by Zachary Moull
Stephen Hair’s been busy this fall at Theatre Calgary, playing grocery store security guard Otto in The Shoplifters and commanding the stage as Deputy-Governor Danforth in The Crucible. Now he’s in the midst of rehearsals for his 22nd year as Ebenezer Scrooge in our annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol.
When you play three roles in quick succession like this, do you start to find connections?
It’s very interesting. In The Shoplifters, there was the moral dilemma of whether stealing is ever right. Then in The Crucible I was madly trying to hang witches every day, twice on Saturdays, because of morality. And now with A Christmas Carol, where all those moral issues come together, there’s the beautiful revelation that there is light at the end of all the darkness. So I don’t know if the season was planned that way, but for me it comes to fruition in Scrooge’s journey from dark to light, his discovery that we can all change and become better people.
Does it feel strange to make the transition from the dark world of The Crucible to the bright cheery rehearsal hall of A Christmas Carol?
I don’t think of it in those terms. It’s going from one show to another show. As soon as one show’s over, I put it behind me. I had a day off, and then I turned 65 the next day, and then on we go. A Christmas Carol is so different than The Crucible or The Shoplifters, there’s a lot to do in rehearsal, and there are many new cast members this year, so I don’t really have time to think about what happened even three days ago.
As you mentioned, there are some new actors and some new role assignments this year, including Karl Sine (who played John Proctor in The Crucible) taking on Bob Cratchit. What’s it like to work with new cast members on a show you know so well?
It’s wonderful. Audience members say to me every year that the show has changed, and usually very little has actually changed in terms of the production itself. What’s changed is the people. That’s what changes the experience for the audience, and it’s also what keeps it fresh and alive for me, because new cast members bring fresh viewpoints and perspectives. Yes, they’re in more or less the same costumes, and yes, we’re on the same set, but as actors and as people, they bring their own inner life to the play. Having great young actors to bounce off of, people like Karl, that’s what brings vibrancy to the whole process for me.
Do you have any specific plans for Scrooge this year?
Usually before A Christmas Carol I go away for a couple weeks and think about the play a lot, think about what I’ve missed in the character and what I’ve learned about myself over the past year that I can bring forward into Scrooge. But I didn’t really have a chance to do that this year because of The Crucible. So I’m going to discover it on the fly, which is exciting, because I don’t have any preconceived notions. I know where we left off last year, and I’ll slip into those comfy old slippers and we’ll take it from there.
A lot has happened to me this year: my mom died a couple of months ago, I just turned 65 yesterday, there’s a lot going on. As an actor, you take those experiences and you ask, “What did that mean to me? And what would that mean to Scrooge?” Because Scrooge has no family, except for Fred. So his mother and father died, we assume. And now he’s 65! [laughs] He started out as 44 in our world, oddly enough. So it’s an interesting voyage for me every year. We’re always trying to ground him more and more as a real human being.