Drew Fracher and I first met on the dusty Harrodsburg set of the now-defunct outdoor drama The Legend of Daniel Boone. In the summer of 1989, he was director and I filled the dialogue-free roles of, I think, Indian No. 5 and Settler No. 3.
As leader of a ragtag theater troupe that included dedicated professionals and terminal amateurs, Fracher was focused, thoughtful, encouraging and quick to laugh. He chewed us out once when we were goofing around in a scene involving lit torches — and he was right to do so.
Over the years, Fracher has built an extensive résumé as a director, actor and fight choreographer, working with Lexington Children's Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare Co., the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York and dozens more theaters around the country, collecting numerous awards along the way.
His latest effort is Actors Theatre of Louisville's annual production of A Christmas Carol. Fracher has emphasized music in this show, bringing in a music director and a professional fiddler, who plays live onstage in certain scenes. He also cast another Boone veteran, his wife, Sherman, an experienced actress whose comic timing is on full display as Mrs. Fezziwig.
Offstage, she directs him in a very different sort of production: The two live in Northern Kentucky but own a farm near Harrodsburg, where they produce — improbably — handmade pickles under the name Abiding Grace Farm Artisan Foods.
"My wife runs the business," Fracher said. "I'm the labor. I haul manure, and she tells me what to do."
Sherman Fracher and the cast were rehearsing a song when Drew and I spoke recently at Actors Theatre. The Tony Award-winning regional theater has staged the show for 38 consecutive years, and Fracher is in his third year as director. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Question: You've acted in previous A Christmas Carol productions as Bob Cratchit. (Fracher's picture from a previous production adorns the current promotional poster for the show.) How do you compare the challenges and satisfactions of acting and directing in a show like this?
Answer: In general, I am petrified as an actor. That's because acting requires so much focus and physical, mental and emotional preparation. I love it, but it's like riding a really serious roller coaster: exhilaration, then terror.
As a director, I really try to look at the play through the eyes of each principle character and have some idea of what they're seeking and then collaborate with the actors to convey that. What's the story? What's the play about?
My satisfaction as a director comes from the successful collaboration and then from the successful showing of that collaboration.
Q: With something like A Christmas Carol, how do you tell a compelling story when everyone in the audience knows what's going to happen?
A: It's always a balance. You see some productions where they really emphasize the spectacle, particularly with the spirits. There's a danger to that because you can get away from the characters.
I wanted to be sure we focused on telling the story. This is about Scrooge's chance at redemption, and I wanted to get really specific with that character arc and make it about him.
That said, we have great spectacles in the show. Christmas Past spends much of her time hanging above the stage on silks, and I wanted to expand that aspect of her scenes this year.
Also, in a lot of productions of this show, when Jacob Marley's scene is over, after he warns Scrooge, he just sort of walks off. I wanted to do something different, something more dramatic, so I've got a couple of ghouls who come up out of the floor and drag him back to hell.
Q: How does that help tell the story?
A: Jacob Marley is really important to understanding the story and to understanding Scrooge. Marley is who you don't want to be, who Scrooge doesn't want to be. I love the moment (in the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past) when Scrooge is at a crossroads. And he's about to have a life full of love and happiness with Belle. Then Marley comes in and wants to talk about money and business, and Scrooge has to choose between Belle and Marley. And he chooses Marley, and we know he winds up shutting everybody else out.
In that scene, Belle has that great line when she says to Scrooge, "You fear the world too much."
Really, to me, A Christmas Carol isn't really about Christmas; it just happens to take place at Christmas.
Q: What's it about?
A: It's about figuring out what you do with the time that you have. It's a story for all of us: Don't waste your time. Plus, with everything that's happening in the world in terms of the disparity between rich and poor, we should all be watching A Christmas Carol.
IF YOU GO
A Christmas Carol
What: Actors Theatre of Louisville's production of the Charles Dickens classic, adapted by Barbara Field and directed by Drew Fracher
When: Through Dec. 23. Various times.
Tickets: $37-$49. Call (502) 584-1205 or go to Actorstheatre.org.