Festival of Goodwill and Cheer

The Oakwood Waits, professional carolers from Raleigh, will perform during the Charles Dickens Christmas Festival. Courtesy photo

The Oakwood Waits, professional carolers from Raleigh, will perform during the Charles Dickens Christmas Festival. Courtesy photo

What: Second Annual Charles Dickens Christmas Festival
When: Fri., Nov. 22 • 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 23 • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Various locations in Southport
Cost: Free to $10, varies per event
Info: www.brunswickartscouncil.org

With a year under the Brunswick Arts Council’s belt, president Jeanette Serens and event chair Sue MacCallum are excited to deck the streets of Southport in merriment again for the second annual Charles Dickens Christmas Festival. Founded last year for the literary master’s 200th birthday, the council has plenty of Victorian recreation planned for Friday, November 22nd and Saturday, November 23rd.

“I would like to see it grow even bigger each year, eventually to a national level,” Serens affirms. “I think that people really enjoyed it, and the results last year were very, very gratifying for everyone who worked on the committee many hours putting it together.”

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England in 1812. The writer—famous for such pieces as “Great Expectations,” “Oliver Twist,” and “A Tale of Two Cities”—is especially celebrated during the holidays thanks to his classic tale from 1843, “A Christmas Carol.”

“Dickens made Christmas a real holiday,” MacCallum asserts. “Prior to Dickens and his novels, people really didn’t celebrate Christmas. He brought Christmas to the lower class, the poor people. He really is the one responsible for Christmas cards, and just the feeling of goodwill and cheer. It was Scrooge who showed your life can change, that even when you’re old you have another chance in life to be a forgiving and loving person.”

MacCallum also notes Dickens was a critical fundraiser for London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for children. “He was just so conscious of the needy, and at Christmas it’s good to be reminded of that,” she continues. “Dickens had all those themes, and he could tell those stories in such a wonderful way.”

The festival will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Friday with the opening of the Olde English Victorian Social Gathering tent at the Southport Community Building (223 E. Bay St.) and a welcome from the festival officials. A Victorian music ensemble will entertain while a silent auction takes place. Beer, wine and traditional cider will flow from the cash pub, and the Victorian costume contest winner will be selected at 7:15 p.m. Though costumes aren’t required, they are encouraged! The tent will also be open from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, with a costume contest winner selected at 12:45 p.m.

“We’ll feature last year’s student art winners; we are going to put them on sale in the form of a notecard,” Serens tells. “Inside the hallway of the community center will be all of this year’s student art, judged by Debby and Ricky Evans—who will go above and beyond by matting and framing the winners—for people to see before the musical revue.”

The 2013 Dickens Musical Revue will begin at 7:30 p.m. inside the Southport Community Building, with an encore on Saturday at 1 p.m. While last year’s revue took place at the Amuzu Theatre—where the line extended to BB&T in downtown Southport—the community center will allow the council to double the revue’s seating space. The show will be set in old Southport, England.

“We’re going to have some of the similarities between the two places and why they’re sister cities in the musical revue,” MacCallum, director of the show, shares. “Using Southport, England, as the destination—they have fabulous beaches and bathhouses. It’s an amazing, amazing city, even back in Victorian times. The premise is that Dickens is going to visit as he did in 1847, coming on the first run of the railroad between Liverpool and Southport.”

The revue will be similar to a British music hall variety show, popular in the late 1800s and early to mid 20th century. “We’re going to have Burlesque bathing beauties,” MacCallum muses. “Southport, England, is on the Irish sea, so there is a little Irish flavor to it. We’re going to have Irish step dancers and Celtic harpists, and a beautiful Irish song is going to be sung.”

Soloists will include Bonnie Laserna, Rasa Love and her daughter Skye, Charles Patton, John Reinsborrow, Alan Nicosia and Thom Clemmons. The Queen of England will be played by Dinah Gore, who will waltz, while her husband will take the role of Prince Albert.

“The performers are just wonderful,” MacCallum assures. “There will be several dance numbers. Dickens himself will do a little reading from a book. He has just come back from a tour of the United States, at this point in time in the 1850s, so there’s some humor about the Americans in there. He will read something from ‘A Christmas Carol.'”

Tickets for the Dickens Musical Revue run $10 for adults, $5 for children 7 to 12, and free for children 6 and under. They’re for sale in advance at the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, the Shallotte Chamber of Commerce, the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce, the Southport Visitor’s Center, Ricky Evans Gallery, and online at www.brunswickartscouncil.org.

