A Christmas Carol Times Two! – Dec 12th

“A Christmas Carol Times Two!”, a dramatic reading performance of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” combined with traditional 19th century English Christmas carols will happen on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7PM at the Franklin United Methodist Church, 82 West Central Street in Franklin, Massachusetts. “Englishman Thomas Hutchinson, Traveling Thespian” portrayed by actor Al LePage, complete with English accent and Victorian-era clothing, will give his dramatic reading performance based on Dickens’ very own historic script as a one-man show using only his voice, facial expressions and gestures to create some 18 characters. Organist and local minister Rev. Dr. Dianne Carpenter will weave organ music between various scenes to set the tone for what’s to come and entertain. This is a special benefit performance hosted by the Franklin United Methodist Church with all proceeds to benefit the Franklin Food Pantry. Admission is $10 per person and the performance is best appreciated by both adults and children 7 years of age and older. Tickets are on sale and can be purchased in advance through BrownPaperTickets.com/, either on-line or by calling their 24/7 toll-free number 1-800-838-3006, and if still available, at the door the day of event. Doors for the performance open at 6:30PM, the fun begins at 6:45PM, and seating is general admission.

“Englishman Thomas Hutchinson, Traveling Thespian” brings his one man show to Franklin, MA to help prevent hunger close to home “From Scrooge to Tiny Tim, from Marley’s Ghost to Mrs. Cratchit,” begins actor Al LePage, “there’s howls and growls, bangs and bongs, a dance with a song, lively laughter and heartfelt tears. And when I perform, watch out, I love to improvise on the spot. Maybe just a conversation with someone in the audience, but with everyone listening in, of course! I could even ask you to join me on the stage at some part, too. Oh yes, I do believe in seizing the moment, and even I don’t always know what’s going to happen next. And, before each reading, in character as ‘Englishman Thomas Hutchinson,’ he definitely has ‘his stories’ to tell both in ‘the year’ — this year it’s ‘1911’ — and though he typically shares some history about the place he’s performing, this year things will take a very different twist, focusing more on what the future will bring rather than what’s happened in the past. All this will make this year’s performance unique once again, keeping it fresh and exciting, and as usual spontaneous with full of surprises, too! One surprise may be a gift for you,” adds LePage “they’ll definitely be at least one special gift given away to some lucky person, too.”

Englishman Thomas Hutchinson, Traveling Thespian

But there’s also a serious side to LePage and why he does so many of his shows to benefit hunger organizations. As a young man the school he’d been working at as a teacher in Boston unexpectedly closed down for good over the winter holiday break, and through no fault of his own found himself without a job, without a paycheck. His savings were meager, and deciding not to go on unemployment at the time, struggled to make ends meet. He paid his bills but had little money left over for food. So, he got hungry for really the first time in his life. He was not starving, of course, but he remembers it being winter and spring, feeling cold and hungry, and figures he may even have been slightly malnourished as time went on, too. That experience has stuck with him ever since, and that’s why his primary focus is to get every penny from ticket sales for his shows donated to organizations that help prevent hunger close to home. His Franklin performance benefits the Franklin Food Pantry, with other events in Boston, Sudbury and Sherborn to primarily benefit local area food pantries close to where LePage was born and lived for nearly half his life.

“We are all in this together,” states Steve Sherlock, Franklin Food Pantry’s Board President. “There are many factors and circumstances that create food-insecurity. Hunger is something that’s not very well talked about, but the need for food is something the community fortunately is very able and willing to support. So we want to continue to get the word out, continue to get that support, and this special event will help us do that.”

The Franklin Food Pantry currently provides service to approximately 600 households; serving some 1590 community members, 35% of whom are children. Many of these households have at least one working adult but are still unable to make ends meet. Last year in 2012, the Pantry distributed 186,000 pounds of food, which was an increase of 35,000 pounds over the previous 2011 total. This year the Pantry has also seen a 43% increase in clients returning weekly for bread and produce.

