Behind The Scenes: Joining the Cast and Crew of An Island's Christmas Carol

by Xinyi Huang

08 January 2020

“Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it!”

-Robert Motherwell

An Island's Christmas Carol is the third production of the Pohnpei Players, a theatrical arts group in Pohnpei led by a wonderful and talented couple, Kristi and Wayne Parker. In 2017, their debut, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, embarked the journey to promote theater and arts in Pohnpei. In their Directors' notes, Kristi and Wayne gladly shared their incentive behind the successful Pohnpei Players, "Our hope…is to teach and train enough people so that one day, others will be able to take over and continue this great work for and with the community…we pray it'll be a blessing to many here, as it's already been to our family."

The show itself is adapted from Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol”. It includes Act 1, Act 2, and a short 15-minute intermission. A classic Christmas tale with recognized literacy value, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, an elderly cynical miser who is visited by the ghost spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. After these visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder and gentler man.

All of the cast have been given a suitable role to play, and many succeeded playing dual or multiple roles. In my case, the assigned roles to me were Belle, young Ebeneezer's fiancee, and Mrs. Cratchit, wife of Ebeneezer's employee. I found myself fully indulged in this delightful Christmas tale of redemption and reunion, sympathizing with characters like Tiny Tim (a poor crippled child of Mrs.Cratchit) and Want and

Ignorance, which are personifications of child poverty. It is one of the main themes of Dickens’ that reflect his indignation seeing children laboring in poor conditions in 19th century Britain.

15 December 2019 @ 8:30 in the evening, PICS Cafeteria

As we waved goodnight to the last audience, the tender breeze after a rainy day in Pohnpei cooled my sweaty forehead, but it hardly blew away my tingling excitement.

The last two and a half months in preparation of this local Christmas production has been a journey of discovering talents, learning lessons, and experiencing waves of sentiments. A sense of achievement bubbled as I embraced all the honest compliments, smiles of encouragement, and loving hugs from strangers as well as supportive family and friends in the audience.

In the blur of selfie-taking and autograph-signing, the buzzing of excited chatter faded in the background, and memories flowed…

27 September 2019 @ 5:30 in the afternoon, PCS

Today was the day, the first audition for the local Christmas play. I could hardly contain my excitement! Truth be told, I’ve never acted before and I wasn’t fond of acting. I was simply interested for a novelty.

Everyone was eager to join when Kristi and Wayne visited our school to announce the auditions, but when the day finally rolled by, I was alone dragging myself towards the PCS, brushed away by peers who were reluctant to distract themselves from upcoming finals.

Exhausted after a tired day at school, I was handed a sticker with a lopsided number and asked to wait. The usual pouring of tropical rain began, wetting my hair. I stared at the rain, wincing.

I started to doubt my choice.

 * * *

I gave it my best shot, butterflies tumbling as I was the first one called to tryout. Luckily, Kristi and Wayne were pros at calming nerves with their humorous acting. They never cared about being “silly” in front of kids. They could grab anyone on the spot to be immersed an intensive staged performance with their booming voices and lively movements that pulled heartstrings. Action speaks louder than words---it was through their non-judgmental and professionalism which we saw that we quietly absorbed.

7 to 12 October 2019, @ 5:30 to 8:30 in the evening,

Mercedes Building, Kolonia

Rehearsals were plentiful and bustling with energy.

Step by step, we learned to manage our time, Each rehearsal was 2 hours in total and you might only be on stage for 30 min. Learning to make use of leisure time, then quickly adjusting to optimum theater mode when you are needed is crucial, not only for yourself but also for others as people relay on you to signal their staging.

Hand-in-hand, we learned to be in-sync with our characters, as the directors instructed movements, explaining emotions and exemplifying them in detail according to the lines. Mr. Denise, who played Mr.Scrooge, always had his script covered with notes on expressions and standing positions.

Little by little, we learned to corporate with the musicians, learning to wait two beats for the carolers and leaning in close to hear the piano since we didn't have speakers.

