremy Cohen and Max Williams. Can you talk about that experience?

I started two seasons ago as Max’s associate to learn about the production. This is my second season directing. The adaptation is beautiful, and Michael Wilson’s take on the story is my favorite of all the Christmas Carols. It captures the heart of the season with a good dose of humor and song. It’s really fun to get to be a part of that legacy. I’m very appreciative of all the people, directors, cast, crew and designers that have come before me. My goal is to maintain our high quality production, as well as continue to build a strong sense of community. 

As a Jewish person, what is your relationship to Christmas?

I have always enjoyed the season and cherish any holiday that seeks to bring light to darkness. I value that in Christmas. I enjoy learning about other people’s religious traditions and have since I was a kid. It enhances my own understanding and practice of my Judaism.

I am also very interested in the relationship that Americans have to Dickensian Victorian Christmases, including myself as an American Jew. Why exactly do we, as a culture, look to that time when celebrating this holiday? Why do we romanticize it, and why are we drawn to it? Why it is so culturally meaningful to us is a question I have been interested in for a long time. Dickens’ version of Christmas has had a strong hold on the American imagination since it was published and changed our country’s relationship to this winter holiday. It’s fascinating! Working on this show allows me to dig into this topic and unwrap these cultural conundrums.

You touched on this a little bit in your last answer, but why do you think A Christmas Carol has remained such a popular story?

Watching Scrooge transform and grow is powerful. I think people are really drawn to his journey of redemption and, by extension, the capacity that each of us has for change. The other enduring quality is people love a good ghost story. The story is entertaining, and Dickens is awesome. There are recognizable, wonderfully quirky characters that come to life in remarkable ways through his stories; and I just want to be in their presence. Whether he’s writing about class struggle, heartbreak, grief, love, death – he covers the whole journey of a life in the course of an evening and tackles our biggest fears and hopes all between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The stakes are real and high.

This show is a starting point for more conversation about humanity and community. It takes something familiar and relatable and says, ‘here’s a start to the conversation.’ This production celebrates and reflects our Hartford community.  It’s important to take this time of year to commit to each other and our shared humanity. The themes of A Christmas Carol are universal and eternal.