An Experience in Great Literature and Live Theater

Appropriate for Adult, Middle School and High School Audiences

The Dickens!

A One-Man Program of Dramatized Readings
From the Novels and Short Stories of Charles Dickens
as adapted for public performance by Dickens himself

 

  David Houston as Charles Dickens

Acting script by David Houston, based on performance adaptations by Charles Dickens

CHOOSE FROM FOUR The Dickens! PROGRAMS

(1) Three Stories for the Winter Months (70 minutes)

"Boots at the Holly Tree Inn" a charmer in which two 7-year-olds run away to be married, as told to Mr. Dickens while he is snow-bound at the Holly Tree Inn. 

"Sikes and Nancy" the beautifully written utterly chilling murder of his girlfriend Nancy by Bill Sikes, abetted by sly cowardly Fagin, in Oliver Twist. 

"Doctor Marigold" a funny and tear-jerking novelette narrated by a traveling seller of household goods, about his happy itinerant life and his love for his deaf and dumb adopted daughter.

(2) Four Stories for the Winter Months (2-1/2 hours, with intermission)
Add to the Three Stories Above:

"Bob Sawyer's Party" from Pickwick Papers—a comedy chapter in which a disorganized medical student attempts to throw a party for visiting travelers and fails at every turn, almost being evicted before it's all over. (Add $50.) 

(3) The Timeless Christmas Classic (70 minutes)

"A Christmas Carol" an abridgment of the entire story, with all the familiar character voices.  Carol was the first public reading performed by Mr. Dickens—leading to the standing ovation that launched his new acting career.

(4) The Other Ghost Story (70 minutes)

"The Chimes"—a witty, ironic and poignant short novel exposing how the rich think the poor should live; it's a ghostly tale that does for New Year's Eve what Carol does for Christmas (Published a year after Carol). Plus a "short subject":

"Bob Sawyer's Party" from Pickwick Papers—a comedy chapter in which a disorganized medical student attempts to throw a party for visiting travelers and fails at every turn, almost being evicted before it's all over.

Contact
 David Houston (516) 293-2638; e-mail DH@davidhouston.net
$300 package includes actor in costume, small stage setting, period music,
and travel for Long Island and Queens; for other locales,
contact David Houston

Scroll through, or jump with the following links:

Scheduled Performances
Article: Charles Dickens, Actor
Charles Dickens Lifeline 
Photo of David Houston and Suggested Program Bio
 Photos: David Houston as Charles Dickens 

References and Reviews  

Performances 

Sunday, December 11, 2016, 2:00 p.m. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Huntington Station Public Library
Thursday, December 15, 2016, 2:00 p.m. THREE WINTER SCENES, Garden City Public Library
Saturday, December 17, 2016, 2:00 p.m., A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Longwood Public Library
Monday, December 19, 2016, 1:00 p.m., A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Seaford Public Library

Saturday, July 14, 2012, 2:00 p.m., THREE SCENES, Mineola Public Library

Friday, December 21, 2012, 12:30 p.m., THE CHIMES, Elmont Public Library
Sunday, December 4, 2011, 4:00 p.m. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Peconic Landing, Greeport
Sunday, November 28, 2010, 2:00 p.m. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, West Islip Public Library
Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 7:00 p.m. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Mount Olive Public Library, Flanders, NJ
Saturday, December 11, 2010, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Hampton Bays Public Library
Sunday, December 12, 2010, 1:30 p.m. THE CHIMES, Brookhaven Public Library
Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 2:30 p.m. THE CHIMES, Freeport Memorial Library
Sunday, December 19, 2010, 2:00 p.m. THE CHIMES, Connetquot Public Library
Saturday, December 5, 2009, 2:30 p.m. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Queens Library at Auburndale
Wednesday, December 9, 2009, 7:00 p.m. THE CHIMES, Middle Country Library, Centereach
Saturday, December 19, 2009, 3:00 p.m. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Queens Library at Sunnyside
Tuesday, December 22, 2009, THREE SCENES, Peconic Landing Senior Residence, Greenport

