Artist Q&A: Playwright David Van Belle

We spoke with David Van Belle, playwright of the Citadel’s A Christmas Carol, on how he went about re-adapting the classic story.

Playwright David van Belle was born in Amsterdam, raised all over Canada, and first came to Alberta 20 years ago to go to the University of Calgary. He’s spent many cold Christmases in Edmonton over the years, visiting his parents and in-laws, and moved to Edmonton three years ago with his wife and daughter. Avenue spoke with him about doing the new adaptation for the Citadel’s A Christmas Carol.

What’s it like to adapt a Christmas institution in a marquee theatre?

Well A Christmas Carol is by far the biggest show that I’ve ever written. I think it has something like 32 actors in it, which is just unreal. And it’s so great to write something for a theatre that’s got the resources and the expertise like their production staff has. They’re amazing wizards, and it’s just amazing to watch that machine in motion here. And it’s great to write something that’s magic and go, I don’t really know how we’re going to do this, but I’m sure somebody here has got some ideas.

Do you have fond memories of seeing A Christmas Carol as a kid?

I remember seeing it as a kid, but closer for me are the memories when I first started in the theatre, doing Christmas shows — and I’ve never actually done A Christmas Carol. But what I love about doing Christmas shows is that you’re in Christmas mode like way early. So we get to spend all this time in Christmas land, rehearsing and singing the songs. And you know, some people are Halloween people and some people are Christmas people — I’m definitely a Christmas person.

Did you watch it in preparation for writing your adaptation?

I’ve watched lots of adaptations, from the Alistair Sim film, from 1951, to The Muppet Christmas Carol, and all these different versions. But I just went back to the movie Scrooged, from 1988, with Bill Murray. It’s really good, and it might have been my first introduction to the story. There’s lots of differences between Scrooged and what I’m doing here, but the way in which that adaptation takes the events and lifts them into another timeline, it’s very instructive to what I’m doing.

The previous Citadel run was for 19 years. How do you start re-adapting a story, and play, that’s so well known?

When [artistic director] Daryl [Cloran] invited me to do this adaptation, we knew that we wanted to do something different. Tom Wood’s version ran for 19 years, and I think it’s a terrific adaptation. But it was written for a different kind of era in our city. So we started talking about this quality of nostalgia, which is one of the things that really connects with people because so much of our image of Christmas is wrapped up in A Christmas Carol.

Then we started asking what other areas do we kind of feel that Christmas nostalgia, and one of those areas was the late ’40s and early ’50s, because there’s a whole slew of Christmas movies from around that time. And we thought, maybe we’ll set this in kind of that post-war era, in a city that looks a little bit like New York. So we’re playing in that aesthetic, that language, which is really fun to design, and we’re going to have a live band on stage. So I’m hoping that people will enjoy that kind of new setting of the story they know.

The Christmas Carol is at The Citadel Theatre November 30 to December 23. For more information and tickets, visit citadeltheatre.com.

This article appears in the December 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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