Buy Nothing Christmas: The Musical
By Erin Morash
Mennonite, Friday November 29, 2004
Janis Folkerts plays Chase, an anti-consumer activist, and Kim
Brown plays her shopaholic mother, Abby, in the new musical
A Christmas Karl.
Those who "buy nothing" for Christmas are
often accused of being Scrooges and crushing other people's holiday
fun. This month, I had the chance to see A Christmas Karl, an enjoyable
and funny musical that put the "Scrooge" on the other
foot. Giving, it turns out, has very little to do with stuff and
more to do with time and care-not surprising, but surprisingly hard
The script was written by Scott Douglas and the score
is the work of his brother, Andrew. Aiden Enns, co-founder of the
Buy Nothing Christmas project [ed. Aiden Enns is a member of Canadian
Mennonite's board of directors], asked the brothers to "take
a deadly serious message and package it with humour, romance, and
At a time of year when people are caught between the
blizzard of messages about buying that perfect gift for everyone
who is even remotely connected with your life and the guilt we feel
for over-spending, over-eating and over-doing-just-about-everything,
it's nice to have the chance to laugh about it for an evening.
Janis Folkerts plays Chase, a young activist who is
frustrated by the fact that she can't even convince her own mother
to kick the "shop 'til you drop" Christmas habit. While
Janis protests against commercialism outside the local Ubermart,
her mother, Abby (played by Kim Brown), is overwhelmed by trying
to fill a Christmas list that would make Santa Claus envious.
Outside the Ubermart, Chase bumps into a homeless
man, Karl (played by Aiden Enns). The day-to-day circumstances of
Karl's life (Chase meets him while he is going through trashcans
for food) put the shopping frenzy happening around them into perspective.
Inspired by her conversation with Karl, who believes he is an angel
messenger, Chase decides to deal with her mother's over-consumption
using the time-honoured three ghosts of Christmas that first visited
Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Chase drafts
her reluctant boyfriend Simon (played by Brent Hirose) into helping
The humour and the music balance out the seriousness
of the play's message; the cast was obviously having a lot of fun
up there and the audience responded enthusiastically to it (there
was a full house). Strangely, the funniest scenes seem to revolve
around the character of Simon, Chase's Jewish boyfriend. He seems
caught between Chase's uncomfortable activism and his own questions
about consumerism. Of all the characters, he also seemed to be the
one most concerned about what the outcome was for real people: for
Chase and Karl, for people whose jobs depend on consumption, for
the stressed-out Abby. I found that I resonated most with Simon's
confusion over the weird mixed messages of faith and commercialism
around the celebration of Christmas.
The musical was released well before Christmas in
order to give people time to see it and then time to think and react.
I think it succeeds at this.
A Christmas Karl: A tender tale of commercialism,
compassion, and fruitcake has one date left to play: December 15
at Steinbach Regional Secondary School Theatre. Admission is free,
which dovetails nicely with the musical's message, although they
are accepting donations. All performances begin at 8:00 pm. More
information is at www.buynothingchristmas.org.
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