Wednesday, March 19, 2008, THREE SCENES, Floral Park Women's Club
Sunday, November 23, 2008, 2:30, THREE SCENES, South Huntington Public Library 
Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 1:30 p.m. THE CHIMES, Glen Cove Senior Center, Glen Cove
Saturday, December 6, 2008, 11:00 to 1:00, FOUR SCENES (2 hrs), Port Jefferson Free Library
Wednesday, December 10, 2008, 6:00 p.m., THE CHIMES plus SIKES AND NANCY, Long Island University, Brooklyn
Saturday, December 13, 2008, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay
Saturday, December 8, 2007, 1:30 p.m., A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Floral Park Public Library
Saturday, December 8, 2007, 7:00 p.m., A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay
Wednesday, December 19, 8:00 p.m., A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Peconic Landing, Greenport
Friday, December 14, 2007, noon, THREE SCENES, Rogers Memorial Library, Southampton
Friday, December 28, 2007, noon, THE CHIMES, Port Washington Public Library
Sunday, December 3, 2006, 2:00 p.m. CAROL, Port Jefferson Free Library
Sunday, December 10, 2006,  2:30 p.m., CAROL, South Country Public Library, Bellport

Thursday, December 14, 2006,  2:30 p.m., CHIMES, Seaford Public Library
Sunday, December 17, 2006,  2:00 p.m., CHIMES, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook
Saturday, December 3, 2005, 2:00 p.m.,
CHIMES, Lynbrook Public Library
Sunday, December 4,
2005, 2:00 p.m., Port Jefferson CAROL, Free Library (and Dickens Festival)
Friday, December 9,
2005, 8:00 p.m., CHIMES, Towers Country Club, Floral Park
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 7:00 p.m.,
CHIMES, Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor
Saturday, December 17, 2005, 2:00 p.m., 3 SCENES, Hampton Bays Public Library
Wednesday, December 28, 2005, 2:00 p.m., CHIMES, Garden City Public Library

Saturday, November 20, 2004, 2:00 p.m., CAROL, West Babylon Public Library
Tuesday, November 30, 2004, 7:30 p.m.,
East Hampton Library at Guild Hall
Saturday, December 4, 7:00, 2004, p.m.,
3 SCENES, Jermain Library, Sag Harbor
Sunday, December
, 2004,5, 2:00 p.m.: CAROL, Port Jefferson Free Library
Sunday, December 19
, 2004,, 2:00 p.m., 3 SCENES, Bryant Library, Roslyn
 
Friday, January 10, 2003, 9:00 a.m.: 3 SCENES, Islip Terrace Junior High School
Wednesday, November 5, 2003, 1:30 p.m.: 3 SCENES, Community Club of Garden City
Sunday, November 30, 2003, 2:00 p.m.: 3 SCENES, Copiague Memorial Library
Friday, December 5, 2003, 12:15 p.m.: 3 SCENES,
Port Washington Public Library
Saturday, December 13, 2003, 2:00 p.m.:
3 SCENES, The Quogue Library
Sunday, December 1, 2002, 2:00 p.m.:
3 SCENES, Longwood Public Library, Middle Island
Thursday, December 5, 2002, 12:30 p.m.:
3 SCENES, East Meadow Public Library
Sunday, December 8, 2002, 2:00 p.m.:
3 SCENES, Port Jefferson Free Library
Wednesday, December 11, 2002, 1:00,
3 SCENES, Williston Park, NY, Women's Club
Friday, September 7, 2001, 3 SCENES, Port Washington Library at Jeanne Rimsky Theatre
Tuesday, December 11, 2001, 3 SCENES, Freeport Memorial Library
Wednesday, December 19, 2001,
3 SCENES, Oceanside Library
January 6-14, 2001,
4 SCENES, [2 hours with intermission] Gingerbread Players, Forest Hills, NY
 


An article for unrestricted use with "The Dickens!" in publicity, programs, classroom study, etc.

CHARLES DICKENS, ACTOR

By David Houston
 

“Only Shakespeare has outstripped Dickens in world influence and in the way in which his characters have become part of everyday life,” said Dickens biographer E.W.F. Tomlin.  Not only is Dickens among the best-selling authors in the English language every year, but there have been hundreds of dramatic adaptations from Dickens’ work—more than fifty of Oliver Twist alone, including numerous stage plays and movies, a still-popular musical, several TV dramatizations including a recent gritty five-hour BBC miniseries. 

