Back in 2014, Christian Casper wasn’t auditioning for “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre Charlotte: He was taking his 8-year-old daughter to try out for a non-speaking part.
Director Vito Abate saw him and assumed he was going for Scrooge. When he found out he wasn’t – that Casper was there as a dad, not an actor – Abate talked him into reading for the part.
Casper got it. His daughter got a part, too. And sharing the stage with her was one of the best theater experiences of his life, he said.
He hasn’t had to read for Scrooge since then. Casper – who’s willing to say he’s in his 40s – is such a convincing and popular Scrooge, he continues to be asked back. This marks the fifth year he’s played the famous miser who gets scared into changing his ways.
What keeps you coming back to play Scrooge year after year?
I adore Charles Dickens, and this is my favorite story of his. I saw the George C. Scott version when I was a kid, and I love his interpretation. It’s a bit darker than some others, but this is a dark story. I mean, ghosts and spirits are trying to scare this guy into being a good person. It’s a haunting. Our version that Ron [Law] is directing this year is going to be a bit darker than previous years, too.
You’ve been a constant in the production for five years, but the rest of the cast changes, right? What’s that like?
No one else is in the show from the first year I was involved. The actors playing Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present are back this year – the repeat offenders – and they’ve been in it for the past two years. Having new actors in most of the parts from year to year is one of the things that keeps this fresh.
Is there an insider tip you can offer readers – something they should watch for that might be a little surprising?
I don’t want to do the same show as last year. I try to find new objectives, new ways to present the story and bring something fresh to the character. I’m old school; I never force anything. I try to be completely honest in the moment. I’m not sure if that answers your question.
It does. Now moving on from Scrooge to talk about your career – what’s an obstacle you’ve faced as an actor?
Accepting the fact that you can’t please everybody. My harshest critics are my mom, my 13-year-old daughter and my wife. If I can please them – especially my teenage daughter – then I’m happy.
What’s something about you that might surprise people who know your work?
I love golf. From March through October, I am a man possessed. I took it up when I was living in L.A. There are so many parallels to acting.
In every other sport, you’re playing against someone else. In golf, you’re playing the course. You could have the round of your life and still lose if there’s someone on the course that day who plays better than you. It keeps you humble. On a stage, I can only control what I do. I can’t control what anyone else does. It’s the same with golf.
Who’s someone in your field Charlotteans should keep an eye on?
Tyson Hamilton. I’ve directed him a couple of times, including in “Spamalot” for Davidson Community Players. He’s full of spirit and good energy. He’s very talented and serious about what he does. I don’t have time for drama, and Tyson doesn’t go in for drama.
Who in Charlotte has most influenced your work?
There’ve been many, but Jerry Colbert and I have a special working relationship. He’s been kind of an unsung mentor.
Have you had a spectacular failure you’re willing to tell us about?
Wow, not just a failure, but a spectacular failure, huh? (Laughs.) I don’t call this a failure; I call it a lesson. I was just out of grad school and was doing a presentation to agents – first in L.A. and then in New York. It’s all these actors looking for work doing scenes and monologues for casting directors and agents. Nothing came of it. Nothing. I was 29, living in New York with a graduate degree and had no agent. It was a serious wake-up call. I had to realize: This doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to get an agent. I’m just not going to get an agent going this route.
Is there a secret or hidden place on the Charlotte arts scene you know about and are willing to divulge?
I was classically trained, and I love Shakespeare. So, I’m always on the lookout for anyone performing Shakespeare. I’ll go to high school productions, and I’ll go to bars and pubs if a troupe is there performing Shakespeare or if there’s a Shakespeare trivia night. Seeing high school kids performing Shakespeare gives me hope.
You’re also a theater professor. How long have you taught at Johnson C. Smith University? What do you love about it?
I’m finishing my fifth year at JCSU. I’d taught before in L.A., at CPCC and for a semester at Davidson College. I love it. I have a tremendous amount of freedom. At Johnson C. Smith, we produce two plays each year, and I get to pick and choose what we perform. Occasionally, I’ll have a student who begins the semester by saying acting is easy. So, I ask the class to go home, memorize a poem, return to class the next day and recite the poem – and really put themselves into it. They realize that’s hard to do in a classroom with an audience of 10. I tell them to imagine doing it for 500. They get it: It’s not that easy.
What attracts you to a play or role?
The story. It always starts with the story. The only job an actor has is to tell the story. It’s not a play until actors get involved and perform on stage. Before that, it’s only a script.
Is there a dream part you’d like to play that you haven’t played yet?
That’s tough. I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten to play Macbeth, my favorite Shakespeare character. And I’d love to play him again. I’ve played Brick in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Stanley Kowalski in “Streetcar Named Desire.” I would like to play Willy Loman [in “Death of a Salesman”]. He’s as close to Shakespeare as you can get in a modern play. When I read “Macbeth” as a 13-year-old, I thought: That’s the character! A lot of actors think Hamlet’s the dream role – and it is a great role – but for me, it’s always been Macbeth. When I was 29 and living in New York City, I was offered the chance to play Macbeth in an Off-Off-Broadway production, and I said no. I said no! I thought I wasn’t ready. Luckily, I got the chance again in 2013 or ’14 to perform Macbeth with Charlotte Shakespeare. I did not turn down the part that time.
“A Christmas Carol” runs Dec. 7-16 at Theatre Charlotte; theatrecharlotte.org.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.