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John Lamb, Published November 24 2013

Making a Scene: Theatre B collaborates with playwright for world premiere

FARGO – “There are heightened emotions, expectations on a holiday,” David MacGregor said earlier this month.

The Michigan playwright was talking about his new holiday comedy, “Scrooge Macbeth.”

What he was saying, however, described the process leading up to Thursday’s world premiere of the holiday play-within-a-play.

MacGregor and the cast and ensemble at Theatre B worked together to polish a rough first draft into a production they proudly hope will go on to hundreds of stages around the country and beyond.

The two started talking after the Fargo troupe produced one of McGregor’s earlier comedies, “Vino Veritas” in 2010. Wanting to develop a play from the early stages, the troupe approached the writer to see if he had any potential scripts, particularly one for the holidays. MacGregor had just the script, but no place to workshop it.

David Wintersteen, who directs “Scrooge Macbeth,” said MacGregor’s first draft was raw, but the troupe saw something fresh in it and committed to developing it.

Wintersteen described the play as, “a violent collision between everything Shakespeare and everything Christmas.”

In it, four community actors try to save their community theater after a production of The Bard’s “Winter’s Tale” finds half of the cast sick. Following the adage, the show must go on, and the actors soldier through mixing in bits of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

“It’s kind of a love poem to theater and community theater and the passion people bring into it.” Wintersteen said.

MacGregor, the resident artist at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Mich., 15 miles west of Ann Arbor, flew out for the first read-through in mid-August. He returned in late October for more rehearsals and final edits on the script.

The collaboration started in the first read-through, after which it was agreed a half-page of dialogue could be tossed out.

“I like rehearsals, I don’t need to pipe in and tell them, ‘You’re doing it wrong,’ ” MacGregor said. “They are tolerating my persnicketyness. When it comes to scripts and words, it has to be right. I’m really picky about the rhythm of the lines and words.”

“He’s been very open to our suggestions and ideas. We feel we’ve been creative artists as well as interpretive artists,” Wintersteen said. “It’s been a thrilling process working with the artist. We are all on the same team with two parallel outcomes. And whatever that script is, it will have some of Theatre B in it.”

Indeed, in future productions of the play, Wintersteen, the actors and designers will be credited in programs as having been part of the inaugural show.

And while developing a comedy has been fun, it’s also been hard work.

“People think comedy is loose and fun, but it has to be far more precise than drama,” said Brad Delzer, Theatre B ensemble member and program coordinator for Theatre B.

But the hard work comes with a hilarious payoff.

“There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching really good actors act bad. It’s funny and poignant at the same time,” Wintersteen said.

While Thanksgiving openings have become a tradition for Theatre B, it’s really no different than any other performance day as the cast and crew eat an early dinner.

“It means after the show there are fantastic leftovers,” Wintersteen adds.

He may have to share leftovers with the author as MacGregor will be in the audience for the first two performances.

Having the playwright, actors and crew together at the opening will be extra special for the troupe, as is the knowledge that what is created that night will last.

“Some of what we do in theater is ephemeral. To be at the front end of this and know it is part of ours going forward adds to the satisfaction,” Wintersteen said. “Knowing other people are experiencing what we did together, that’s why we do it.”

If you go

What: “Scrooge Macbeth”

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursdays – Saturdays, through Dec. 28 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 15.

Where: Theatre B, 716 Main Ave., Fargo.

Info: Tickets range from $5 – 20. (701) 729-8880

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533