The first great theatrical translator of Dickens was Dickens himself.  He was convinced from the beginning of his writing career that his work should be read aloud, dramatically.  In 1844, he tried out the idea for a roomful of friends—who heard him read his new holiday story, The Chimes.   He wrote to his agent two years later that “I was thinking that a great deal of money might possibly be made by one’s having readings of one’s own books.”  His agent dismissed the idea as unseemly for an artist of Dickens’s stature.  In December of 1853, still determined to prove his point, Dickens gave a charity reading of his new work—A Christmas Carol.  Two thousand people stood up and cheered.  Two evenings later he repeated the feat with a reading of The Cricket on the Hearth for another cheering two thousand.

Starting in 1858, readings of his work blossomed into a demanding second career for Dickens.  Until shortly before his death in 1870, “he was constantly, while writing, either on a reading tour or planning one,” wrote stage and film actor Emlyn Williams. 

In 1867 Dickens toured the eastern United States where “his reception was sensational,” according to Williams. In the 1950s and 60s, Emlyn Williams presented a one-man recreation of the Dickens readings on Broadway and on tour.  “In our day, Dickens would surely have established himself as a great film-maker as well as a playwright,” Williams believed.  “Charles Dickens was born with the theater in his blood.  And as over the years he sat toiling at his desk . . . no amount of sedentary and remunerative hours could assuage a natural craving – for the footlights.”

Dickens once wrote to a friend: “I was an actor and a speaker as a baby!”  He remembered being taken, at the age of six, to see Richard III, where his heart “leapt with terror” and he was left with indelible impressions—and the desire to be an actor.  And in fact, before he was established and world-famous as a novelist, he appeared on the London stage in such plays as The Lighthouse and The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins (with whom he would later collaborate), and as Falstaff in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

But it was when he impersonated the many characters in his own stories that his acting became conspicuous art.  “There they all are,” said Emlyn Williams, “in the readings—all the characters he had been born to bring to stage life.”  In all, Dickens performed 423 public readings—not counting a number of unpaid charity events—which brought in great sums of money, constituting more than half of his estate at his death.  The Dickens readings were not simply taken from the familiar printed pages.  The author made them “actable” by adjusting the language, omitting unnecessary descriptions, and adding context so that even those unfamiliar with the published work could understand the stories, characters and actions. 

The manuscripts of 21 Dickens readings exist in the Dickens archives.  Sixteen were collected by Phillip Collins, a scholar who often performed them; and these were published in 1975.  They’re fascinating.  Stage directions are often scribbled in the margins—notes such as “speak in a high key” and “tone down for pathos; up for cheerfulness.”  For emphasis, certain words and phrases are double or triple-underlined.

David Houston has adapted some of these original readings and, in performing them, follows the Dickens notations as to acting style and characterizations.  There are several different 70-minute programs available, and a full theatrical program lasts about two hours, including an intermission.  The shorter pieces are the charming short story “Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn”; the humorous “Bob Sawyer’s Party” from The Pickwick Papers; and “Sikes and Nancy”– the frightening murder from Oliver Twist.  The longer segments, A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and Doctor Marigold were among the most celebrated and requested in the Dickens tours.   

Copyright © 2000, 2016 David Houston

  THE CHARLES DICKENS LIFELINE

1812

Born February 7, at Portsmouth, England, to John and Elizabeth Dickens 

1815-22

Early life in London and Kent  

1824

His father in Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison; Charles employed at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse

1824-27

Charles at Wellington House Academy

1827-31

Employed as solicitors’ clerk, then shorthand reporter at Doctors’ Commons and on Mirror Of Parliament and True Sun

1833-34

First stories published in Monthly Magazine   

1834-36

Full-time Parliamentary reporter on Morning Chronicle; short pieces collected and published as Sketches By Boz, his first use of "Boz" as a pen name

1836

Pickwick Papers published in monthly installments and is a great success; marries Catherine Hogarth

1837-38

Oliver Twist an instant success in monthly installments then in book form; edits Bentley’s Miscellany  

1839

Nicholas Nickelby published in monthly installments; Dickens' reputation grows and he is introduced to fashionable London literary society  

1840-41

Master Humphrey’s Clock, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Barnaby Rudge in monthly installments

