Charles Dickens is in for a busy Friday, this week.
Or, at least, actor Robert Young is–as he portrays the celebrated namesake of the Bay Area’s beloved “Great Dickens Christmas Fair“. The Dickens Fair, an immersive-theatre experience unlike any other Christmas celebration, is now celebrating its 35th season. And, they’re open this Friday, November 24th, the Friday after Thanksgiving!When you step into the Dickens Fair, you’ll have a sense of traveling back through time. Suddenly, you’re on the lamp-lit streets of Victorian London, on Christmas Eve. All around you are performances, vendors, games, celebrations, and, of course, excellent Christmastime fare. Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert will almost certainly make an appearance. And if you’re at Fezziwig’s Dance Party, look for them to lead off the dancers.
Truly, this Bay Area tradition is exactly what its website advertises: “A Victorian Christmas card come to life”.
And, of course, Mr. Dickens, as the “rock star” of the event, will be at the very heart of the festivities. Robert, whose background includes four decades working in professional and community theatre, is now portraying Dickens for his 28th season. So, what is a “day in the life” of Charles Dickens like, during the weeks of the Dickens Fair?
Well, as for many other writers, it begins with coffee.
“Many of the actors like to have breakfast and their coffee or tea on the site before we open, so we get a chance to interact a little bit,” Robert explains. “And a little preparation, just kind of mellowing in together. And then people run off and get dressed, and made up if they need to do that.
“And then, about nine, I go in (to the back of the Tavistock House family parlor) and begin to dress as Dickens, and…prepare the whole point of view the character has.” Then, in character, Robert makes his way along the streets of Dickens’ “London”, as presented in the Cow Palace. His rounds include the Green Man Public House, where he’ll be doing his first reading of the day, before he checks in at the Victoria and Albert Theatre.
Next stop: Fezziwig’s, where the “whole Fezziwig team” is preparing the space for the Opening Tableaux, and for dancing and “parlour entertainments and games”, according to the Dickens Fair website, throughout the day.At that point, Robert says, the Dickens Fair’s doors will have opened. Visitors will be coming in, to watch the Opening Tableaux at 9:45 in Fezziwig’s Dance Party area as the show begins.
“I visit with the characters who are going to be performing in that, and get a bead on what they’re going to do for the day,” says Robert, who, in addition to his performance role, has been serving as Theatrical Director for Red Barn Entertainment, which produces the Dickens Fair, since 2000.
“I make my way over to the stage and prepare for the first event of the day, where the lights go out and the focus goes to the stage, and Mr. Dickens walks up on the stage and begins to address the crowd. That’s my opening,” Robert says.
Meanwhile, for “Mr. Dickens”…
“I make my way through my day. And it includes four key readings (of) the Christmas Carol….and interspersed between (those readings throughout the day) I have some time, in the Adventurers Club, to meet with people on a conversational basis,” Robert explains.“I really enjoy that. People love to come in and talk to, not only Dickens, but other authors and adventurers.”
But Robert’s readings, as Dickens, aren’t limited to just A Christmas Carol.
“There are other performances I do, during the day, on a sort of one-off basis,” Robert says. “Poetry, fairy tale readings, just working with the different characters together, as Dickens did. You never know when those show up, they’re kind of fun to do.” And occasionally, he says,, he also gets to “sneak off and actually see other productions”, during his breaks. The performances and interactions throughout the day take him up to six o’clock in the evening.
“And in the last hour, during the day, I usually go into the Adventurers Club…or sometimes make it down into the “seedier” parts of the city,” Robert says. “And that’s my chance to really see what the Fair is looking and feeling like, when I’m not performing myself.”
“So, those nine hours go very quickly… I don’t really feel tired at the end of that time,” Robert comments. Laughing, he adds, “I certainly get my rest at night!“It’s an exhilarating time, very much. And I think most of us (in the cast) feel similarly.”
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a Bay Area Christmas tradition, is open the Friday after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 24th, from 10 am to 7 pm, then on Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, December 17th, 2017, at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Avenue in Daly City. Tickets are “Select Day Ticketing”: like any theatrical performance, they must be purchased for the specific date you’d like to attend. Here’s the link for more information.