Rock Island-based Genesius Guild has never staged the 1843 classic “A Christmas Carol” in its distinguished 63-year history. Until now, without actual staging.

After the first summer without free, live theater in Rock Island’s Lincoln Park since 1957, Genesius veteran Mischa Hooker has organized a

Mike Carron (right) in a Genesius Guild production of “As You Like It” in June 2018.

unique audio version of the iconic Charles Dickens story, featuring many other Guild vets among its 24-member cast.

In a 90-minute abridged version Dickens himself created for public readings, the Genesius cast includes Susan Perrin-Sallak as narrator, Michael Carron as Scrooge, Phil Tunnicliff as Fred (Scrooge’s nephew), Jake Walker as Bob Cratchit, Phillip Dunbridge as Marley’s Ghost, Arc Simmons-Curtis     as Ghost of Christmas Past, John Donald O’Shea as Fezziwig, Anna Tunnicliff as Belle, T.J. Green as Ghost of Christmas Present, and Stephanie Moeller as Mrs. Cratchit.

Hooker was involved in some summer online readings of Genesius Guild favorites over the years, and by the end of the summer, someone suggested putting together a more formal radio drama. Since the traditional Shakespeare and Greek tragedies are long, Hooker aimed to make recordings of around an hour each.

Among the few he’s assembled so far are excerpts from “Hamlet” (including actors from Genesius’ 2019 production), and a Greek tragedy, with actors recording themselves and sending him audio files to edit and organize.

The third genre he tackled before “Christmas Carol” was an area he’d like to do more of – British and American classic theater, like George Bernard Shaw and T.S. Eliot. Genesius has staged Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” and “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” in 1964 and 1981.

Mischa Hooker is continuing lecturer of classics at Augustana College.

Hooker looked to the Provincetown Players, an influential Cape Cod troupe founded in 1915 by Davenport natives Susan Glaspell and her husband, George Cram Cook. They were active in the arts scene here, then Greenwich Village in New York City, and Provincetown, Mass., helping launch the career of playwright Eugene O’Neill.

“They put on one-act plays there; to me, they’re not the most influential plays in and of themselves, but the group was influential, a formative influence on American theater,” Hooker said. “It counts as classic theater, and has that local angle.”

He has recorded one-act plays by Glaspell and Cram Cook, and one by Louise Bryant, for one-hour programs.

In November, someone suggested doing “A Christmas Carol” as a nice holiday project, and that was more complex.

“I went through a list of everyone who’s been on stage in Genesius productions the last 10 years, and made up the cast from that list,” Hooker said, noting they all recorded their parts over November, into early December, and he edited them together, including choosing music.

Advertisement

Many pieces were performed by Michael Callahan, Amie Callahan, Bailey Callahan and Bryn Callahan.

“Since I went to the trouble of going through the cast lists from years past to think about people to ask to participate, in production of these audio dramas so far, I’ve brought in about 60 people who’ve been on stage over the last 10 years of Genesius Guild productions,” Hooker said.

Theater veterans enjoy being involved

Mike Carron, who played Scrooge, is a longtime fan of radio plays. The last live stage production he did was Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of

A scene from Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” in 2018 at Rock Island’s Lincoln Park.

Windsor,” in November 2019 for Prenzie Players, as Falstaff. The last Genesius play Carron did was “As You Like It” in summer 2018, and he’s been in over 40 productions at Lincoln Park.

Carron has never played Scrooge before. “He can turn a phrase,” he said of Dickens and the new audio version. “It’s a different kind of fun. You miss the interactions. You don’t have input from other people. On the other hand, you don’t have the input from other people.

“There’s an advantage from working it on your own, putting it in the can,” Carron said. “In that work, Scrooge is the part to have. I recorded it onto my Mac, and sent it off to Mischa.”

“None of this would happen without him,” he said. Carron also took part in the short Louise Bryant one-act, “The Game,” a morality play. He also was in the cast for an August Zoom reading of Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday,” as a Mississippi Bend Players project, and recorded ghost stories for Colonel Davenport House around Halloween.

“The little pictures on it are distracting,” Carron said of acting on Zoom. “It’s one thing to do Zoom on a meeting level, a substitute for emergency interaction…We’re all in different places, all got different equipment and different  qualities of internet.”

A scene from the 2018 Genesius Guild production of Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound.”

“I don’t know that Zoom is the best future for it,” he said of online theater.

