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Generosity in 'A Christmas Carol' goes beyond the stage at Ford's Theatre

Wednesday - 12/18/2013, 2:32pm  ET

The actors in 'A Christmas Carol' at Ford's Theatre have a holiday tradition that stays true to the performance. (Courtesy Ford's Theatre)

Heather Brady, special to

WASHINGTON - The company of actors and actresses in "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre aren't just portraying the idea that Christmas is about giving onstage -- they're living it.

For each of the five years the company has produced the show, it has picked a charity focused on ending hunger, homelessness and poverty and raised money to support it.

Originally, the fundraising was only supposed to be a short, one-time event. But Edward Gero, the actor who plays Scrooge, convinced the theater's director, Paul Tetreault, that it should span the entire length of the production's run, instead of just a couple of weeks.

"Everyone [was] very excited about actually making a difference in the local community with this play," Gero says.

"It just seemed to make perfect sense, particularly when we see characters like Tiny Tim's family, a family of four living on very little money in this story. And at the end of the play, when [Scrooge] finally gets the spirit of Christmas, he understands that it's about giving."

The movement was so successful that the company and theater decided to make it an annual holiday tradition. Every year, the theater researches Washington-based charities and presents the company with five or six different possibilities.

Together, the company and the theater have raised over $300,000 for past charities, which include So Others Might Eat, Bread for the City, Martha's Table and Miriam's Kitchen.

"We try to pick an organization that will really feel the benefit of the contribution that we make," Gero says. "This year, we're doing Covenant House [Washington] because it targets services for the young and teenage homeless Washington has one of the largest youth homeless populations in the Unites States."

According to the theater, there are about 1,600 youth in D.C. each year who are homeless for a period of time. The money that the company raises this year will allow Covenant House Washington to help them build a better future.

The acting company wants the work it does and the money it raises to make a real difference for local community members in need. Gero says the annual tradition gives the actors' work a sense of purpose that carries them through what can sometimes be a grueling performance schedule.

"When you do a play for so long, it sort of gets into a routine," he says. "It does take a toll on everybody. But knowing that at the end of the night that we're actually making a difference it's very rewarding."

The acting company's fundraising efforts parallel the element of poverty in the play, creating a crossover that affects how Gero plays Scrooge.

"One of the reasons why any actor is drawn to the role is because it's a story about transformational spirit," Gero says. "At the end, he wakes up and realizes that service is actually the highest calling. Whether it be with your job or your family or your loved ones, it's about serving. I think part of the responsibility is making that moment as honest as I possibly can."

Singers perform renditions of Christmas carols in the transitions between scenes in the performance. The musical arrangements use original lyrics instead of modern adaptations, adding to the play's 19th century feel.

"Each version, whether you're here in Washington or Chicago or anywhere else across the country, has a little different twist to it," Gero says.

"In this version, there are three street vendors who become the ghosts of [Christmas] past, present and future. Those three characters that we meet early in the play when Scrooge is going about the streets to collect money become the spirits that take him through his journey at night."

Gero says the play also performs a kind of community service beyond just the company's charity work. Its family-oriented nature has created a Washington tradition.

"In a way, we're building audiences for the future," he says. "For many young people, it's the first time they go to the theater. That, too, is a service -- to give them a great evening, a feeling that's going to make them want to come back to see other plays or to come back to see A Christmas Carol' again. That's important, to make theater-going a part of their tradition."

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