Brett Norsworthy, of Wolcott, N.Y., had become a real-life Scrooge. “If it hadn’t been for my children, I never would have celebrated the holiday,” he recalls.
Then, in 2000, he, his wife, Fran, and their four daughters and son, Duke, became the Cratchit family in the cast of Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles.
Life hasn’t been the same since.
“Now, I can’t wait for Christmas each year,” says Norsworthy, who has been playing Barry M. Deep, the local mortician, since his son outgrew the role of Tiny Tim. “It’s not Christmas unless we’re at Dickens.”
In 2006, Norsworthy’s father-in-law, Clarence Emery, of Brockport, and his wife, Wendy, joined the cast, as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig.
And finally, last year, Norsworthy’s 1-year-old granddaughter, Madisyn Emery, became the youngest-ever cast member, playing the last child left at the orphanage before Christmas.
“We have met and worked with so many wonderful and talented people over the years, many of whom have become close friends,” says Norsworthy, who has never missed a rehearsal or a performance. “I can’t imagine Christmas without this festival. This is our Christmas.”
Thousands of people who return year after year share the sentiment.
Dickens Christmas opens its 19th season Nov. 23 with the World’s Smallest Christmas Parade. Charles Dickens and his entourage will leave at noon from the old firehouse on Fennell Street and proceed east to Jordan and Genesee Streets, arriving at the Sherwood House porch in time for the 12:10 p.m. grand opening.
The festival is produced by Scarlett Rat Entertainment and presented by Mirbeau Inn & Spa and the Skaneateles-area business community. It runs over five weekends this year—from noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 23, with a limited show (noon to 3 p.m.) Dec. 24.
So, what brings these Victorian-era characters to a Finger Lakes village?
The year is 1842, and Charles Dickens is working on his soon-to-be-written classic “A Christmas Carol.” In need of inspiration, he journeys to Skaneateles accompanied by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. On the village streets, they encounter Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, among other local denizens. Slowly but surely, the story takes shape.
The festival is free and draws more than 20,000 visitors each year. Highlights include:
• The Revels Live—Christmas carol sing-along—2 p.m. every day at the Gazebo. Twelve groups form, each representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. The groups vie for attention, and at the end, Queen Victoria awards a silver teasel to the most spirited performer. Winners have been known to wear their coveted silver teasels throughout the season.
• Scenes from “A Christmas Carol,” featuring guests from the audience, performed at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on the steps of the Masonic Temple.
• Horse-drawn wagon rides around the village, departing from the Sherwood Inn, provided by Route 80 Stables.
• Free refreshments, including roasted chestnuts donated by Tops Friendly Markets and Johnny Angel’s and roasted outside Johnny Angel’s, and Byrne Dairy eggnog served by the Girl Scouts.
For children, Mother Goose will read holiday stories at the Skaneateles Library and Father Christmas will hand out treats from the porch of the Masonic Temple.
And for children of all ages, the Wonderful Wizard of the North will perform comedy magic shows at 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 1, 2, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at the Skaneateles Library. Various musical groups, including the Victorian Dancers and Singers, will perform on alternate weekends. For a full schedule of events, go to www.skaneateles.com.
Everyone is invited to borrow period costumes from the Chamber of Commerce, 22 Jordan St., and join in the merriment.
“Our village becomes a magical place during the holiday season,” says Susan Dove, director of the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “We invite Dickens fans from near and far to step back in time and join us for a slower-paced, more enjoyable atmosphere, where shopping can still be fun.
“We have more than 70 shops and restaurants, sure to please any taste,” she notes. “Why not make a weekend of it, and stay at one of our lovely bed-and-breakfasts, hotels or inns.”
Behind the scenes
Dickens Christmas has a cast of about 65, including young apprentice talent, which is joined by a variety of guest musicians and caroling groups. The show comes together in just six rehearsals. “We pack a lot in and streamline the process of building a character,” says Jim Greene, of Dryden, who is producing director and plays Dickens. “Every actor learns music and uses improvisational techniques to build his character and become part of the ensemble.”
Direction comes from Maria Wechsler, of Marcellus, who is artistic director and plays Queen Victoria; Kristen Baskewicz, of Rochester, who is music director and plays Lady Charlotte Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch; Brian Goldblatt, of Lafayette, who is managing director and plays Jacob Marley; and Tracey Greene, of Dryden, who is costumer.
More than 120 local businesses make Dickens Christmas possible through their sponsorship support. This year’s presenting sponsor is Mirbeau Inn & Spa.
Father Christmas sponsors include CNY Fertility and CNY Healing Arts, Johnny Angel’s Heavenly Hamburgers, The Sherwood Inn, SRC Arena, Summit Auto, Tops Friendly Markets, Verizon Business Services, and The Village Inn and Old Stone Mill.
Charles Dickens sponsors include Arbor House Inn and Suites, Bluewater Grill, Community Bank, Creekside Books & Coffee, Doug’s Fish Fry, Fleur de lis Florist, Group M Communications, Imagine, Joe’s Pasta Garage, KeyBank, M&T Bank, Mid-Lakes Navigation, Paris Flea, Pomodoro, Rhubarb, the Skaneateles Library, Skaneateles Town Square, the Skaneateles YMCA and Community Center and Wegmans.
The festival is further supported through ticket sales from a Dickens Raffle. First prize is a $1,000 gift certificate from Mirbeau Inn & Spa; second prize is a family membership to the Skaneateles YMCA and Community Center; third prize is a $500 gift certificate from Mirbeau; fourth prize is an amethyst necklace from Imagine; fifth prize is two tickets to an SU Men’s Basketball game, courtesy of Galaxy Communications; and sixth prize is two tickets to “The Sound of Christmas,” featuring Elisabeth von Trapp, Dec. 21 at the SRC Arena. Raffle tickets are $5 each, three for $10, 10 for $20, and are on sale at the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce and other local merchants.
Additionally, when tickets to “The Sound of Christmas” are purchased through the Skaneateles Chamber (or when purchasers order their tickets online at srcarena.com and type in the promo code DICKENS), $5 from the sale of each ticket will go toward Dickens Christmas and purchasers will get preferred seating.
Looking for still another Dickens-inspired way to celebrate the season? The Sherwood Inn will offer Dickens Christmas Ale, made for it exclusively by Empire Brewing Co. with water from Skaneateles Lake.