Hunger close to home has been and continues to be a serious issue both locally and nationally. At any given time, people sometimes have to make choices between food and other critical survival factors such as heat, housing, medical care or transportation. In Massachusetts alone over 229,000 children are effected, that’s over 1 in every 4 people facing hunger within the state, and nearly 40% are also from families that likely don’t qualify for government programs like food stamps or free school lunches simply because they earn too much money. All that’s according to Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity, a report originally issued in 2011 by The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) and the national network of food banks, Feeding America. The report also notes that those who don’t eat what they need for strong healthy brain development may never recover their lost potential for cognitive growth. It goes on to say that besides stunting their intellectual capacity, it could also affect learning, social interaction and productivity, diminishing what could have been a child’s eventual contributions to society. And according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report just released this September, Household Food Security in the United States in 2012, an ‘estimated 14.5 percent of American households (that’s over one in six) were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.’ And the report’s summary also noted that the ‘percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure remained essentially unchanged from 2011 to 2012.

“Last year’s show was wonderful, a great family event, ” noted Franklin resident Mary Olsson, “and we’ll all be going again this year. It was a sell-out show in Franklin last year, so be sure to get your tickets early.”

Dianne Carpenter weaves organ music into the show!Dianne Carpenter started playing piano at age 6, took up the violin a few years later, and by the time she was a junior in high school landed her first job as a church organist! She pursued her music education degree from Lowell State College, went on to teach music in area schools, but always remained a church organist or choir director as that “teachers second job” to make ends meet. She eventually decided to get even more serious about her life in “music ministry,” went back to school to receive a Masters of Sacred Music from Boston University, but continued to teach school. A few years later, though, the economic situation for funding education statewide in Massachusetts took a turn for the worse and teaching jobs were threatened. All this forced her to do some soul-searching, and in the end she decided her journey was now to be the path of pastoral ministry. She sold her house, went back to school yet again, and eventually earned both a Masters of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School and a PhD in Christian Social Ethics from Boston University Graduate School. She’s been a minister in the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church for nearly two decades, serving in Natick, Spencer, Belmont, Hamilton and Brewster Massachussetts. She currrently serves as minister of the United Methodist Church in Franklin, MA, and continues to publicly perform both on organ and piano, typically now only playing the violin for her own enjoyment.

“We all have gifts, and God wants us to be generous with those gifts, asking us to share them,” begins Rev. Dr. Dianne Carpenter, pastor at Franklin United Methodist Church. “And this event is an opportunity for the community not only to be entertained, but also become aware of the real meaning of Christmas, God’s passion for the entire world as reflected in providing the resources needed by the food pantry so everyone served can celebrate the season, too.”

LePage, a native of Framingham, began bringing history to life through improvised portrayals of real people from the past for over seven years at historic sites, museums, and other venues throughout the Pacific Northwest. He’s written and produced his own historical dramas as one-man shows, appeared on the nationally televised PBS “History Detectives” series in roles ranging from a bartender to Robert E. Lee. Oregon Public Broadcasting Radio produced and premiered LePage’s own shortened version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol as his own one man one-hour radio program in 2010, its fourth annual broadcast once again this year on Christmas eve itself. He’s been giving performances of the Carol to benefit charity in the United States, Canada and England since 2006. In 2011 he traveled to England to perform there for the first time beginning in the same place and for the same charity that Dickens himself did his first public reading of the Carol in Birmingham in 1853, and LePage’s last performance that year was in the old stables of the historic 16th century coaching inn in Framlingham, England itself, the very same town after which Framingham, MA was so named.

“Englishman Thomas Hutchinson, a native of Framlingham, England,” of course, is a fictitious character originally developed to share regional and western history. He’s not only like a Frankenstein of history, being made up of the bits and pieces of people who once really did live, but also a sort of Forrest Gump of history, too, somehow always showing up whenever and wherever history is being made! He now continues to live on as a Victorian-era “Traveling Thespian” spreading good cheer and giving dramatic readings of A Christmas Carol to benefit charity. In order to make his character both believable and credible – or as incredible as the stories he tells seem to be – LePage not only meticulously researches the history of the place and “the year” he performs, but also often travels to historic sites to soak up the sights and sounds and whatever else he can, not only to better transport himself, but also audience members, back in time. Indeed, while visiting England in 2011, he not only visited the only surviving home of Dickens in London, but also went to the very locations in London where various scenes took place in the Christmas Carol story itself!