The Newly Invented Central Bucks High School West Harlequin Club Presents a Fresh Take on A Christmas Carol While Promoting Inclusivity

With an eye on community, inclusion, and making life-long friendships, The Central Bucks High School West Harlequin Club is clearly focused on reinforcing the holiday spirit at every turn this year and supporting such notable local charities in the process, including Code Blue, Tabor Children’s Home, and the Ann Silverman Health Clinic.

The club’s upcoming production is a new version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, playing at the high school from Friday, December 15 to Sunday, December 17, 2023.

The new play adapted by actor/writer/director Claudine Quigley Piechotta, the club’s new director, reimagines this traditional tale for our contemporary times with a focus on redemption, love, renewal, and second chances.

The show includes a variety of eclectic music and dance and is truly a celebration of the season to be enjoyed by the entire community. Since Piechotta was hired late in the season it was unsure if there would be a fall production, but she rose to the challenge and rallied her colleagues, students, parents, and the Doylestown community.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Briggs Photography

“When I stepped into this new role, I wanted all of the students to take ownership of their club, after all the challenges it had faced in the past. With time running out, I needed a vehicle in which all could participate. Necessity became the mother of invention, and this new play adaptation was born,” Piechotta says.

“With some 50 characters, uniquely narrated by a Greek Chorus of Dicken’s carolers and punctuated with song and dance throughout, this piece allowed me to cast everyone who wanted to participate,” she adds.

Piechotta wanted to get to know these young actors, musicians, dancers, and technical students and develop relationships with the staff at Central Bucks West and the Central Bucks community as a whole.

“This show became the vehicle by which we could re-build the club together, develop relationships with other CB theatre clubs, and engage our community in an inclusive and transparent way; thereby marking a new direction for the Harlequin Club at CB West,” Piechotta explains.

If all of the excitement surrounding this production wasn’t enough, Piechotta is thrilled to share that Gerald Dickens, the great great grandson of the legendary author Charles Dickens (who wrote such classics as A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist), is sending his well wishes to the students via a Zoom call. The students were, of course, thrilled to speak to Gerald Dickens and appreciated his encouragement about their production. 

“Gerald Dickens spoke directly to Brian File about playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and how everything we have discussed about Scrooge’s transformation was spot on. “Gerald said that he feels like the role is often played in a two-dimensional sort of way, as a grumpy curmudgeon who only changes at the end out of fear of death,” Piechotta​ explains, “​but the story offers so many more clues to Scrooge’s warming heart as he begins to find humanity again.”

Suzanne Safran, the show’s producer, says that because of the timing, it was challenging to mount a full production to open in mid-December. “But Claudine came in motivated and with a vision that we all agreed could be executed in the very limited time available,” she explains.

“People needed to pivot quickly to wrap their heads around the concept. But the spirit and positivity of all the students who joined the team have been a joy to watch. Claudine told us she was a hard worker and that has proven true. Her determination and can-do attitude are the reason this show is happening.”

Photo Credit: Jennifer Briggs Photography

Alyssa Cooke, a 17-year-old junior, plays several roles in this new production of A Christmas Carol including Martha, The Ghost of Christmas Future, and a flower seller.

Her mom, Carol Cooke, said the students were concerned when the club lost its director that there would not be a fall production.

“Having Claudine and a show to perform for the community this holiday season is extremely positive. I love that it is holiday-themed. I can’t wait to see it!” she says.

“Alyssa loves to act and sing and she is thoroughly enjoying the rehearsals. My daughter and her friends are happy to be back in the theatre and thrilled about this show. I hope that the community will come out and support us.”

Brian File, 16, a high school junior playing Ebenezer Scrooge, says that after the previous director left, he and his friends were uncertain there would be a fall show.

“But Mrs. Piechotta came in and did an incredible job at stepping up and doing everything possible to get the club back on its feet,” he said. “She saved the club and saved our dreams of doing a show.”

He said that as the writer-director of the new version of A Christmas Carol, Piechotta has given him all of the right tools to portray Scrooge in a new light.

“During the visit of the ghost of Christmas past, the characters talk about how his father wasn’t nice to him, his sister died, his previous girlfriend drifted apart and now she is happily married and his partner died on Christmas Eve,” says File.

“This reveals his bitterness on the whole idea of Christmas and explains his built-up anger and sadness he takes out on everyone else,” he adds. “I feel like the story of his life and where he is coming from is clearer to the audience in this version.”

The show’s producer, choreographer, choir director, parents, and students, are all extremely excited about this upcoming production as well as a new direction for the club.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Briggs Photography

Abby Marchione, who has been the school’s director of choral activities for three years, says that when she heard Piechotta’s vision she was happy to be part of it. “I immediately fell in love with the concept. I was excited and happy to hear that she wished to involve all students who wanted to participate, especially because most of us had resigned ourselves to a fall without a Harlequin production,” she says. The beauty of this story is a huge bonus. Throughout the journey, Ebenezer Scrooge has been humanized for me in a whole new way.”

In addition to this production, she is excited about being part of such a positive offering for everyone involved.

“Our local community, country, and world have been through a lot these past few years. We’re living in an entirely new landscape that is often discordant,” Marchione says. “I think the biggest challenge is trying not to compare what I am doing to what anyone else is doing. I always do my best to ground myself in my goal of providing a safe and welcoming place for any student in the school who likes to sing. If I have accomplished that, then I know that I’m doing fine.”

“As a team, we want to create an open and accessible community-oriented high school theatre program,” Piechotta says. “We want a place where kids can learn about theatre and hone their craft, but also have fun and find authentic friendships that could last a lifetime.”

Since Doylestown provides such an important local outlet for creativity, she is concerned that the school arts programs are sorely unsupported and underfunded.

“A high school theatre like Central Bucks West in the center of a town with such a vibrant arts community,” explains Piechotta, “should be the cornerstone of the community and reflect values of inclusion, partnership, and collaboration.”

Photo Credit: Jennifer Briggs Photography

Piechotta hopes the school district and new school board will see the value the arts bring to students, their families, and the community at large, and will consider ways to strengthen and financially support these programs that mean so much to so many kids across the district.

Some kids find that “home away from home” in sports, while others find it in music, dance, and theatre. We need to support these programs that offer teens a safe, constructive, inclusive place to belong and do the thing they love.”

Not only is the production being enjoyed by the students and their parents and is being offered at the perfect time for the holidays, but there are many life lessons involved.

“I wanted to tell this deep story in a multi-dimensional way – about a middle-aged man who has suffered a deep loss in his life and who has as much self-loathing as he seems to loathe humanity,” says Piechotta.

“The symbolism of light and darkness, cold and warmth plays heavily in this show: Touches of warmth and light in candles, fireplaces, and torches throughout offer us hope for transformation,” she explains.

“Technical Director Joe Schiwall will move the play from cold blue tones accentuated with snow and fog into bright, warm tones as Ebenezer’s proverbial heart starts to warm,” she adds. “I talked to the kids about the themes of this show, including the impact of rejection, the importance of second chances and what it means to find love, and how love can be healing.”

If You Go:

A Christmas Carol is playing at Central Bucks High School West, 375 West Court Street Doylestown, PA 18901 from Friday, December 15 through Sunday, December 17.

Shows are at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. There is a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and a 4 p.m. matinee on Sunday. The ticket link can be found at Adults $15. Children/Seniors $10. Cash or check only at the door.