In August, Hooker directed a virtual reading of a 2017 version of Sophocles’ “Antigone” (subtitled “born against,” as a literal translation of the Greek name, meaning “against birth or origin”). The original was written over 2,400 years ago and was Genesius Guild’s maiden production in summer 1957.

Perrin-Sallak (narrator for the new “Christmas Carol”) has been in Guild plays for over 20 years, and has shared the stage with Carron many times – including at New Ground in Davenport and Playcrafters in Moline.

“I’m a theater whore,” she said Tuesday. “If there’s a theater that offers me a part, I’ll take it.”

Of Hooker’s audio version, “It was really nice to at least be doing something,” Perrin-Sallak said. “Having some creative outlet, something to do, theater-wise. It’s better than nothing.”

Members of the cast for the new audio version of “A Christmas Carol.”

Earlier this year, she recorded narration for a WQPT documentary on women’s women’s suffrage, and also was part of the Col. Davenport House “Ghost Stories.”

This August, Perrin-Sallak was on stage for Moline’s Black Box Theatre, for a Covid-safe production of “The 39 Steps,” as a radio play.

“It wasn’t too bad, with the shields and all that,” she said. “It was really nice just to be able to get on stage again.”

For the new audio series, Perrin-Sallak also recorded the narrator of Eugene O’Neill’s “Fog,” a short 1914 play about a shipwreck, done by Provincetown Players.

Hooker ideally would like to see the classic drama audio series air on WVIK, or as a podcast, or on the Genesius website. That’s yet to be determined.

Plans for 2021 live shows

Genesius Guild plans to be back on stage next summer, and raised $1,100 toward a $2,000 online GoFundMe campaign for Giving Tuesday.

“No shows and no audiences meant a significant reduction in the number of donations received to keep our (free admission) organization going,” it says on the site. “But no shows and no audiences did not mean that all of our costs disappeared.”

Ongoing expenses include utilities, insurance, deductibles to repair damage from August’s derecho, increased security after last year’s stage

The logo for Genesius Guild, founded in 1956 by Don Wooten.

break-in and theft, repairs to the stage itself to prepare for next season, tools and equipment to replace what was lost last year, website, printing, mailing, and video production interns for Facebook livestreams.

Susan Perrin-Sallak (right) in the Black Box production of “The 39 Steps” in August 2020.

“In addition to the expenses that have been incurred this year, we have had to delay other important projects due to their costs, including tuckpointing the theater building and conducting strategic planning to ensure that the Genesius Guild stays strong into the future,” the site says.

“We know that this is a challenging time for everyone, and that includes our organization. Your donations will go directly to helping us pay for all of these expenses that do not go away even when we have to go dark for a season.”

Hooker said Tuesday that the audio series is not directly part of fundraising.

“This is a way of continuing activities as Genesius, under conditions of the pandemic,” he said. “There are no specific connections to a fundraiser; it’s us Genesius Guild, doing the things we like doing, offering as a valuable asset, a motivation for people to give money.”

He hopes to post new audio productions about once a month, since nothing much is going on with live performances.

Genesius is well-known for offering free summer productions of Greek tragedy in mask, Shakespearean comedies and tragedies, Greek comedy in modern rewrites, and professional ballet.

Genesius usually announced its next summer season around the first of the year, but that may delayed later into January, Hooker said.

“I don’t think Genesius Guild needs to have a broader repertoire on stage. As a group we are pretty tied to Shakespeare and Greek tragedy as primary things,” he said. “It feels like there’s room for other things sparingly. As an off-season venture, we can get into different territory.”

“I’m open to the idea of expanding repertoire during summer seasons,” Hooker said, noting they have done Shaw in the past. “I feel like it’s always worthwhile thinking of possibilities for the future.”

He’s interested in doing Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound” (1820), inspired by Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” done by Genesius in 2018.

“One of the things that’s also exciting to me – George Cram Cook, he was constantly obsessed with ancient Greece,” Hooker said. “Doing live theater from Greece was his mission. He did write ‘The Athenian Women,’ meant to be a reconstruction what might have happened, as inspiration for Aristophanes to write ‘Lysistrata.’ He died in Greece. They were living the dream.”

Cook (1873-1924) – a producer, director, playwright, novelist, poet and university professor — died in Delphi, Greece. Glaspell – a playwright who’s the only Pulitzer Prize-winner from the Quad-Cities – died in 1948 in Provincetown. She earned the honor in 1931 for “Alison’s House.”

You can listen to “A Christmas Carol” at https://soundcloud.com/user-206864279/a-christmas-carol-by-charles-dickens.

Advertisement

Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.