1842

Visits United States and is celebrated, but disillusioned; his critical American Notes is published and causes a furore in the US 

1843

Martin Chuzzlewit published in monthly installments; A Christmas Carol published; Dickens and family travel to Europe and settle in Genoa

1844

The Chimes published; first public reading of The Chimes to friends in London  

1845

Performs in Jonson's play Every Man In His Humour for charity; The Cricket On The Hearth published  

1846

While living in Lausanne and Paris, Pictures from Italy, Domby And Son (monthly) and The Battle Of Life are published

1848

The Haunted Man published; performs in amateur theater for pleasure  

1849

David Copperfield begun in monthly installments, becomes Dickens' favorite (and most autobiographical) work

1850

Starts Household Words, a weekly publication, as editor and contributor

1852-53

Bleak House published in monthly installments; tours Italy with playwright and collaborator Wilkie Collins   

1854

Hard Times published in weekly installments  

1855-56

Little Dorrit in monthly installments; buys Gad's Hill Place near London, which is to be his last permanent home   

1857-58

Performs in Collins' play The Frozen Deep; begins public reading tours; falls in love with Ellen Ternan and separates from Mrs. Dickens; makes a public statement about his private life on the front page of Household Words  

1859

A Tale of Two Cities published in installments; All the Year Round weekly magazine replaces Household Words

1860-61

The Uncommercial Traveler and Great Expectations published in weekly installments

1864-65

Our Mutual Friend published in monthly installments; is both a victim and hero in the catastrophic Staplehurst railway accident, and his health begins to deteriorate 

1867-68

Public reading tour of United States is huge success; feted by the Press Club in New York

1869

Further reading tours in England; received in audience by Queen Victoria

1868-70

Last public reading at a Royal Academy Dinner; Mystery Of Edwin Drood started but never finished; June 8, collapses from a stroke at Gad’s Hill Place and dies the following day; buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey


Suggested Program Bio  

    DAVID HOUSTON

David Houston is an actor well known to New York regional theater patrons.  His British portrayals include Sir, the aging Shakespearean actor in The Dresser, Friar Lawrence in Romeo And Juliet, Tony (the murderer) in Dial M For Murder, Craddock (the detective) in A Murder Is Announced, benevolent Sir John in Me And My Girl, and naive Sir Evelyn in Anything Goes.  Very American roles include Horace Giddens in The Little Foxes, Uncle Ben in Death Of A Salesman, the bad guy in Murder Among Friends, and the good guy in Postmortem.

David first appeared on stage in his early twenties in a Dayton, Ohio, summer stock production of Father Of The Bride, with Pat O’Brien.  His diverse training in art, theater and literature started in Texas and continued in New York City, where he has studied acting with Rose Schulman of the Hedgerow School, Set Design at Lester Polikov Studios, and voice-over technique with Charles Michel of The Voice Bank.

A published author, David Houston's books include Jazz Baby—a biography of Joan Crawford (St. Martin’s Press), science-fiction novels Alien Perspective, Gods In A Vortex and Wingmaster (Belmont-Tower), four novelizations from the TV series Tales of Tomorrow, and a mystery, Shadows On The Moon (Leisure Books).  He wrote the screenplays for the documentary Voyage To Darkness and for the sci-fi feature film Attack From Mars.  His original stage plays, including Fred and Adele Astaire: The Last Dance, Great Scott and Zelda, Murder and Madness and Poe, Let's Do It!, and Jazz Baby Joan have been performed at a number of Long Island libraries.

DAVID HOUSTON AS CHARLES DICKENS
Save As to download or request copies on disk or paper
Also available in color    

                                        
                                          

                                                               

