By Replacing Scrooge with Vance, Asheville Theater Company Crafts a More Complex Holiday Story

Dec 4, 2018

Aaron Snook has devoted his professional life to creating theater off the beaten path.

“I started envisioning a theater that was different, that was more inclusive, and more community building,” he said. “The mission itself is to create new American myths.”

Aaron Snook operates a crank box as part of a toy theater production.
Credit Courtesy of Aaron Snook

Snook moved from Chicago to Asheville two years ago to launch a new theater company, the American Myth Center. Not long after, he and his company received an early holiday gift: The manager of the Zebulon Vance Birthplace State Historic Site in Weaverville came to him with a concept, of adapting Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with Vance stepping in for Scrooge.

Performances of “An Appalachian Christmas Carol” are December 6-8 at the Vance Historic Birthplace in Weaverville, starting every half hour between 5:30 and 8 p.m.

“Even though we literally didn’t have enough time to do it last year, I had to say yes, because this is exactly the kind of work I want to do,” Snook said.

The challenge facing him: Creating a story that didn’t sidestep the uglier facts of Vance’s life— chiefly, that the Confederate officer and North Carolina governor owned slaves.

“It was important that we wanted to fully contextualize Vance, to tell the whole story,” Snook said. “We didn’t want to vilify and we didn’t want to put him on a pedestal. So how do we talk about relatively heavy subjects within a Christmas show for people to enjoy?”

His answer came in the form of toy theater. Along with recorded voices and sounds, the lone live performer is a female tour guide, who leads audiences through and around the Vance birthplace home. Snook moves behind the scenes, from shadow box to shadow box, operating silhouetted puppets that illustrate the story.

Snook collaborated with Kimberly Floyd of the Vance Birthplace to create a script that hews true to history while leaving the story open to creative interpretation. Rather than drill to finely into Vance’s history, the story spotlights the stories of some of those enslaved on the Vance property.

“We’re not trying to preach to anybody. We’re not trying to teach anything,” he said. “I’m not interested in creating pieces that are completely historically accurate. I’m interested in being inspired by our history to create a story that hopefully in our current days we can find relevant.”