The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 7, 2012

Victorian cheer: DickensFest an annual tribute to legendary author

From staff reports

JOPLIN, Mo. — In its third year, a Christmastime event dedicated to another time will be held this weekend. DickensFest, a tribute to the legendary author of "A Christmas Carol," will re-create a Victorian village and other nuances of the writer's worlds.

The stars of the event will be members of the Dream Theatre Company, who will bring characters from "A Christmas Carol" to life.

"We couldn't do it without them," Historic Murphysburg Preservation Director Paula Callihan said. "They are the magic in this whole thing. It's entertainment you can't get anywhere else."

The festival, with a grant from the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, is organized by the Preservation. The event includes five buildings erected on Third Street behind First United Methodist Church.

New features in this year's event include:

Other standbys, such as horse-drawn carriage rides, pictures with Santa Claus, a kiddie train, a petting zoo and performances of scenes from "A Christmas Carol," will also be featured.

Acting out

Members of Dream Theatre have re-enacted story roles ever since the inaugural event in 2010. They put on brief plays on the street and stay in their roles as they interact with visitors.

Actors take to their parts well -- even though the cast changes out because of availability, the actors pick up new lines, choreography and accents easily. Becki Gooch, director of Dream Theatre, said the challenge isn't in the acting, however -- it's in the costumes.

"Costuming is probably the hardest part," Gooch said. "There are lots of outfits from the '20s and '70s that reflect Victorian trends. But specifically for 'A Christmas Carol,' there are lots of layers, hoop skirts. That's a challenge every year."

City support

The event is put together by a group of volunteers and fueled by the CVB grant, Callihan said. The event, which is part of Joplin's Holiday Experience, has attracted thousands each of its two years, and a similar crowd is anticipated this year.

"We always feel proud that the CVB helps us out with a grant," Callihan said. "They have faith in us. We're also proud about being able to have free entertainment for families. There's a lot of stuff at the event to catch interests."

Dickens a Christmas catalyst

As people discuss different reasons for the season, from Jesus Christ to Saturnalia, David Perdue, author of The Charles Dickens Page (, says that Dickens had a tremendous influence on the way we celebrate.

Christmas was on the outs as a major holiday during the start of the Victorian period, he wrote. Medieval Christmas celebrations such as Saturnalia and Yule were under intense scrutiny under the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell. And the Industrial Revolution meant workers had little time for holidays.

Then along comes Dickens, who wrote several Christmas stories and, in 1843, "A Christmas Carol." Others before Dickens started reviving traditions such as Christmas trees and carols, Perdue noted.

"It was the Christmas stories of Dickens, particularly his 1843 masterpiece 'A Christmas Carol,' that rekindled the joy of Christmas in Britain and America," Perdue wrote. "Today, after more than 160 years, 'A Christmas Carol' continues to be relevant, sending a message that cuts through the materialistic trappings of the season and gets to the heart and soul of the holidays."