Saturday’s festivities will begin at 10 a.m. in Franklin Square Park (130 E. West St.), which will be decorated with sparkling lights and luminaries. “We are doing artisans in the park this year, which is new,” Serens informs. “They are juried artisans who are bringing specialty items that cannot be reproduced, such as something handmade or art.”

Performances will run the gamut, including a handbell choir; the Oakwood Waits, professional carolers from Raleigh, NC; and songs from The Merry Madrigalers and high-school students. The Punch and Judy Show marionettes will entertain in classic English style. Storytelling will take place on the stage for children, amongst much more music and dance. The children’s costume contest winner will be selected at 1 p.m. on the stage as well. Even Scrooge will make regular appearances as the park’s emcee.

And what would be a Christmas festival without Santa Claus? The jolly old man will set in an ornate sleigh the council is borrowing from The Christmas House. Time 2 Remember, portrait artists of Bolivia, will be on hand with props for the special photo op, and various Santas will appear throughout the day. Plus, a secret surprise will take place in the park at 3 p.m.!

From 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Southport Baptist Church Christian Ministries Center (corner of Howe and Nash streets) will be free displays fit for a Victorian wonderland. Christmas trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses can be viewed, with voting for best in show, which will result  in a winner at 5:30 p.m. on the park stage. Santa will also be at the grounds of the church, so folks should bring their cameras.

At the Southport City Gym (211 N. Atlantic Ave.) from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., three breath-taking exhibits will command the attention of viewers. “We’re bringing the Wilmington Railroad Museum for the 48’ Victorian train and town scene. We’re having also a Victorian Christmas scene of the Department 56 brand—houses, farms, and buildings from the old town, like a toy factory, a pharmacy, the hotel, a snow factory, and then all of the little characters such as ice skaters and more.”

A real treat will be in the award-winning wood carving “Fantasy of the Sea.” Crafted by the Wilmington Area Woodturners Association, it garnered the best in show title from the national symposium this year. “Imagine an aquarium with all of the intricacies of the fish, the rocks—even the gravel—are all wood-carved pieces, hand-painted,” Serens describes.

Three special performances will take place at the Trinity United Methodist Church (209 E. Nash St.). “Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball was probably one of the most popular events from last year,” MacCallum tells. “Fezziwig, a character from ‘A Christmas Carol,’ always put on a big Christmas bash for his employees. Performers will do a jig and they’ll get people to join in.” Admission for adults will be $5, $3 for children ages 7 to 12, and free for children under 6. The ball will take place at 10 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

At 3:30 p.m., also at the church, David zum Brunnen will perform Dr. Eliot Engel’s “A Night Before Christmas Carol.” The actor will portray Dickens and 17 other familiar literary characters in the show as humor ensues. Tickets will be $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 7 to 12, and free for children under 6.

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the Charles Dickens Christmas Festival is that all of downtown Southport will be transformed into a Victorian holiday scene. The mayor and aldermen of Southport have agreed to put the city’s Christmas lights on early for the event, while area merchants will decorate their stores.

“There will be people walking in costume everywhere,” Serens shares, noting carolers and character impersonators will venture through the blocks and park, too. “Strolling around, it is just so festive to hear the singing of Christmas carols.”

The festival is a fundraiser for the arts council to give back to local arts programs, but it is also a way to increase tourism in our area. The council ran a sweepstakes in NC’s Our State magazine for a trip to the event—and a whopping 14,633 people entered. Various businesses donated over $1,000 of goods and services to create an entire package—including two nights of lodging at the Robert Ruark Inn, a tour of Southport, and dinner at Mr. P’s Bistro—helping draw even more interest.

A trolley will tote guests between events and stores, and merchants can include coupons in a pamphlet that will be distributed at the festival to encourage guests to visit their shops. “It is a community event,” Serens affirms. “It is for the whole community and to help the businesses of Southport. If we collaborate together, we can make these kinds of events very successful and do more of them.”

Full details on the festival, which will take place rain or shine, are available at www.brunswickartscouncil.org. “The spirit of love and forgiveness is the spirit that Dickens brought out. You can see that in ‘A Christmas Carol,'” Serens says, noting Scrooge’s redemption as a key theme.  “To see Tiny Tim and the family with nothing, how they just embrace having fun—I think that’s what Christmas is all about. I think the spirit of love and goodwill is what embodies Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the festival itself. That’s our whole idea.”

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