WILKES-BARRE — When Wyoming Valley Art League members Robert Anderson and Rose M. Wright lived in Massachusetts, Anderson organized Christmas Eve readings of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that aired live on the radio station at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“We did these readings for seven years,” Anderson said. “I thought it was a great idea because ‘A Christmas Carol’ is done by many different groups during the season but we were doing the complete text of it. We weren’t doing an adaptation or an abridgment or anything like that, we were just reading the entire text.”
Anderson felt this would’ve worked great as a benefit, but the event never grew past a holiday gesture from the seven or eight friends who volunteered a sizable chunk of their Christmas Eve night to read for the listening community of U Mass Dartmouth. After spending a large amount of time in West Wyoming with Wright’s mother, the two moved to the area (of which Wright is a native) in 2010. When Anderson and Wright organized their first WVAL event in October 2014, it served as a benefit for Ruth’s Place, the Wilkes-Barre homeless women’s shelter. This inspired him to revisit the “A Christmas Carol” benefit idea.
“It was my version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ in which I used Beatles music,” Anderson said. “It was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth year and the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ discovery of America, so we combined these two into a play and we did it here as a benefit.”
The two became members of WVAL, and in June Anderson started the league’s Sunday at the Circle series, a free monthly event open to the public where donations to WVAL outreach, like the art program at Ruth’s Place, are welcome.
“On Wednesday evenings, one of our members, Bonnie Covelski, facilitates an hour-art instruction with Ruth’s Place residents,” WVAL Gallery Director and former President Allison Maslow, of Shavertown, said. “It has become so popular that the women who left the program are coming back to still take part in it.”
“Which is really great because new women are seeing the success stories,” Wright added. “They have a good turnover with women; they really get them out getting jobs, so WVAL and Ruth’s Place decided to collaborate on an art program for the residents there.”
The 4 p.m. Nov. 29 reading of “A Christmas Carol” is November’s Sunday at the Circle event; it’s free to attend, but WVAL is accepting suggested donations of $5. According to WVAL First Vice President Patricia McMahon Lacy, the event will have a festive holiday atmosphere. She sent an email prior to the event requesting two dozen homemade cookies from each member, and one is brewing a Christmas beer to serve at the reading.
Audience members will not be expected to remain seated throughout the approximate three-hour duration of “A Christmas Carol.” Along with the aforementioned refreshments, guests will be permitted to browse the venue, WVAL’s Circle Centre for the Arts at 130 S. Franklin St. The second floor of The Circle Centre (which is not handicapped accessible) hosts the members’ gallery and doubles as the performing arts space where events like “A Christmas Carol” are staged, while the first floor houses the Sandra Dyczewski Maffei Gallery.
Readers aren’t expected to remain in the same place very long, either; there are over 15 of them, so each is only responsible for a few pages of the original Dickens text. Anderson reached out to WVAL members and well-known figures in the Wyoming Valley community for the inaugural attempt at transplanting his Massachusetts tradition in Wilkes-Barre. Newly-elected City Councilman Tony Brooks, WVIA radio personality Erika Funke and Rabbi Larry Kaplan are among Anderson’s guests. WVAL First Vice President Lacy will also read on Nov. 29.
“I’m reading a very interesting part which is right in the beginning,” Lacy said. “The part where Scrooge leaves on Christmas Eve and he goes home to his dank, dark home and on his door knocker he sees an apparition of Jacob Marley’s face. Then, the plot thickens and humbug and all that… then, he hears the chains.”
Anderson’s Christmas Eve productions of “A Christmas Carol” sometimes featured musical accompaniment from late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham. Theremin player Jason Smeltzer will accompany Nov. 29’s performance, which Anderson said will evoke a fitting atmosphere for Scrooge’s ghostly encounters.
Anderson started Sunday at the Circle series as a celebration of the arts, but the November iteration of the event is also a celebration of the holidays and the Wilkes-Barre community. When Anderson and Wright moved to the Wyoming Valley, they brought their Christmas tradition with them, and they’re using it to assist their new community in helping others.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts