Actor Jim Pickering On Scrooge

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The actor has played Scrooge on stage for the better part of two decades. He talks to Jacki Lyden about why he keeps coming back to the role.


With the holidays looming and the economy swooning, you may be feeling like a certain grumpy creation of Charles Dickens.

Mr. JIM PICKERING (Actor): Bah Humbug.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Welcome to you, Jim Pickering.

Mr. PICKERING: Hello, Jacki. How are you?

LYDEN: Jim, you have been bringing Ebenezer Scrooge to the stage for the better part of two decades. I happened to catch your performance with my family last year at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, a glorious old theater. And we wanted you to come on to the show because we had a question for you. Why do you love doing this part? Don't you ever get Christmas Caroled out?

Mr. PICKERING: I never get Christmas Caroled out. It's what I have to give to the community is to tell the story of a heart opening up. And I think, in the current times, the more hearts that we can open up, the better off we'll be.

LYDEN: So how's your production and your playing of the character changed over the years?

Mr. PICKERING: Well, when I first did it back in 1990, I was a mere slip of a lad at 42 years old. And so, it was all about putting on a lot of make up, a lot of somebody else's hair, a lot of plastics, a great big nose and some spectacles. And lamentably, now that it's 2008, I just find it easier to do the play with less makeup. It's a matter of sort of just painting in between the lines on my face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PICKERING: And it is true that the adaptation is different. The adaptation that we were using back in the early '90s had a lot more strange movement in it. This one is a lot more soulful, and it has a lot of wonderful music.

LYDEN: Any little cues or improvisations?

Mr. PICKERING: No. We try to keep improvisation out of it. And one of the reasons for that is, we have 17 children in the play, and we don't want them out there improvising because somebody is likely to get hit with a piece of flying scenery if they do.

LYDEN: I understand there's some rules about Tiny Tim, about who gets to play him.

Mr. PICKERING: Yes. We like to think that there's a 50-pound limit to Tiny Tim, since I have to hoist him up on my shoulder, which was an easier thing to do in 1991 than it is in 2008. So, we try to keep him light. And that, of course, gets to be a problem as we get closer to Christmas because then they've been out of school, and they're on vacation, and their carb-loading starts to take place. And so, I've had Tiny Tims who were about eight pounds heavier on the 23rd of December than they were on the first.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Could you give us a bit of good old Ebenezer Scrooge to send us off today?

Mr. PICKERING: Oh, sure. This is what Mr. Scrooge says to his nephew when his nephew comes, once again, to invite him to dinner for the umpteenth time. He says to him, merry Christmas. Out upon merry Christmas. What is Christmas time to you, but a time for paying bills without money? A time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer. A time for balancing your books and having every column come out dead against you. If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

LYDEN: I'm in tears.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PICKERING: Oh, good. The magic still works.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Actor Jim Pickering joins us from member station WUWM in Milwaukee. And I just want to say to you, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, merry Christmas.

Mr. PICKERING: Merry Christmas back at you.

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