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Scrooge's Understudy Ready to 'Bah Humbug' For Actors Theatre, If Needed

Kevin Dooley/Creative Commons

Among the many traditions of Actors Theatre of Louisville’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” is actor William McNulty, who has been playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for 13 years now.

But with more than 30 performances, it’s good to have a backup in case McNulty catches a cold.

Louisville actor Gregory Maupin is the understudy for the role of Scrooge, preparing a part he might never get to play.

Unlike a long-running Broadway show in which the understudy might have a certain number of pre-scheduled performances, Maupin would only be called in if McNulty is unable to go on. So if Maupin has the opportunity to perform, it would be because of McNulty's misfortune, a position that makes him a little uncomfortable.

"As an actor you get excited about the idea of doing it, even though I'm not going through a proper rehearsal process. I'm learning by observation, not by being up there and doing it," Maupin said. "And yet at the same time, you kind of actively don't want to do it, because it means that something's gone wrong with someone who you know and like."

Every performance day, Maupin knows that he could be asked to come in.

"I just see myself as on call. I haven't scheduled anything that I can't get out of at a moment's notice. I wait for Pablo [Holmes] the stage manager's text to terrify me, may it never come," he said.

Maupin pointed out that as an understudy, he's not bringing his own interpretation of Scrooge to the stage.

"Unlike just acting in a part, where you get to take the thing from the page yourself and find out what's in the middle, I am responsible for learning Bill McNulty's Scrooge," he said.

To prepare, Maupin attended many of the rehearsals and makes sure to see the play once a week, to stay up to speed on how the performances have evolved. Fortunately, Scrooge spends much of the play observing what the other characters are doing, so Maupin has developed a mantra to help him remember what to do at any given moment.

"Follow that ghost!" Maupin said. "If all else goes wrong — if I were to do it — I tell myself I'll just hang out with Christmas Present over there in the corner and watch the party."

At the same time that Maupin has been preparing for Scrooge, he's also rehearsing another part that he will definitely be performing: the role of Malvolio in Kentucky Shakespeare's upcoming production of "Twelfth Night," which opens Jan. 5 at the Kentucky Center's Bomhard Theatre.

The two roles aren't that different, according to Maupin.

"I'm playing these two culturally weighty poster boys for grouches who don't enjoy anyone else's enjoyment of things, and I'm doing them at the same time," he said. "Fortunately one of them has a British accent, which sounds like a silly thing, but is a way to keep them separate in my mind."

He finds himself running Scrooge's lines every morning while getting ready for the day.

"I just start mumbling. 'Bah humbug, Merry Christmas, what right have you to be merry?' That's me, getting the coffee, taking a bath, mumbling out loud to myself. And I think, do this in the morning and you don't have to think about it later, and in case you need it, you've already run the lines today," Maupin said.

"Fifth Third Bank's A Christmas Carol" runs through Dec. 23 at Actors Theatre of Louisville.