A Mission of Merriment:
What: Charles Dickens Christmas Festival
When: Fri., Nov. 30th-Sat., Dec. 1st
1 p.m. to 9 p.m. both days
Where: Historic Downtown Southport
Cost: $10 covers both days
Children 7-12, $5 • Children 6 & under, free
Just as “You’ll shoot your eye out” is an essential phrase of Christmas time, “A Christmas Carol” provides a fundamental lesson of the season: Love others always, and certainly be grateful.
In celebration of the author, literary virtuoso Charles Dickens, and his 200th birthday, the Brunswick Arts Council (BAC) will deck the streets of historic downtown Southport in traditional Victorian décor and good holiday cheer. From Friday, Nov. 30th through Saturday, Dec. 1st, the town will appear a lot more like London as carolers and carriages welcome visitors to Dickens’ home.
Arguably, Dickens was the creator of some of the most memorable characters: Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, of course, but also Oliver Twist, Pip, Charles Darnay and more. “The best thing about Dickens for me is that his messages are universal and have passed the test of time,” Bonnie Laserna, publicity volunteer for the festival, shares. “The appeal to cultures throughout the world; those stereotypes that he evokes so well in his writing, albeit sometimes exaggerated, have existed throughout history and continue to exist. His imagery is wonderful.”
The mission of the BAC is to educate, inspire and promote appreciation with the public about the arts. Sue MacCallum, the event chair, and Jeanette Serens, president, realized celebrating Dickens’ 200th birthday fit exactly into that goal. The festival quickly developed into a multi-faceted event. “We believe the arts play an important part in the personal, public and economic health of our community,” Laserna shares.
At press time, the BAC had not yet finalized their draft of times and venues, but information will be available online at www.brunswickartcouncil.org, and a program with full event info will be distributed with the purchase of tickets. Most of the entertainment will take place inside, and attendees will be given entry to all performances with tickets. The festival will take place rain or shine.
Brunswick Little Theatre will show “Oliver,” while the children from Brunswick County Schools take on their own performances. The Brunswick County Ballet Opera Alliance will feature dance selections from “The Nutcracker.” St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and local actors will perform “The First Noel,” a nativity play.
Local businesses in downtown Southport were encouraged to decorate their shops, which will surely spread the joy of the season. Costumed participants will stroll along streets, while centerpieces such as Big Ben, a gazebo, a carriage, and Santa Claus and his sleigh will provide family-friendly photo opportunities. As well, madrigal singers and barbershop quartets will join in on the wassailing to be had.
Two plays will be presented by professional touring theatre company EbzB Productions of Apex, NC. Featuring Serena Ebhardt and David zum Brunnen, the troupe will perform “A Night Before Christmas Carol” and
“Food and Froth.”
Tony Palermo is a director, engineer, sound effects artist, and educator from Los Angeles. He will offer four 30-minute performances with audience participation, touching on Dickens and the Victorian era with sound effects and music.
UNC Wilmington’s assistant professor in costume design, Mark Sorensen, has worked on Broadway and will do a lecture on Victorian fashion, bringing his personal designs displayed upon mannequins.
Folks wanting to display their own artistic talents may enter the gingerbread, wreath, tree and costume contests. Full rules and entry forms are available at the BAC website. Registration for the wreath- and tree-decorating contests is due Sat., Nov. 10th. Registration for the gingerbread house contest is due Thurs., Nov. 15th. All will be on display at the Southport Community Building (223 E. Bay St.); public voting ends at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. respectively on Saturday, and awards will be announced at 6 p.m. There will also be displays from the student art contest and of Victorian antiques and collectibles in the building.
The costume contests—segmented into men, women and children—will take place on the porch of the Community Building on the E. Moore St. side both Friday and Saturday of the festival at 5 p.m. Entrants must register by 4 p.m., and public voting will take place until 6 p.m. each day.
For children, puppet shows and story-telling activities will be held at Franklin Square Park. The Kiwanis Club will also offer Victorian children’s games.
For a typical British high tea, turn to The Robert Ruark Inn, Southport Inn and Lois Jane’s Riverview Inn. As well, in the spirit of Dickens philanthropy, collection sites will be all about the area to benefit three non-profits: Brunswick Family Assistance (food); Coalition for the Homeless (hats, coats, mittens, toiletries); Brunswick County Literacy Council (books).
Likely this event will grow and flourish for many years to come, turning into a Southport family tradition. “Of course, ‘A Christmas Carol’ evokes images of traditional Christmas atmosphere or wassailing, of lovely family gatherings, of good cheer and joy,” Laserna muses. “But for many of us, its message is what is so appealing—that of the possibility of redemption, of considering how we can all be better human beings, of creating a better world for all people.”