For more than two decades, Stephen Hair has been a big part of many Calgarians' Christmas traditions.
Hair, 67, has played Ebenezer Scrooge in Theatre Calgary's production of A Christmas Carol for the past 22 years. The 2016 production of the Charles Dickens classic runs through Dec. 24 at Theatre Calgary's Max Bell Theatre Stage in Arts Commons. This year marks the 30th-consecutive year that the play has been part of Theatre Calgary's season lineup.
“Usually, as an actor, you get three weeks to look at words on a page and turn it into a human being,” says the British-born Hair, who has been part of the Calgary theatre scene since the 1970s. “And I've had nearly a quarter of a century to do it. I have been in A Christmas Carol for 28 of the 30 years – I played other roles before – and it's a wonderful gift to an actor to have the time to actually unravel the human being behind the story and behind the image that people have. That's what I've always tried to do is find out what happened to me this year that I can put into Scrooge, to find out who this man really is. I don't think you can ever really get to the bottom, to the core, of a human being, but you keep trying.”
When Dickens wrote the book in 1843, he focused on child labour laws, poverty and many other heavy social issues of the day, Hair says. He describes it as “a story about going from dark to light” and, almost 175 years later, the story still resonates with audiences.
“Christmas has become a time when many, many people … get together with families, enjoy themselves and think about things. For a lot of people, it's a time for reflection, about where they are, where they're going, what can happen in the future, bad or good. We're all human beings. We all try and find our way to some lightness out there.
“You look at Alberta, especially Calgary, and the way things are these days. If we can bring a little bit of joy, a little bit of rightness to a very bleak present … the future, we hope, will be a little jollier. It will resonate and I think there are going to be a lot more tears this year, than usual.”
Theatre-goers will notice some changes, as Hair and the entire team at Theatre Calgary try and change aspects year to year. The set, for instance, will be noticeably different. Hair says last year's set was much blue and icier as Theatre Calgary wanted to project the dark, cold feeling of the story; this year, though, the company has focused on projecting the warmer, family-friendly side of the story.
"The challenge for me as an actor is to keep trying to find new things that I haven't done before, haven't thought before, because I don't just want to trot it out of the box every year and just do the same thing that I did last year. So you pick up where you left off and you try and find what's new and different. It's an extraordinary project for me in many, many ways."
Despite doing the role for 22 years, he has not become complacent.
"Certainly Scrooge is the role that means the most to me because it means so much to so many people. I feel a great responsibility in playing him, especially because there are many people who come see it year after year after year. Some people come up to me and say ‘you're our Scrooge and our Christmas starts when we come to see you' …"
One constant that returns this year is the Toonies for Turkeys fundraiser. At the end of every performance, Hair asks the audience to help the Calgary Food Bank with cash donations. More than $1.6 million has been donated over the past 20 years.
Ticket information is available at theatrecalgary.com.