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Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Image: A Christmas Carol Ottawa

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: An Interactive Audio Play in a Box

By Laura Gauthier and Samara Caplan on November 28, 2020




Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever). Follow @bffs613 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a huge part of many families’ holiday traditions. Whether it’s sitting in front of a warm fire and watching your favourite movie version (there are lots of options to choose from!) or seeing it live on stage like we did last year, it’s a great way to launch into the holiday season.

Though the holidays are going to look a little different this year, that doesn’t mean we have to give up some of our favourite traditions! As always, the creative Ottawa theatre community has stepped in to save the day. With support from the Awesome Ottawa Foundation, local theatre artists Nicholas Leno and Norah Paton have cooked up a COVID-safe, interactive re-telling of
A Christmas Carol that uses an audio track and a box of items delivered right to audiences’ front doors. 

We spoke with Nicholas Leno and Norah Paton, collaborators on A Christmas Carol, about what participants can expect from this innovative experience.

Apt613: How did you come up with this idea?

We both enjoy creating theatre outdoors and have worked together on a couple outdoor projects in the past, including Theatre In the Bush for the National Arts Centre’ Canada Scene and a Company of Fools’ Shakespeare in the park tour of Romeo + Juliet. We wanted to make an outdoor theatre piece in the winter, but knew we would likely be in the middle of COVID’s second wave once the snow began to fall. We also predicted that COVID would impact our Christmas traditions and that audiences would be searching for new ways to experience cherished stories.

So, we decided to let audiences ‘stage’ A Christmas Carol themselves in the comfort of their own home and neighbourhood.

Tell us a bit more about how you got funding from Awesome Ottawa for this? How did that work?

Awesome Ottawa is a local chapter of the Awesome Foundation. They’re interested in supporting initiatives that make our city more awesome through micro grants. We submitted a proposal and they thought our idea was, well… awesome! We’re grateful for their support and couldn’t pull this off without them.

What age ranges would you recommend this experience for? Can families do it together?

Yes, absolutely families can do it together. So can roommates and anyone who is in the same household over the holidays. We’ve also made the experience accessible to people who live in apartments, walk-ups, and single dwelling homes.

It’s perfect for ages eight and up – really anyone who might enjoy Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There are a couple spooky encounters with ghosts though…

Can you explain what the experience is and how it works?

We’ve created a COVID-safe, interactive re-telling of A Christmas Carol that uses an audio track and a box of items delivered to your front door! Our 60-minute adaptation of Dickens’ classic story casts you (the audience) as Scrooge and invites you to explore your neighbourhood as you travel through Christmas past, present, and yet to come.

We’ll send you an audio track that you can download to any device. The audio track layers narration and dialogue from Dickens’ story with custom foley and wayfinding instructions that guide you through your home and neighbourhood. You’ll also receive a small box of items delivered to your house. Following the audio track’s instructions, you’ll use items from your box to build the story right before your eyes. The box utilizes all five senses to immerse you in the experience: shadow puppets, a diorama, a bag of potpourri, and Christmas treats are just a few things you’ll find inside.

It’s part radio play, part walking tour, part loot bag, and a whole lot of fun! All you need is a flashlight, a playback device, and a festive spirit.

What do you think audiences can expect from participating?

This experience asks audiences to leave their home and explore their own neighbourhood. Although there are no live actors and no public gatherings, what we’ve created still feels like an event. It’s ephemeral and has that exciting magic of live theatre where something could go wrong at any time.

If you miss watching Christmas plays or just want to get into the holiday spirit, we think this will do the trick!

Have you found the pandemic restricts your creativity or is it forcing you to think outside the box?

COVID has changed the way theatre artists work and likely will for sometime. But limitations force creativity, and it’s our job as artists to adapt to the situations we find ourselves in. This experience has allowed us to dive into new mediums and even work with artists in different time zones! Actor Lindsey Huebner, who voices over 12 different characters in the play, and our sound designer Jordan Lewis are both in the U.K.

So yes, we’re thinking outside the box in this case, by putting a play inside a box!

Boxes for A Christmas Carol are available now until December 31st. It’s pay-what-you-want (to give you an idea, boxes cost about $10 to put together, if you want to help cover their costs). There will also be a collection for local charities when they drop off the box — more information on that is provided in your confirmation email. Order your box here.