Finally, we learned to be patient while waiting backstage and fight the urge to make small talk---me, as an older kid, developed a few skills to keep smaller kids from horsing around.

Responsibility is no longer a word but an oath to keep. It goes without saying you should do your best acting for the show, but also pay attention to the on-going rehearsal, talk in hushed voices when others are acting in respect, volunteer---our show would have been nothing without generous volunteering among the crew. Above all, is the responsibility of understanding the essence of a team. From the musicians to the tech people, from the directors to all the cast, when you're sweating and itching, when you're tired and fed up, think about the directors who have to yell the same reminders multiple times each rehearsal. Think about some actors who have to sit behind a stifling curtain for 20 min waiting, just so they could have the perfect effect for their 5-minute scene after.

Rehearsals meant honing your acting skills with guidance. It meant working with effort when others are relaxing. Meanwhile, it also meant unveiling talents and friends you never thought you’d encounter. Growing as and contributing to a community is an experience I’d never trade.

22 November 2019 @ 4:30 in the afternoon, OLMCHS

As I packed my bag, a wide grin printed on my face, already picturing myself sinking in the couch, until I noticed a small piece of paper: Important! Dress Rehearsal for Belle on Friday till 8:00 PM!

My shoulders sank, as if a bucket of ice poured over me.

Didn't we practice 5 times already? Why over and over again?

An idea sparked. I texted Kristi I “had a family gathering”, pressing send with sweaty palms. I felt guilt throbbing like a giant hand pressing my chest. Shaking it off, I tried to convince myself I've done enough. Look at all those who dropped out. Over one third of our original cast was gone.

I received Kristi's text soon, her tone obviously disappointed. My eyes scanned the screen, my heart tugged tighter and tighter as I read further,

"You've made a commitment, Cindy…and all of us need you to hold on to your commitment."

Everything grew silent as I processed those words. It seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. I remembered Mr.Olivier, who despite being a tough-looking adult would squat in the crowded dressing room for a long time, holding a flashlight towards his ghoul mask to make sure it glows on stage. I thought about Ms. Summer, one of our beloved tech people, who was always there waiting for me with my costume ready to help me change, who would encourage me in whispers before I went on stage. I recalled all my children in the play, Kash who could never get the straps on her costume right, Elijah who trusted me to give him signals, Lyka whom I helped with her makeup, who all called me “mom” with such enthusiasm.

Loving something meant responsibility and commitment. Pohnpei Players wasn’t a simple search for novelty anymore.

I cried out, “I want to go to rehearsals!"

***

When I arrive and saw Kristi, she was organizing our props one by one, leaning difficultly on one foot. I gulped, trying to swallow a sudden lump in my throat. When she saw me, the sparkles in her eyes were ineffable. They were shining with something I could only describe as pride. It was the moment I am most grateful to have an amazing director, and grateful to myself for persisting.

During rehearsal, I sat there as usual, laughing with fellow theater friends.

Pohnpei Players was the safe harbor where I had a sense of belonging. We would gather to play the ukelele or simply fool around and make each other laugh. Just like Kristi said to me, "The best thing you can do when things are rough is to surround yourself with the people who love you…everyone in the play loves you very much, regardless of what role you play."

Pohnpei players was the magical place where I gained confidence on stage---I told Kristi joyously my stage fright evaporated when I was acting. She smiled and nodded, as she herself felt exactly how I did when she studied theatrical arts in college.

15 December 2019 @ 9:00 in the evening, PICS Cafeteria

I smiled as I tucked away my costume and wiped off my makeup for the last time. As the car drove farther and farther from PICS, I opened the windows and let the soft rain wet my face.

I can’t help but stifle a laugh when I thought remembered hordes of us decorating the Christmas tree and having flashbacks of my heart pounding in embarrassment when my microphone went loose under my dress as we gathered to sing “For Here’s a Jolly Good Fellow” at the top of our lungs.

"Take advantage of the times you have with what you love.” Yes, Ms. Kristi, I miss everything already.