St. Jude Elementary is a K-8 Catholic grade school in the heart of Cincinnati’s west-side. Fourth graders from the school have been learning the basics of literature against the backdrop of history. Pretty standard elementary school curriculum. But to add to their classroom instruction, they got to watch these ideas come to life in one of Cincinnati’s most enduring traditions, Playhouse in the Park’s “A Christmas Carol”.
“This was the best play I’ve even seen!” expressed one student as soon as he emerged from the theatre.
Rarely do you find a chance to learn about social themes, literature, and history with such an authentic and spellbinding experience. It’s no wonder the Mt. Adams theatre offers a Christmas time matinee for students that is so popular, you have to win a lottery held in May to attend. St. Jude saw the show just before Thanksgiving break. This was perfect timing to parallel their studying of literature. You all remember, right - plot, characters, settings, flashback, foreshadowing, theme... bring back some English 101 memories?
Four come-to-life-ghosts, Victorian villagers readying for Chrstmas, humble yet happy families, a pull-at-your-heartstrings crippled son, silly party goers, and a grouchy “humbuggy” old man would be enough to draw anyone into a story. “Creepy”, “Enthusiastic”, “Joyful”, “Funny” were some of the characterizations the excited mini-theatre critics bantered about, post-play.
The play is Howard Dallin’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella. These characters are so entrenched in our lives that just mentioning the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge, or Tiny Tim conjure up images for most of us. Indeed, many St. Jude students had seen some other versions, but had not viewed a professional live production.
Boasting a spectacular setting of a merry Victorian village on Christmas Eve, a never still stage with props coming from the floor and booming sound effects - both eerie and jolly - produces an absolutely mesmerized audience. “Did you SEE those things coming out of the FLOOR?” remarked one wide-eyed classmate on the bus ride home.
Perhaps the draw of the Dickens story is embodied in the theme. When asked what they felt a message of the play was, one student said, “Scrooge learned to be thankful and loving before it was too late.” Well said. Kids learned how these characters celebrate Christmas - with a focus on time spent together, reaching out to others, and acknowledging life’s simple blessings. These scenes are certainly a great reminder of how (to reference Tiny Tim’s words) every one of us is blessed.
“A Christmas Carol” left the St. Jude students excited about ushering in the holiday season with a spectacular play in a gorgeous theatre. Teacher left making a mental note to remember to apply in May for next year’s lottery! Anyone who has seen the play wants to return to the magic and the unique opportunity to bring stories to life and renew our hope that it’s never too late to make meaningful changes.