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Going to Beijing this month? Catch ‘A Christmas Carol’

November 27, 2006
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

A year ago when we last heard from Chris Verrill, 41, he was on his way to Beijing. Now he is the director of the new Beijing Playhouse where “A Christmas Carol” will open on Friday.

“I love being in a part of the world where things are happening,” he said in a recent e-mail message. “China is growing fast and Beijing, with the Olympics coming, is a real exciting place to be in the world. It's like watching history as it happens.”

The 1987 UC Davis graduate – who got his degree in agricultural economics – was bitten by the travel bug following the events of 9/11 when he decided to travel the world to find out why so many people in so many countries hated Americans.

He spent 15 months preparing for a trip to Afghanistan where he hoped to establish Rotary-funded classes for women in carpet weaving, tailoring, and English.

Verrill left on his trip in December of 2002 and returned two years later after visiting 27 countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“I have the background for fund-raising, so that wasn’t hard,” he said. “But implementing the programs on the ground was not at all easy.”

You can read about his experiences in a 427-page book Verrill wrote on the subject, “Is For Good Men to do Nothing.” It’s a print-on-demand book published by Xlibris, which means you may not find it on your local bookstore’s shelf, but it can be ordered.

“I spent 11 months in India writing the book,” he said. “I’m never writing another book as long as I live, it’s a huge daunting task.”

After returning briefly to Northern California last year, Verrill left for China. There he hosted a radio program for a time and then decided to follow his true love – theater.

“I gave up the radio show to do the theatre show,” he said. “It's a gamble and it's stressful, but I'm having fun.”

This Friday, Verrill, now the executive director of the new Beijing Playhouse, is presenting “A Christmas Carol” at the Beijing City International School (1.5 km south of the Dawanglu subway station) through Christmas.

“Our talented multi-national cast makes this the most beautiful ‘A Christmas Carol’ ever. Charles Dickens would be proud,” he added.

The production will be in English with Mandarin subtitles.

“Have you ever seen supertitles at the opera? We're doing the same thing,” said Verrill.

“I expect the show to appeal primarily to expatriates living here. But I suspect about 30 percent of the audience will be English-speaking Chinese.”

Verrill said he’s been involved with theater for 20 years.

“During that time I've spent many a night after a show in the green room, talking to my fellow actors and dreaming about owning a theater. But every small town in America already has a theater. But Beijing didn't. There are about 100,000 English-speaking expatriates living here, so it's like a small town.

“And now, with any luck, it will have a new community theatre,” Verrill added.

China has had fantastic growth in the last decade, but it's all been about money, he said. Now that people have made money--in some cases a lot of it--they're beginning to think about charity. What better messenger than Ebenezer Scrooge to teach a community that there is more to life than money?

“This is a very traditional presentation of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” added Verrill, the show’s director. Thirty English-speaking actors and 30 crewmembers began rehearsals in September in preparation for December performances.

Daniel Cotterall from New Zealand, who won New Zealand’s public speaking prize, is featured as the skinflint Scrooge. Veteran Hollywood actor Rod Archer is the Ghost of Christmas Present. Dana Novales from the Philippines is the Ghost of Christmas Past. Julian Williams from the United Kingdom makes his China debut as everyman Bob Cratchit. Other cast and crew are from China, Australia, Canada, France, Bangladesh, India, Niger, Netherlands and Indonesia.

“We have theater veterans with 20, 30 or 40 years of experience working along side actors who are making their stage debut,” said Verrill.

The production is presented in part by Beijing United Family Hospital, Time Out, Xian Zai, Beijing City International School and LehmanBrown.

For more information about the show, or to reach Verrill, contact Beijing Playhouse at performance@beijingplayhouse.com or at www.beijingplayhouse.com.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org and watch for more local writers to be featured biweekly at this web site.

For More Information, Visit These Links:
Wikipedia entry about "A Christmas Carol"

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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