“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor,” said Charles Dickens in his holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.” During Bellefonte Victorian Christmas 2019 this weekend, a troupe of actor will again bring that story to life and help fill the town with good humor and laughter.
For the past 10 years, Brian Belge and a group of seven to 10 actors make their way to Bellefonte to perform during the event as the Brian Belge Dickens Troupe, which conducts street performances and a staged dinner theater production. The troupe transforms into characters from the classic Christmas story, with Belge himself taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge — a role that the actor and theater production manager has been playing since 1987.
“I started playing Scrooge when I was on staff at Mount Hope Estate and Winery, the home of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. We decided to start doing a ‘Dickens inside the mansion’ thing and I started playing Scrooge for that. I was the director and producer and then I started to play that role,” said Belge. “And, I have been doing it ever since.”
Those who have been to the event in the past few years know the fun that comes from interacting with the players on the street and at the many location throughout the event. Belge said he enjoys getting people involved in the performance and seeing a smile come across their face, even if the winter weather can sometimes be a challenge.
“It is a lot of fun. Of course it can get a little drizzly and that happens too, but the joy of interactive theater, of playing the characters and meeting people face-to-face and just watching their faces light up from just a little ‘happy Christmas,’” said Belge. He said during this hectic time of year, it is nice to help people relax a little and have some fun.
“To watch them slow down and go, ‘Oh yeah,’ is wonderful,” he said. “I will take a little more time here and there talk to people to get them smiling and enjoying themselves. It is just really nice to help open up the community.
“I love it. I just love it. It is a real joy,” Belge continued. “I play Scrooge a bit differently, just after the change of heart, but old habits die hard. He is trying, but every once in awhile he starts out a little cranky. But then there is a change of heart and there is a 'happy Christmas message’ in there.”
Belge is a theatrical producer from Lititz and he gets his crew together a few times each year to rehearse for the event, but after so many years, he said they all know there parts pretty well.
“The actors are coming from all over the state. Basically they are people I know well or come well-recommended so I can put together a well rounded troupe," Belge said. "So we are not just carolers or not just musicians. Everyone has a bit of acting in their backgrounds and then we all bring some special skills. This year, for instance, a fellow who will be playing the chimney sweep is also a juggler, so we will have some juggling going on. And one woman is not only a musicians, but she is also an actress and was trained as opera singer, so she will bring that to the table as well. I try to bring as many disciplines and talents in as possible — all rolled into one troupe.”
During the festive weekend, the actors are immersed in Bellefonte and Belge said they enjoy the atmosphere of the town and event, from staying in a Victorian Bed and Breakfast to the way the town gets "all decked out" for the event.
“For the most part, the bed and breakfasts have been wonderful. They put us up and feed us,” said Belge. “To be in those old Victorian mansions is just gorgeous.
“The fact the whole town gets involved is really special. They really do up the town as far as decorations are concerned. Lots of small towns do that, but Bellefonte seems to really go all out. The fact that they have a committee that works on this year round is phenomenal, and the tradition of it is special too.”
Belge said he enjoys being on the shuttle buses that transport people to and from the event and engaging the riders in song.
“Just singing along with the families and just making what is normally just a humdrum little shuttle ride into something special, that is really fun,” said Belge. He added that the dinner theatre on Saturday night, called Fezziwig’s Holiday Dinner Party, at the Match Factory is also a highlight.
“The people, when they are leaving, make sure to shake every one of the actors’ hands and say ‘happy Christmas’ to them. It is just such a joy. The people are very, very uplifting,” said Belge.
The dinner event begins a 6 p.m. on Saturday. The actors engage the guests for an evening of old-time parlor games, hilarious skits, a heart-warming rendition of holiday staples, including “The 12 Days of Christmas,” the Yorkshire Yawning Contest, caroling, and of course, the traditional yule log ceremony. A holiday, family-style dinner with turkey and all the trimmings, plus dessert, will be prepared by The Bellefonte Knights of Columbus. Tickets are required for this feature of Victorian Christmas, but those who cannot make it shouldn’t fret — the troupe will be spreading cheer all day on the streets of the community. For Belge and his troupe, the event helps put everybody in the holiday frame of mind.
“We have a wonderful time and love being part of the tradition,” she said. “For me and all of my performers, even though we rotate and are kind of different each year, we all love coming to Bellefonte because it really kicks off the Christmas season and get us into the spirit and carries through for the rest of the season. Personally, not only professionally, but personally, I think it is great kick off to the season.”