I first met John Kevin Jones when I saw him in Andy Halliday's Nothing But Trash. He was so great in that show that I was thrilled to find out about his own one-man show of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, presented by Summoners Ensemble Theatre. A Christmas Carol is returning for its third smash year at Merchant's House in NYC's East Village from December 10-24 (29 East 4th Street). Click here for tickets!
John Kevin and I talked about A Christmas Carol last year (click here for last year's interview), but it was wonderful to catch up with him about this year's run! This year we talked about keeping the show fresh, ghosts of Christmas past, and holiday traditions!
In December 1867, Charles Dickens arrived in New York City for a month of sold-out performances of his beloved holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. Join "Mr. Dickens," portrayed by actor John Kevin Jones, as he tells his timeless Christmas tale in the elegant intact Greek Revival parlor of the landmark 1832 Merchant’s House Museum (29 East 4th Street, Manhattan). Surrounded by 19th century holiday decorations, flickering candles, and richly appointed period furnishings, audiences will be transported back 150 years in this captivating one-hour performance created from Dickens’ own script.
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1. You are once again bringing A Christmas Carol back to Merchant's House this holiday season. We talked last year about this show, so in retrospect, what were your thoughts on last year's run? Last year was our 2nd holiday season at the Merchant’s House and, actually, the 3rd year I’ve been performing A Christmas Carol and what really surprises me is that after sharing this story so many times I find something new at almost every performance – a twist of phrase, a specific word or the structure of a sentence – Dickens is so nuanced and yet so immediately understandable. The layers seem infinite.
Also, last year – and already we know this year – we have so many people who come back, and they’re making the show a new part of their holiday traditions. That’s so humbling, it makes me want to do even better every time – I want to bring the best I possibly can to make their holiday experience with us everything they want it to be.
2. Now, with the show's return, how will you keep it fresh for yourself to perform? I think the text itself really helps. As I said, there’s always something new and exciting revealing itself to me in the words. But with every show I’m in, like any actor, I always try to approach each performance like it’s the first time. You can rehearse till the cows come home but when it’s time to perform you have to let it all go and just be present in the moment. Ironically, I think that’s at the core of A Christmas Carol’s themes – really being present so that you can fully experience life.
3. What is it like to portray such a well-known historic figure? What challenges do you face in doing this? Everyone has their own idea of "Scrooge," and I suppose most of us have seen numerous portrayals – so the audience has a lot to compare me to. The challenge there is to be the only "Scrooge" in the room. The only way to do that is to commit completely to his character and all the mixed up, craziness that has lead him down a path to self-centeredness and greed. I think that commitment momentarily dispels all the other images the audience may have of him and then they can join me on his journey and see the parts of him that I’m trying to highlight.
4. If Charles Dickens himself came to see your version of A Christmas Carol, how do you think he would like it? Of course he’d love it! But seriously – I hope he’d love it, I hope I’m being true to his voice and maintaining the integrity of his truly wonderful story. I think that I probably give his characters fuller voices and movements than he did in his own readings but I think maybe he’d appreciate that I’m really fleshing these characters out and not just portraying them as two dimensional stereotypes.
5. The show is performed inside Merchant's House, which is rumored to be haunted. Have you had any sightings or unexplained events happen to you either before, during, or after the show? We had a psychic in the audience one night and he told us that he saw a woman (we presume it would be Gertrude Tredwell – the last resident of the Merchant’s House) standing near me while I was performing and she was turned away from me looking out the window. I’m not sure I believe him, I think if she’d really been there she’d have been watching me! How much entertainment does she really get just staying in the house? I’ve not run in to any ghosts myself, but I’m on the look out.
6. For someone who has never seen your version of A Christmas Carol, why should they buy a ticket? Besides the idea of hearing the story with particular attention to Dickens’ words and intentions, I think seeing this story told in the Merchant’s House’s beautiful parlor is truly transporting. The surroundings - a set I could not possibly hope to build – provide our audiences with an opportunity to hear this story as if it were the very time that it was written. I think that gives my telling of the story resonance and makes the spirit of the season that much brighter for the audience.
7. Since you play all the characters in the show. When in your life have you been more "Tiny Tim" and when have you been more "Scrooge"? I think at some point or another we’ve all been "Scrooge!" In fact, I’d garner to say I was him this morning getting on the crowded subway with people blocking the door with the center of the train completely empty. Suddenly it’s all about me, "why are these people in my way!" But then I take a step back and realize I’m being ridiculous and calm myself down. I hope that I don’t have any extended periods where I’m so myopic that I can’t see that my actions are actually hurting someone else.
As for "Tiny Tim," when I was a young adult I had the misfortune of being very ill. Fortunately, I am well now, 100% healthy. But that experience taught me to be grateful for everything I do have and not to focus on the things I don’t. If you’ve been through something like that then I think you know it stays with you. I hope that I can truthfully say that "Tiny Tim’s" outlook is something that’s always guiding me. Even on the subway when people are blocking the door.
8. What is a holiday tradition you acquired as an adult and what is a tradition you let go of? My mother and I discovered Christmas "crackers" sometime in the late 90’s and they’ve been a part of our family celebrations ever since. I love sitting around with everyone wearing funny hats and reading old jokes to each other around the fire.
My family is so set in our holiday ways that the tradition I gave up would really be one I outgrew. My Grandma knitted a Christmas stocking for each of her grandchildren right after we were born. Every Christmas she would have me, my brother, and cousins choose our favorite gift and from that we’d cut the logo from the box, or take a little piece of it that wouldn’t be missed and pin it to the stocking. I still hang the stocking by the fireplace every Christmas and keep my Grandmother’s love for me in my heart all year long.
9. What is your favorite holiday food? OYSTER DRESSING!!!!!
10. Out of all the department stores in NYC, who has your favorite windows? I always end up spending time blocking the sidewalks outside of Macy’s and love every minute.
Kevin is a member of Actors Equity Association and the Dramatists Guild of America. New York: Nothing But Trash, Theater for the New City; Jeffrey (starring Bryan Batt), Lincoln Center; The Winter’s Tale and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Hipgnosis Theatre. Regional: The Pavilion (American Stage), Othello (Arkansas Rep), The Rivals, All My Sons (Kentucky Rep), Angels in America, Gross Indecency (Playhouse on the Square). BA in Theatre Performance from the University of South Florida and MFA in Theatre Directing from the University of Memphis.