12 things to know about auditioning for Christmas Carol

Hopeful young actors put on their best act during auditions for the child roles in the holiday production of “A Christmas Carol” at Goodman Theater in Chicago, Saturday, September 17, 2011. Photo by J.Geil

  1. The show seems bursting with children, but there are just six cast: Five young Cratchits (Martha, Belinda, Peter, Emily and Tiny Tim) and a lad who doubles as Young Scrooge/Turkey Boy. The Reformed Scrooge dispatches the latter to buy the prize turkey for the Cratchits.
  2. The most-belted audition songs: “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” Simon Cowell would flinch, but that’s fine with Scott and casting director Adam Belcuore, who oversee separate tryouts, then compare notes.
  3. Staffers can scent a stage parent within seconds. “We had a little girl come in once, dressed in spangles and bows, and all that. She sang ‘Let Me Entertain You’ from ‘Gypsy,'” Scott recalls. “That was disquieting. We didn’t cast her.” Bah, humbug, too, to parents who force their kids to audition. Tears are a dead giveaway. Weepy children are calmed down, reassured their parents will be told they did great and quietly struck off the list.
  4. The littlest actors (Emily and Tiny Tim) pinch-hit as Ignorance and Want, the tiny tots under The Ghost of Christmas Present’s robes. “We like kids who look emaciated under stage lights,” Scott cracks. “Isn’t that nice?”
  5. The kids earn non-Equity salaries for their performances.
  6. The most hotly sought role is that of Belinda, the second eldest Cratchit daughter. Tween girls (11 to 12) outnumber would-be Tims and Marthas and everyone else at casting calls. “A lot of times, these kids have been in school plays, have dramatic experience and want to perform,” Scott explains. In contrast, most 5-year-old boys would rather be playing Game Boy than Tim. For this reason, producers usually wind up casting an older boy-age 7 or 8-as Tiny Tim. Kindergartners are fidgety, “not used to being on stage, and not ready to do the things we expect of them,” Scott says.
  7. The ideal Tiny Tim knows silence is golden. “A good Tim is a kid who knows how to be still. A lot of what Tiny Tim does is to be very quiet, keeping to himself,” Scott says.
  8. The ideal Tim is a lightweight, too. A Tubby Tim is hard to handle, literally and figuratively. The audience would gape, and the cast would groan. “We put a 50-pound weight limit on him so Bob Cratchit doesn’t get a bad back,” Scott advises. “One year Bob Cratchit threw out his back when we had a particularly robust Tiny Tim.”
  9. The wee actress who plays the youngest Cratchit daughter serves as Tiny Tim’s understudy. Should Tim fall ill, wardrobe tucks her hair under a cap, garbs her in rags and she’s good to go. “Sometimes we refer to her as Tiny Tina, if getting rid of the hair doesn’t work,” Scott says. A little girl won the role of Tim once, but had to be convinced to cut her hair.
  10. Fresh-faced older actors sometimes crash the auditions, hoping to snag the role of the teenage Martha or Peter. Scott was duped the first time he directed “A Christmas Carol” in 1989. He thought he cast a 16-year-old as Peter. After the final show, the actor “ended up telling me he was 22,” Scott says. “He just looked very young.”
  11. Parents of young cast members are treated to free seats to every show, but few take advantage of the offer. This may be due in part to the seats, in a private observation booth. The view is great, but one can’t elbow another patron and boast, “That’s my boy!” Most attend a few performances, then “drop the kids off, do something else and come back at the end of the show,” Scott says.
  12. Bonus scoop: Tiny Tim knows he’s the star. Year after year, audiences wait for the half-starved darling to pipe, “God bless us, every one!” How cool is that, upstaging an entire cast? “Usually Tiny Tim can’t wait for that line. Sometimes we’ve had Tiny Tims who said it too early,” Scott says, laughing. “But they glory in the attention they get in that moment.”


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