Dickens Christmas Brings Its Magic to Skaneateles


Dickens Christmas Brings Its Magic to Skaneateles

Do you believe in magic?

If not, you may have a hard time explaining the 60+ Victorian-era characters who will soon be roaming the streets of Skaneateles.

Dickens Christmas returns for its 18th year Nov. 25 and runs noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 18, with a limited show (noon to 3 p.m.) Dec. 24.

And what brings these merry marauders to town? The year is 1842, and Charles Dickens is gathering research for his soon-to-be-written classic, “A Christmas Carol.” He and Queen Victoria journey to Skaneateles, where they meet such villagers as Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Fagin, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

The free, family-friendly event draws more than 20,000 visitors each year. It is produced by Scarlett Rat Entertainment and sponsored by Mirbeau Inn and Spa and the Skaneateles-area business community.

Highlights include:

• The World’s Smallest Christmas Parade, which kicks off Nov. 25 at noon. The parade—featuring Charles Dickens and his entourage and a handful of floats—begins at the old firehouse on Fennell Street and proceeds east to Jordan and Genesee streets, arriving at the Sherwood House porch in time for the 12:10 p.m. grand opening.

• The Revels Live—Christmas carol sing-along—2 p.m. every day at the Gazebo. Twelve groups form, each representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. The groups vie for attention, and at the end, Queen Victoria awards a silver teasel to the most spirited performer. Winners have been known to wear their coveted silver teasels throughout the season.

• Scenes from “A Christmas Carol,” featuring guests from the audience, performed at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on the steps of the Masonic Temple.

• Performances by Striking Strings, the Eastman Community Music School Hammered Dulcimer Ensemble, at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Skaneateles Library.

• Horse-drawn wagon rides around the village, departing from the Sherwood Inn.

• Free refreshments, including roasted chestnuts donated by Tops Friendly Markets and roasted outside Johnny Angel’s, and Byrne Dairy eggnog served by the Girl Scouts.

For children, Mother Goose will read holiday stories at the Skaneateles Library and Father Christmas will hand out treats from the porch of the Masonic Temple.

Everyone is invited to borrow period costumes from the Chamber of Commerce, 22 Jordan St., and join in the merriment. New this year will be the identification of “Official Dickens Photo Spots,” which serve as an ideal backdrop for family photos.

“Our village becomes a magical place during the holiday season,” says Susan Dove, director of the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “We invite Dickens fans from near and far to step back in time and join us for a slower-paced, more enjoyable atmosphere, where shopping can still be fun. We have more than 70 shops and restaurants, sure to please any taste.”

Looking for still more magic?

Meet John Henry Anderson, Wonderful Wizard of the North.

Anderson (aka Dave Rojahn, of York, Pa.) will perform comedy magic shows at 1 and 3 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26 at the Skaneateles Library; at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the United Methodist Church (as part of Skaneateles Sings); and at 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11 at the Skaneateles Library.

Anderson was a popular Scottish magician who toured the United States in the 1840s and 1850s and “led a very diverse life,” says Rojahn. “He grew up poor and was orphaned at the age of 10 but was determined to make something of himself. At 17 he started performing magic. His show went on to become world famous, and he performed for Queen Victoria and other crown heads of Europe and the Orient.”

Rojahn says today’s audiences would find Anderson’s tricks dull (“things moved a lot slower back then”), so he’s added a partner to the act—Rocky, the world’s only mind-reading raccoon. “Children and adults alike find him irresistible, with his outrageous antics and amazing feats of mind-reading,” he says.

To ensure that audiences always see something new, Rojahn changes the act from year to year. This year, Rocky will pull water from someone’s head, make cards jump from one person’s pocket to another, and make money appear and disappear.

Rojahn describes the Dickens cast as “absolutely wonderful” and says “everyone comes to have fun.” What does he enjoy most? “Just being in Skaneateles—what better place is there to celebrate the holidays? It’s like being in a storybook.”

Behind the scenes

Magic doesn’t just happen—it’s conjured by the cast and crew and village merchants, with an assist from Mother Nature.

Dickens Christmas has a cast of about 65, including young apprentice talent, which is joined by a variety of guest musicians and caroling groups. The show comes together in just six rehearsals. “We pack a lot in and streamline the process of building a character,” says Jim Greene, of Dryden, who is producing director and plays Dickens. “Every actor learns music and uses improvisational techniques to build his character and become part of the ensemble.”

Direction comes from Maria Wechsler, of Marcellus, who is artistic director and plays Queen Victoria; Kristen Baskewicz, of Rochester, who is music director and plays the headmistress of the finishing school; Brian Goldblatt, of Lafayette, who is associate director and plays Jacob Marley; Krystal Scott, of Weedsport, who is associate director; and Tracey Greene, of Dryden, who is costumer.

The artwork for this year’s poster was provided by Kathleen Schneider, of Camillus, a co-owner of Gallery 54 whose artwork also formed the basis for this year’s Lavender Festival poster.

More than 120 local businesses make Dickens Christmas possible through their sponsorship support. This year’s presenting sponsor is Mirbeau Inn and Spa. Father Christmas sponsors include Johnny Angel’s Heavenly Hamburgers, KeyBank, The Sherwood Inn, Summit Auto, Tops Friendly Markets and Verizon Business Services. Charles Dickens sponsors include ADworks of Skaneateles, Arbor House Inn and Suites, Bluewater Grill, Community Bank, Creekside Books & Coffee, Doug’s Fish Fry, Group M Communications, Haylor, Freyer & Coon, Imagine, Joe’s Pasta Garage, M&T Bank, Mid-Lakes Navigation, Paris Flea, Pomodoro, Rhubarb, the Skaneateles Library, Skaneateles Town Square and Wegmans.

“I’m always excited about the magic we create, and the magic people bring to this show,” says Jim Greene. “You gotta believe….”

For more information on Dickens Christmas, go to http://www.skaneateles.com, call 315-685-0552, or follow the event on Facebook (Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles) or Twitter (@DickensXmas).