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Two Chinook Performers Will Participate When Bunraku Comes to Havre


November 24, 2021

Two Chinook residents, Bonnie Ortner and Ben Hall will be performing in the Montana Actor’s Theater (MAT) production of “A Christmas Carol” when it opens on December 16. MAT will present this classic Charles Dickens’ tale using Bunraku puppets. Directed by Angela Pratt, the opening performance will take place in the MAT Theater on Cowan Drive at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday.

Bunraku is the traditional puppet theater of Japan. It began as popular entertainment for the commoners and evolved into artistic theater during the late 17th century. Bunraku puppets are approximately one-half life size and are controlled by means of short rods and strings. The elaborately costumed puppets act out a dramatic narrative.

The principal characters in “A Christmas Carol” will be animated by three puppeteers who co-operate to maneuver the puppets to produce life-like actions and facial expressions. One member of the team will run the right hand and the head or body; another will operate the left hand and the head or body; and a third will manipulate the feet. Whoever operates the head will be the puppet’s voice. The puppeteers are in full view of the audience but are dressed in black to symbolize that they are to be taken as “invisible.”

Pratt designed the puppets, which were being constructed by the cast and crew during the third week of November. In the coming weeks, the cast will spend hours in training to achieve synchronization of movement and lifelike actions and portrayal of emotions in the puppets. “Giving life and personality to the puppets so that they are identifiable on stage has been the most fascinating part of this show,” according to Ortner.

“When people hear the term ‘puppet,’ they often think of child’s play or Sesame Street. This is a genuine classic being told with puppets and using a script that is true to Dickens’ original tale. We haven’t cutesied it up,” Ortner explained. “It will be delightful to watch as the sophisticated puppets come to life while the performers create their intricate movements. The costumes will be equally remarkable since Angela is modifying baby clothes for the puppets to wear.”

In this abridged adaptation of the Dickens’ tale, the play will take place on a cold Christmas Eve and follow the actions of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge behaves unkindly to the people who work for him, later refuses to give to charity, and then is rude to his nephew after being invited to spend Christmas with family. When Scrooge gets home, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley, as well as by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past leads Scrooge on a journey through Christmases from years gone by, taking Scrooge to glimpse himself as an unhappy child and as a young man more in love with money than his fiancé.

Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge his clerk, Bob Cratchit’s family. At the Cratchit house, Scrooge watches Tiny Tim, who is very ill but full of spirit. The ghost then takes him to see his nephew Fred’s Christmas celebration—the home to which he was invited but rebuffed.

Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Future terrifies Scrooge by showing him visions of his own death. This journey through time teaches Scrooge the error of his ways. When he wakes up on Christmas Day, he is full of excitement and buys the biggest turkey in the shop for the Cratchit family before spending the day with his nephew, full of the joys of Christmas.

Hall will have several roles in the show. The most familiar is Mr. Fezziwig, who appears early in the story during Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Fezziwig is the generous employer of the young Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ortner will serve as both the narrator and as the ghost of Marley. Scrooge and Marley had been business partners in their counting house for many years, and the two men were alike in their greed. Marley’s presence in the story serves to provide a warning about Scrooge’s miserliness and misanthropy and to act as a herald for the three Ghosts of Christmas who are to come.

About the production, Ortner concluded: “We have a great multigenerational cast. The talent of our younger members is so obvious and has been since our first read through. They have skills with dialect that remind me of some of the ‘more seasoned cast members.’ This show will simply be a lot of fun.”

“A Christmas Carol” will run from December 16-18 and December 22-23 at 8:00 p.m. and December 18-19 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at as well as at Havre Chamber of Commerce, Computer Center, and Bear Paw Meats.


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