This article appeared in The Town Courier.
On the Arts Barn stage this holiday season are two Kentlands/Lakelands neighbors. Neither earns a living by acting, but that is what community theater is all about. Miriam Bowden, a Lakelands Park Middle School teacher, and Peter Wolff, a Kentlands resident and business development manager, have extracurricular roles in the Kensington Arts Theatre (KAT) production of “A Christmas Carol.”
The classic 1843 Charles Dickens novella, on which the play is based, tells the story three spirits that take miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey through his past, present and future in an effort to transform his bitterness.
“This version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ has all the same thematic elements of the original story, with a splash of some modern, familiar Christmas melodies,” said Director Jordan Clifford. “Our local talent is transforming this timeless story into something really collaborative and heartwarming.”
This is the Takoma Park, D.C. resident’s freshman outing in directing at KAT, but he appeared in the company’s 2016 production of “The Who’s Tommy.” Clifford is no newcomer to acting, which he has done since elementary school as well as in church and community theater, or to directing, which came about just a bit later. “It started with biblical sketches and movement pieces, but eventually, I was directing an outdoor drama with harnessed stunt-work, horses and pyrotechnics. It was the experience of a lifetime as an actor/director, and it happened before I graduated from high school,” he recalled.
The “daunting” experience of directing his first full-length play at James Madison University (JMU), where he minored in theater, he said, “assured me that directing was something I wanted to pursue in the future, whether it be in film or theater.”
Supporting Clifford in “A Christmas Carol” are seven fellow JMU alumni who are behind the scenes, working as stage manager, carpenter, scenery painter, lighting and sound design, makeup, and video and marketing. “I’m extremely lucky to have a network of likeminded young professionals and friends that are eager to make their mark on the (local) theater scene and willing to lend their skills to this production,” he said.
The young director also has worked previously with two cast members—Bowden, who plays the Spirit of Christmas Present as well as a gentlewoman, and Kyle Sprankle, who is the young Ebenezer–in Rockville Little Theatre (RLT) and Rockville Musical Theatre (RMT) productions, respectively.
Although this is Bowden’s first role with KAT, she has acted and directed with community theater groups including RLT (where she is on the board), Silver Spring Stage and Ankh Repertory Theatre. By day, the Rockville resident teaches theater to Lakelands sixth- through eighth-graders; she has been at the school since 2007, and has been its drama director since 2010.
Education and theater vied for Bowden’s attention, yet she managed to keep both in her life. “I was a drama club kid who went to New York to study drama, but wound up as a drama minor, and a film and television major, at New York University,” Bowden said. “I worked in TV for a number of years–first as a grunt, then a director, production freelancer and producer before I succumbed to the family business of education.”
“Miriam has proven to be one of my favorite actors to work with, both as an actor and as a director,” Clifford said. “On stage, she finds truth between the lines.” He recalled being on stage with her during the quiet moment after a heated scene between himself and the actor playing his father. “I remember looking at Miriam and receiving her character’s empathy and compassion all in one glance from across the stage. As an actor, connecting emotionally with a scene partner doesn’t always come easy–unless that partner is Miriam Bowden.
Wolff, who came here from the U.K. with his wife Petrina and Louis, their Bichon Frise, in 2014, is a newcomer to the stage as an adult. He credits his mother, an opera-style singer, with having instilled a love of theater in him in early childhood; she frequently took him to London’s West End theaters. By age 12 or 13, Wolff remembers being captivated by Sir Alec Guinness as Shylock in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and Dame Flora Robson as Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Still, Wolff went on to major in engineering at the University of Sussex. He joined its drama society and performed a comedic version of Dracula as well as the lead role of Dr. Wicksteed (a role originated by Guinness) in Alan Bennett’s comedy, “Habeas Corpus.” Some of Wolff’s drama society peers went the career route, but he has “no regrets about not pursuing professional theater; it’s a huge commitment,” he said, adding (with only a touch of humility), “Most times when I go to the theater, I think I could do as well as the actors on stage.”
Since college, Wolff’s theater experience has been confined to being in the audience. Until now, when he took a friend’s suggestion (she noted his “singular presence and charm”) to audition for this play. “I was offered the role and was happy to accept,” he said.
“‘A Christmas Carol’ is as relevant today as when it was first written,” Wolff observed. “At times, it will elicit a belly laugh; at others, it will make you shed a tear. It’s all about the social conscience of the rich and the condition of the hard-working poor.”
“Peter has been fantastic to work with during this process,” the director affirmed. “He had a great audition, which is why he was cast (as Mr. Fezziwig and a gentleman). His intuitive inclination to make people laugh and lighten the mood is integral to Fezziwig’s character and he really does a great job of bringing this joyous fellow to life. …(He is) a great example of the raw talent that can be found in the Kentlands.”
The two Kentlands/Lakelands actors are enjoying their maiden outings with KAT. “It’s great fun to work with this young team of committed, talented people. I like being part of the creative process, seeing everything come together,” Wolff said.
“Working on this play has been a blast,” Bowden concurred. “We have a great director and stage manager, and Laura Andruski as our costumer, and a talented youth and adult cast that make me proud to invite all of my family and friends for an evening of wholesome entertainment.”
Kensington Arts Theatre will present “A Christmas Carol” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, with an additional show at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road. Admission is $20, $12 for ages 14 and younger. This show is recommended for ages 7 and older. For tickets, call 301-258-6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov. Learn more about this performance on CultureSpotMC here.