A Charlie Brown Christmas is onstage at the Wilson Center on Saturday, December 9 at 3:00pm. Kids can see this holiday cartoon classic performed live by CFCC drama students for free. The show is also an opportunity to donate to Mother Hubbard's Cupboard-bring canned goods for the collection.
Listen to our interview with director Jack Landry and actors Mary-Claire Page (Lucy) and John-Paul Coffman (Charlie Brown), or read our extended conversation below.
Jack: In graduate school at Penn State, I saw the undergrads perform the 1965 cartoon in three dimensions´ that's sort of dated animation, it's a little weird and kind of South Park-esque, and I thought it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen and they had a keys player and percussionist and a bass player and so the music we all know is that Vince Guaraldi score, and it's kind of awesome and they performed it and I thought was really funny. And when I came down to Wilmington long ago, 2005, I started teaching at Cape Fear. I just thought it was something that be fun for Christmas time, and we kind of got it off and on since then so this is this is sort of a Christmas tradition, and we also, I using now as a sort of the final exam for my Acting I class at Cape Fear and it's their first chance to perform, and now we get to do it in the lovely giant Wilson Center with all of its kind of awesomeness. It sounds incredible. Kevin Kolb is our keys player and Troy Pierce is on percussion, and we have a UNCW student who's helping us out this year for bass, his name is Ryan Wittle, so yeah, it's fun, and we encourage folks to come check it out and bring a canned good to donate. We've sort of adopted Mother Hubbard's cupboard, and we use this as an excuse to give them some canned goods for their food bank.
This is an actual play of the 30-minute cartoon that comes on still on CBS on Christmas, it's usually Christmas Eve, I think. The first cartoon aired it was 1965 and this is basically of a sort of rendering of that cartoon in live-action with real actors. And we've attempted to recreate the bad animation. Where essentially they're either like pointing, or there's only about 5 moves, and it just I don't know why it's very funny to see people try and act like a bad animated cartoon.
Gina: And one important thing is, this is not You're a Good Man Charlie Brown.
Jack: It is not. This is this is literally the cartoon that comes on for Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas. And some weird things happen, like Snoopy's dog house is blue in the Christmas special for no reason. There's no Woodstock. Who doesn't make an appearance... There certain characters you just aren't there.
John-Paul: So Peppermint Patty doesn't exist, there's a character named Patty, but she's not in love with Charlie.
John-Paul: Right, it's completely different character. Just named Patty for no reason, but all the little fun things like you know what Christmas is all about. It's funny, in 1965 I guess they got away with the religious elements because the jazz music sort of was subversive and the censors let it fly ,which I guess was controversial at the time. .
And I think today just different time. There's something sort of dated about it, but I think that's also one of the warm, homey, interesting elements of it. Especially with the with these guys trying to act in two dimensions as these sort of dated cartoons.
We now, of course, have Pixar. I always think it's interesting, every Pixar movie now the actor resembles the cartoon character. You know they've got motion-captured all the stuff that they do and then this is one of those animations where everything that moves is a little bit of a different color than the case at all, so part of the fun is translating, so rehearsal process was interesting-you know okay, kind of goes like this, you're going to go there, now we're going to watch the actual cartoon, something I would never do an acting class, otherwise, but we were trying to recreate something that's already happened. So it's just a different way of working, it's very weird and fun unusual.
Gina: And tell me, what is your motivating principle in portraying Charlie Brown, John-Paul?
John-Paul: I don't mean to be cliche, but I was bullied a lot when I was younger and I know what it's like to feel out casting and ostracized, and I feel like I can channel that and. My thing it in my life. I hope that I can make people laugh and smile and learn things and I feel like with this character, I'm able to use things that may not have been great in my life, but I can make people laugh.
I get to be that poor little boy who no one likes, even though people actually like them.
Gina: You know, Charlie Brown is…he’s kind of the Eeyore character. In some ways he's so weak...
John-Paul: His own worst enemy,
Gina: But he's also the hero.
John-Paul: Oh absolutely. Right, I don't I don't know the story super well, but I know that Charles Schulz who wrote it based Charlie Brown on himself.
I feel like that was his way of getting out his own self esteem issues through his childhood and sometimes when you take things during extreme in that way it comes out, it’s just funny, and I think it's really cool the way he did that. But we've all been there we we've all felt alone and like no one likes us, and we we've all had our pity parties. I think I think everyone can see a little bit of themselves in Charlie Brown.
Jack: These guys are adults, but in order to create the illusion there tiny all of our set pieces are enormous, so like Snoopy's dog houses so I can find full sheet of ply to 8 by 6 dog house is pretty awesome and see if I can get on it, climb in it. The mailbox is enormous, so John-Paul looks like he's small and fun things like that. It snows. They have snowballs they throw that we make out of big styrofoam things and things like that can add the element of cartoony fun.
Gina: What part do you play, Mary-Claire?
Mary-Claire: The bully, I play Lucy.
Jack: You get to be the mean girl.
Mary-Claire: Yes. I never really liked Lucy because I'm completely different from her, so I didn't have a set character that I wanted to be like. Jack gave us like scripts to read, and so as I was reading it, I was like you know what, this would be pretty fun to do the villains the most fun. What do you mean without actually hurting anyone's feeling so it's kind of like a free pass. I guess she's mean to him, but it's not necessarily clear. she tries to give him advice and some point there's a psychiatrist Booth where she offers him advice because. Yeah, it's kind of a codependent relationship.
Jack: I think did you enjoy it seems like you enjoy being the shrink to the Charlie Brown is that true?
Mary-Claire: Yes, it's like a love-hate relationship.
John-Paul: She's like the bully so she knows what it's like to be alone, but it in a different way. Charlie Brown wants friends Lucy separate yourself from the pack, so she should have gets Charlie's like I get it. I'm lonely because I'm on the top.
Jack: This is also really funny-shoulder dance kid-there's one character who has no reason for being except for the wide shot of everybody dancing. He wears orange, and he disappears in every other moment of the show and he has the shoulder weird thing. We have him. He really makes the show some might say, some might say that the shoulder dance kid is… there's been a lot of subculture and subterfuge about that dance if you look at it, and be careful if you YouTube. And Violet does this weird thing where she smells her armpits.
Linus is I think stepping on cockroaches. And you wonder like what were the animators doing when they when they drew these guys cuz it's just so specific and weird, so that's that's probably my favorite, when they all dance out on stage in a weird way, they got their own things going on.
John-Paul: Charlie's lines are all very depressing- “I think there must be something wrong with me Linus Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way. I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas. I guess I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that but I'm still not happy, I always end up feeling depressed.” and that's basically just some form of that with everybody that identifies with that.
Jack: You know the funny part to me is that Lucy, what she wants for Christmas is real estate, and that's what we all want for Christmas.
John-Paul (as Charlie Brown): What is it that you want?
Mary-Claire (as Lucy): Real estate.
Jack: That's funny. That's funny in 1965 and it's funny now.
Mary-Claire (as Lucy): We all know Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern Syndicate, you know.
John-Paul (as Charlie Brown): Well, this is one Christmas play that's not going to be commercial.