REFERENCES AND REVIEWS 

Jean Scanlon, Program Coordinator, Freeport Memorial Library: "A wonderful presentation [The Chimes]. David actually becomes Dickens; he transports you to another time and place. I can't believe Dickens' own dramatic reading were better than David Houston's." Jaime Papandrea, Adult and Young Adult Librarian, Brookhaven Free Library: "Excellent feedback from the patrons! They marveled at the quality and interest of the program [The Chimes]." Planting Fields Arboretum, Coe Hall, Tracy Potavin, Education Assistant: "We heard only wonderful things from our guests. It was a great performance [A Christmas Carol] and seemed to really get everyone into the Christmas Spirit!" Glen Cove Senior Center, Lucy Van Horn, Activities Coordinator: "For us it was an unusual educational and entertaining experience, our first one-man play [Three Pieces]. My group had nothing but good things to say about it." Planting Fields Arboretum, Coe Hall, Oyster Bay, Gina Tulin, Education Director: "What a great program [Christmas Carol]. People left the performance excited and ready for the holiday season. We can't wait to do it again next year! Working with David and his staff is always a pleasure, as was this performance." Port Washington Public Library, Jessica Ley, Program Coordinator: "Excellent! [The Chimes] The perfect antidote to the usual saccharin holiday fare!" Rogers Memorial Library, Southampton, Penelope Wright, Director of Adult Programs: "A completely mesmerizing Dickens reading [Three Stories], and a delightful respite from the usual holiday hustle and bustle." Floral Park Public Library, Patricia Eren, Librarian: "Everyone who attended was delighted with David's portrayal of Dickens. David has performed several times at our library now, and it can truly be said he is the consummate performer." Seaford Public Library, Marylu Phelan, Adult Services: [The Chimes] "Excellent audience response; the performance was a great success." Sachem Public Library, Patrice Ann Prawicka, Community Services: "Your excellent Dickens presentation [The Chimes] was so well received that our audience thought you were an actor from England; your accents of the various characters brought us back in time to Victorian England. You have a following! Come back soon."  South Country Public Library, Bellport, Kathleen L. Scheibel, Books Programming: "Your show [A Christmas Carol] made the library walls disappear, and I felt instantly transported to Dickensian London.  Many of my fellow audience members indicated that they felt the same.  I have long been a fan of Dickens and have seen quite a few productions, all staged with large casts and elaborate scenery. I find it amazing to see what you can do alone on stage with just a few props.  The South Country Library considers itself lucky to have you on its list of regular performers."  Port Jefferson Free Library, Barbara Sussman, Program Coordinator: “I'm already looking forward to having Dickens back next year.  The performance always makes the library look good for the annual Port Jefferson Dickens Festival. David Houston's programs are always of the highest quality and very popular with our library's patrons [A Christmas Carol]."  Garden City Public Library, Susan Nolan, Reference Librarian: "A wonderful play for this time of year. Excellent performance and script."  The Queens Chronicle, Mark Lord, Reviewer: "Though alone, Houston managed to fill the playing area with a wide variety of characters, male and female, young and old, criminal and aristocratic. With great precision, he used a variety of voices and subtle changes in body language to depict the various characters [Four Stories].”  Guild Hall, East Hampton, Marlene Feehan, Head of Reference, East Hampton Library: "Excellent; it was actually better than I had expected. I received many compliments on the program."  Port Washington Public Library, Jessica Ley, Program Coordinator: “Certainly your presentation [Three Stories] was one of the more entertaining and informative programs at the Port Washington Library. This is the perfect kind of literary entertainment for a library.  If you add new characterizations to your repertoire, I hope you will allow us the opportunity to present them to our patrons.” Oceanside Public Library, Judy Feldman, PR and Program Coordinator: “‘The Dickens!’ offered examples of Dickens's writing, views of society, and sentiments.  Mr. Houston made character transitions so smoothly that the words and meanings flowed, giving the audience an opportunity to savor these works.  The diverse selection, comedic and dramatic, provided insights into the period and society as well as relationships and individual characters.” Louise Guinther of Opera News, Lincoln Center, New York City: “What a wonderful evening of theater [Four Stories]. I never imagined that one performer could so splendidly bring to life the full panoply of Dickens's marvelous characters.  A lifelong fan of Dickens, I was thrilled to encounter so many beloved figures in the flesh, precisely as I had always seen them in my mind's eye.  The synthesis of a script by a literary giant, vividly human characters in sympathetic portrayals and deft dramatic pacing is rare in the theater today. I enjoyed every minute of it.” The Community Club of Garden City and Hempstead, Rosemary McCarthy: "The Community Club of Garden City and Hempstead thoroughly enjoyed the performance of 'The Dickens!' [Three Stories]." 


Copyright © 2000, 2005, 2006 David Houston