The backstage area at Salado’s Goodnight Amphitheater is sizable, but at Wednesday’s dress rehearsal of “A Christmas Carol,” it was jam-packed with cast and crew.

Last-minute makeup was applied, breakaway groups recited lines, and director Shannon Ashe conferred with producer Jackie Mills over performance details.

One of the defining characteristics of the nonprofit Tablerock Festival is its cheerful, no-fear attitude: mounting large-scale, ambitious theatrical productions outdoors with a cast and crew of epic proportions. And that’s what this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ yuletide fable has: 58 actors and crew, multiple stages, umpteen body microphones and an age range from kindergarteners to senior citizens.

It’s Tablerock’s 21st annual staging of the play, though, and those two decades of experience are evident in the methodical, professional approach that Ashe exhibits. A member of the Tablerock board, she’s served as assistant director and played Mrs. Cratchit for five years. It’s a family affair: Ashe’s daughter, Addie, plays Ginger in the show.

Familiar story

The familiar Dickens story was adapted for the stage by former University of Mary Hardin-Baylor professor Harry Sweet, who directed the play at Tablerock for 15 years.

“No one can improve on Dickens,” he said, so the two-act show has no dialogue added: it’s pure Dickens, lifted from the original novella text. All the classic characters appear onstage: Scrooge, Marley, ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come.

The Bob Cratchit family, complete with Tiny Tim, makes a memorable impression and is cleverly staged by Ashe on an intimate space located stage right of the main, vast amphitheater platform.

The dialogue, with its 1842 origin, is less creaky than one might expect; playwright Sweet has managed to keep the story flowing. The use of another action-point, off-stage left which contained a realistic fake campfire was effective due to the finesse of lighting director Casey Daniels and his use of subtle crimson hues. These and other stage techniques make the show TV-attention-span friendly and suitable for youngsters as well as adults.

‘Bring blankets’

The tree-ringed amphitheater has stadium-style seats, and the audience is encouraged by Ashe to “bring blankets.”

A sparkling new concession stand will open 30 minutes before show time and has sandwiches, chips, candy, soft drinks and the December must-haves: coffee and hot chocolate.

The signature show of Tablerock, “Salado Legends,” penned by Mills and performed each summer at the Goodnight Amphitheater, has a cast and crew of more than 100. At roughly one-half that number, “A Christmas Carol” must seem refreshingly easy to manage — even though at the final onstage cast call, the entire width of the apron is filled with actors.

“We can seat 250 to 500 people,” Ashe said. “We’ve got plenty of seats but you need to snuggle up — and we’ve got hot chocolate to keep you warm.”

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