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Dave Mitchell does Scrooge at the Alleyway
by Anthony Chase
David Mitchell has been a major presence of the Buffalo theater scene for years. He often plays characters who are evil or clueless—or both. We’ve seen him in plays like The Crucible, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Killer Joe, or Shine at ART. At Alleyway, he has done Tropical Heat, Road Kill, The World’s Finest, and To the Top, among others. Indeed, Mitchell has played killers and fools in every genre.
This holiday season, Mitchell returns to play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Alleyway Theatre for a second time. This is the 32nd year that Alleyway has done A Christmas Carol, so the actor continues a great Buffalo tradition.
You seem to specialize in characters who are evil and/or clueless. How does Scrooge fit onto this spectrum? How does he compare to other characters you have played?
I’ve been very lucky with the intense roles I’ve had in recent years. I haven’t been stuck on the neutral side of the stage, that’s for sure! Indeed, many of the characters I’ve played may have appeared one-leveled, at least when I first met them. With the help of many great directors, I’ve learned to search for varying details and to remember that human beings are complicated. What they appear to be on the surface may not match what is going on inside. Scrooge is no exception. There’s so much more to him than just being grumpy and mean. He’s a man who has the spirit of Christmas locked away in a room inside him; he just needs help to find where that room is and to learn how to unlock it.
Do you feel the responsibility of stepping into the role of Scrooge at Alleyway?
There’s no doubt that this role is iconic and pivotal to the play. It’s his salvation that gets this whole ball rolling. I feel directly responsible for its success every night. It was a high honor for me when Neal Radice asked me to play Mr. Scrooge. My challenge is to say thank you to him by knocking each performance out of the ballpark. Alleyway’s version of this show has a cult following. Many great actors have played Scrooge. The same families return in droves to see this show every year, which is why tickets always sell so fast. My job is help continue the high performance standards set by previous casts and to assist the audience in remembering the meaning of Christmas.
A Christmas Carol is likely to have a large number of children in the audience. What are some of the challenges of performing for children?
I don’t go out of my way to do anything different when performing for children. I just have to remain extra focused, because distractions will happen; you have to keep staying in the moment. The excitement kids bring to the show adds so much to the performance for the cast; we feed off their wonderment.
Do you have the performances of other actors as Scrooge in your head?
I have admired many Scrooges over the years. George C Scott and Michael Cain are some top favorites. John Smeathers—the actor that I took over for—was tremendous in the part. He left big whiskers for me to fill! Ultimately, I have to fulfill my director’s vision for the role.
Is the broad comedy of Scrooge difficult or liberating for you?
I find that I have to be careful not to become too big in the role. My director has stressed to me that the joke is always on Scrooge, but he must not know it. Broad gestures, over stressed responses, and a general self-awareness are major pitfalls for the actor playing Scrooge. He must not know too much, too soon. It will give the actor little room to explore and solve the puzzle of Scrooge. I find the energy and concentration of playing Scrooge very liberating.
What is your day job?
I am a reading professor at Niagara Community College. I work with incoming students to help improve their reading comprehension and study skills so they will be successful in college. I love teaching, and I love my students. I can’t wait to see them at each class.
What is the role of acting in your life?
Theater has played a major role in my life. Indeed, it has dominated it. I have been involved with the stage for over thirty years and cannot imagine my life without it. I’ve done well over a hundred shows—maybe even 150. I love the theater like I love teaching. Every time I get cast, every time I rehearse, every time I do a performance, I say a prayer of thanks because it’s so much fun and it’s so special. Being part of Buffalo’s theater scene is a great source of pride. I just love what theater can do for a community.
What does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas to me is a time to review your human performance. I always try to see where I can improve and give it another shot!
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