By Betty Fleming
Friends & Neighbors
Originally published December 6, 2007
The Daily Times, Salisbury, Maryland
Going to see the original play "Scrooge!" is becoming a Christmas tradition at the beach. And, for families such as the Henley Graves family, participating in the show is an annual treat.
In 2003, Cheryl Graves saw a notice in the newspaper and asked Hunter, her then-9 year-old son, if he'd like to audition for a role in the Possum Point Players Christmas Show. "At the audition, Hunter asked me why I didn't do it, too," Cheryl said. "I almost backed out at the last minute when I heard I had to sing. I wound up singing a Christmas carol." Both mother and son enjoyed the experience and wanted to do it again.
In 2004, the newly formed Clear Space Productions, under the leadership of artistic directors Doug Yetter and Ken Skrzesz, did a summer music theater intensive program at the old 9th grade campus in Lewes and both Hunter and Cheryl were impressed with the results and wanted to be more involved. Actually now, the whole family has become involved. Henley Graves, a Superior Court judge, now sometimes helps with ticket sales at shows and other chores when time permits. Tyler, 17, the Graves' older son, helps, too, at times and is participating in shows at his school, Worcester Prep in Berlin, Md.
In 2005, Hunter auditioned for and had a role in the first production of "Scrooge!," a Clear Space original show. "It was a professional show," Hunter said. "I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. It was cool."
Cheryl auditioned in 2006 for "Scrooge!" and she played Mrs. Cratchit and Hunter played her son Peter, a mother and son combination that year. Cheryl has also gone on to serve on the Clear Space Productions board of directors and was recently declared this year's Clear Space Volunteer of the Year.
Along with performing this year as Mrs. Fezziwig and several other characters in "Scrooge!" and the acting and singing with that, Cheryl will run the Clear Space Café with Fran Feighery to provide refreshments for performances. They do this for all Clear Space productions. Cheryl is also in the Clear Space Community Chorus and takes Clear Space voice and other classes at times. And, she actively looks for more volunteers to help with ticket taking, ushering, and café refreshments for the shows.
"Ken realized that Cheryl IS Mrs. Fezziwig," according to Yetter. "She's always ready to be the hostess and make food for any occasion." The Mrs. Fezziwig character was taken out of the show last year but restored this year with a special song written just for Cheryl.
Hunter, now 13, again plays Peter Cratchit in "Scrooge!" this year. "He's one of the more gifted young performers we have," Yetter said. "There's an aura of professionalism and dedication you don't generally find in teenagers." Hunter has appeared in other Clear Space productions and also takes Clear Space "Broadway Bound" classes in voice, movement and acting. "His voice is changing so we had to change some of the music for 'Scrooge!,'" Yetter said.
Cheryl Graves says that she still experiences stage fright with the shows. "I'm afraid I'll miss a cue or do something wrong," she said. For a recent vacation, she took a CD with the music for "Scrooge!" on it that Yetter provided to cast members and transferred it to a cassette so that she could listen to it with earphones and sing along. Hunter says that his stage fright has disappeared. Like the other performers, they study their parts and come to rehearsals prepared.
What many people don't realize is that "Scrooge!" experiences significant changes each year. Both Yetter and Skrzesz, the show director and book writer, refresh the show and its casting to make it an annual family classic.
"This year, we've got the biggest cast we've ever had for any Clear Space production," Yetter said. "There are 28 performers."
Professional Broadway actor Peter Tedeschi will play Ebenezer Scrooge this year. "His credits lean toward the classic side of theater with lots of Shakespeare and Chekhov," Yetter said. "But he's no stranger to musical theater."
Important for everyone to know is that this year, "Scrooge!" and all the other local Clear Space Productions are taking place at the Little Theater at Cape Henlopen High School. Clear Space is now company-in-residence at the high school.
"The Little Theater comfortably seats 380," Yetter said. "It's always good to see a show in a real theater."
Dates for "Scrooge!" are Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for seniors (60 and up) and $15 for students.
Tickets are available through the box office (302-644-3810) or on the Web site, ClearSpaceProductions.org. Tickets will also be sold at the door.
Advance ticket sales are brisk so purchasing early is a good idea, according to Yetter. "The theater opens one hour before the show," he said. "So, you can go into the theater, save a seat and then have a cup of coffee and a cookie baked by the lovely Mrs. Fezziwig."