When Battle Ground High School teacher Stephan "Cash" Henry began looking for just the right version of "A Christmas Carol" for drama students to perform on stage, he had a major case of deja vu. He read several--at least nine--stage adaptations of Charles Dickens' holiday novella, but none of them stood out as the storyline that played out in his head. "I felt like I had seen them all before," Henry said.
So this past July, when the bright sun typically blocks out any thoughts of thick-soled boots crunching on a snow-covered sidewalk, he took the matter to his desk and began transcribing his visions of a Victorian town and one stingy, grumpy man in particular.
Two months and eight drafts later, Henry emerged from the story in his head with a script he couldn't wait to take to his students. "That day, I had no idea how amazing it would be to watch these kids perform and have my words coming out of their mouths in Dickens' style," he said. Not only did he write the play, but Henry is also directing it. And his students are getting in on the act, too.
On stage during a recent rehearsal, BGHS junior Sarah Wren stumbled over a line several times before getting Henry's attention, an exasperated look on the actress's face. "I just don't feel like the character would say that," she said. As the author of the play, Henry has been more than happy to listen to his student-actors' suggestions for edits to lines that come out a mouthful or perhaps don't quite sound like something their characters would say.
"Well, how can we make it easier and still stay true to the character?" Henry asked. A short discussion and one revised line later, Wren successfully projected the words of one of the ghosts that appears in the work. The script has seen multiple tweaks and edits since rehearsals began in September. "It continues to get better and better with their input," Henry said. "The students are filling out the characters so beautifully."
Henry's adaptation of the holiday classic follows the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter man whose run-in with three Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future and that of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, transforms him into a kinder person.
But Henry's version goes deeper, examining Scrooge's past to reveal why the man is so angry, so bitter, and so alone. "We still see the base story," Henry said. "We still have Scrooge, who is the crotchety, miserly old man, but we learn why."
Henry researched Charles Dickens' own past and relationship with his imprisoned father, which served as the impetus for "A Christmas Carol," as well as other literature and adaptations. From that, Henry developed his adaptation. "We get pieces of Scrooge's past, but not a whole chunk," he said. "I wanted to show Scrooge, and why I think he deserves to be loved."
Besides drama, Henry also teaches English at the high school. Following the same guidelines he gives to his students, he chose to write the adaptation only after he realized that Dickens' work is in the public domain, meaning that it is no longer protected by copyright law. "I could write the adaptation I wanted to see and direct," he said. Throughout the process, Henry has stuck to the intent of Dickens' novella and credits the author's original work.
Henry called upon his stage experience as both an actor and director as he wrote the script. Still, performances in places such as Boston, Los Angeles and even New York didn't prepare him for the mental process of becoming a playwright. "I learned how hard it really is to write a play," he said. "It's an incredible amount of time even when adapting something that already exists, and yet it's amazing how much I love it."