Dudley Swetland knows the secret to playing Ebenezer Scrooge is more than grumbling a few "bah-humbugs"; it's understanding that everyone has a little Scrooge in them.
"A lot of people have a hard time opening themselves up to others and dealing with their past," observes Swetland, who portrays Charles Dickens' famous character for Great Lakes Theater Festival's annual holiday run of "A Christmas Carol." "Like Scrooge, it is easy for people to be unkind during the holidays."
The 59-year-old actor knows what it's like to feel Scrooge's wrath, too. He played Fred, Scrooge's nephew, and Bob Cratchit for Cleveland Play House's production while he was a company member there from 1977 to 1988. He has also taught theater at Case Western Reserve University and is married to Sharon Bicknell, co-host of the Ohio Lottery's weekly "Cash Explosion" game show.
Now entering his eighth year portraying Scrooge onstage, Swetland reflects on what Christmas' favorite cheapskate has taught him.
Scrooge is misunderstood because he is terribly lonely, which is where all of his problems stem from. He has the unwillingness to be open.
My inner Scrooge originates from New England, Maine. There tends be a Yankee ethic in my family about money. Much like Scrooge, we tend to collect and not spend. I'm cheap and Scrooge is cheap.
Being Scrooge has made me less Scrooge-like because I have learned to gravitate more toward people, especially children.
Scrooge taught me how important tradition is in our lives. It is an anchor that people can return to. The holidays are about connecting with people, not shopping malls and long lines.
The future is constantly up and bright. I don't plan for it. You can't. But I look forward to it.
The past is a step essential for growth. It is where we learn.
Second chances are something we rarely get.
The secret to portraying Scrooge is that you cannot act Scrooge. You must be him and understand his passion and pain. That is the only way you become him.