Ornate in a top hat, velvet-bowed ponytail and Victorian gentleman’s suit channeling Charles Dickens himself, actor Kurt Wilkinson delivers lines from the English writer’s work seamlessly at The Classic Theatre’s debut night of A Christmas Carol by Greg Bodine.
“This would be like if Dickens got stuck in San Antonio and stayed here,” the actor said prior to opening night, noting the author’s history.
Dickens himself landed in the states in 1867 to deliver a solo reading tour of his classic bankrolled by Boston publisher Fields, Osgood & Co.
But unlike Dickens, Wilkinson doesn’t simply read excerpts from the famous book. He narrates the story and plays multiple characters.
And he has an extra tool in his arsenal for the one-man performance of the adapted show: his wheelchair.
As an addition to his performance, it acts as a noise maker for sound effects, an extending platform and a means to connect with his audience physically.
“It’s a lot of these little things that you really don’t know unless you live with that thing,” Wilkinson said of his work with the production team in ensuring accessibility at the show’s venue, the Maverick Carter House downtown.
In Wilkinson’s performance — that finds him and alternating lead actor Ray Seams at floor level with viewers — his use of a chair never hinders his impact.
His show finds him dashing from guest to guest, shaking hands with holiday spirit as Ebenezer Scrooge realizes the joy of Christmas.
But the magic of the show didn’t come without preparation.
Under the lead of producing artistic director Jimmy Moore, set designers focused on ensuring furniture pieces stood at the right height and were stabilized, rugs were secured to the floor, the pathway from the dressing room to the stage was wide enough and Wilkinson had easy access entering from the street in front of the 1893 limestone home, away from curbs, cords, and seating.
“It’s a first step in a right direction and I hope it inspires other theaters to look at diversity,” said disABILITYsa’s executive director, Melanie Cawthon. “It feels good to have an organization contact us instead of the opposite.”
The nonprofit consulted with the theater to approve accessibility considerations and changes ahead of rehearsals and performances.
“The [Americans with Disabilities Act] was passed in 1991. That’s when I got my rights. I didn’t have them before that,” Wilkinson said.
But he understands barriers toward ADA-compliant performance houses, specifically those on historic properties.
“Sadly, there are so many theater houses out there that will not have me in their productions. It is literally because their stages only have stair access.”
Renovations or other alterations — even at modern theaters — can be too costly for nonprofit or small theater organizations.
“Sometimes, people just need help thinking outside of the box,” Cawthon said.
While more progress is made in the theater world, Wilkinson said he plans to continue raising awareness for people of all abilities.
As entertainment lead at Morgan’s Wonderland, a 25-acre nonprofit accessible theme park on the city’s Northeast Side, he hosts disability seminars where he shares with guests his guidance on making any setting more inclusive.
For those wanting more help with inclusion, the graduate of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and San Antonio’s Communications Arts High School has a tip, too.
Tickets to The Classic Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol are available here. The show runs through Dec. 18 at the Maverick Carter House, with tours of the Maverick Carter House available for guests arriving by 6:45.