The Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) is pleased to announce the return of its holiday production, “A Christmas Carol in Harlem.” This newly directed and re-designed work updates Charles Dickens’ classic work with Harlem flair and social consciousness as a part of CTH’s 20th anniversary season.
Recently “Scrooge” actor Charles Bernard Murray the 4th discussed his experiences working with the theater company and being part of the performance. Charles has a BA in Theatre for Creative Writing with a Concentration in Social Justice from SUNY Empire State College. He has been performing since high school and has been active in the New York theater scene since the 1980s as an actor, director, and choreographer.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for the theater and how did that lead you into acting?
Charles Bernard Murray (CBM): My childhood was very difficult, home life was often abusive, and I basically had to learn to survive. When I was 17, four of my friends from Highschool and I went on an unsupervised trip to New York City, with a group that was going to see The Wiz on Broadway. We were more interested in seeing New York City than the musical. We ran around midtown, went to restaurants, even tried to see a peep show but got ran off. The trip ended with us going to see the Sunday matinee of The Wiz with the original cast. For two hours I was so engrossed in the story that I completely forgot about my life, my troubles or any personal pain. By the end, when Dorothy (Stephanie Mills) sang ‘Home’, I was in tears. I remember saying to my teen aged self, “I want to do that.” I want to make people forget their pain, forget their life and find an escape in a story that gives life meaning. Months later I auditioned for Richmond’s first Dinner Theatre and was cast in the chorus of the musical ‘Purlie’. I’ve been working in the arts ever since.
MM: How did you get involved with The Classical Theater of Harlem and what distinguishes it from other theatrical organizations you have worked with?
CBM: I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Carl Cofield on The SEVEN in 2014. In 2018 I saw a CTH call for actors in Backstage, so I went. When I went into the room, Carl was there holding the auditions. We talked, I did my monologue and sang and it was great seeing him. Then around March of 2019, Carl reached out to me and asked if I was going to be free to work over the summer. I said sure. He called me in to do the role of Cadmus in the Bacchae. We had a great time and an awesome run. Ty asked me during the Bacchae run if I would be free in December to be in A Christmas Carol in Harlem. Of course, I said yes. It’s a bit humbling, yet quite affirming, for them to have that much confidence in my abilities as an actor to do this role. I have watched from a distance, Ty and Carl turn CTH around, rebuild its reputation and sustain one of the few African American theatrical institutions we have left here in New York City. I’m an old-timer, and I’ve watched as we’ve lost, one by one, our Black cultural institutions and watched them be taken over by corporate interests that seem to extract their soul, while making them more marketable. I believe in CTH’s vision and I’m confident that with Ty Jones at the helm, CTH will not only stay afloat but shine as a beacon of hope for generations of artists to come.
MM: When did you first discover “A Christmas Carol” and how did you prepare for this role?
CBM: I first discovered A Christmas Carol watching an old black and white movie version with my grandmother as a young child. Vincent Price played Scrooge. I was completely captivated by the tale. Over the years it’s been done so many times, in so many ways and I have seen most of them. I’ve been toiling with my Scrooge being both real and authentic. Whenever I’m directing or coaching an actor, I tell them to look inside of themselves to find the character. Try not to put on a mask but attempt to take off more of your own mask to reveal more of yourself, even if it is a part of you that you’re ashamed of, afraid of, or embarrassed to reveal. My Scrooge must be CB, but that part of CB who is selfish, greedy, myopic and devoid of empathy for the world around him. Scrooge is my dark side, my hurt inner child longing to be loved, but afraid to be vulnerable. I know he’s in there, my job is to let him out.
MM: What are your favorite scenes and lines in this play and why?
CBM: One of my favorite scenes and lines in our play is when ‘The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come’ shows Scrooge his tombstone, and Scrooge is confronted with his own end. The monologue is a ranting for more time; time to change, time to make things better, time to be better. I cringe each time I have to say, “I am not past all hope!”
MM: What are you most excited about regarding the forthcoming show?
CBM: I’m most excited about getting to be Scrooge. Scrooge is real. Scrooge is who I would be if not for theatre and the arts. Scrooge represents so many wounded, hurting, tortured souls that need an epiphany of hope, love and purpose. Hope to realize life better and free of pain. Love that cures the ills of the past. And a purpose that is bigger and greater than our own greed or desires.
MM: What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?
CBM: For me cooking is synonymous with Christmas. Special meals and deserts we would only have once a year. I’m a foodie and I love to cook and bake. Christmas dinner is a holiday must!
MM: What are your ultimate career goals and what additional projects are on the horizon for you?
CBM: I recently went back to school and got my BA with a Concentration in Social Justice. I’ve been writing and producing my own original dramas and musicals that both entertain and educate. I believe that the arts can both heal and change humanity, if properly used. I have a musical based on the life of Pearl Bailey now being shopped by producers. I’m also writing feature films and episodic shorts for cable. I love acting but honestly, I love writing more.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention or discuss?
CBM: I’m praying that someone is touched, the way I was, when I saw The Wiz, decades ago. If someone in the audience is in pain, or in trouble, or just having a hard time; I hope we can transport them into our world, and for the time we have them, everything is forgotten. So that, when the show is over, they can see hope, love and purpose on their horizon.