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Brady Moldrup on Playing Young Scrooge and the Value of an English Minor

On December 10, 2019, Professors Nancy Henry and Misty Anderson sat down with Brady Moldrup, an English minor and Theatre major who is currently playing young Scrooge in the Clarence Brown Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol, which runs through December 21. We talked about his experience of the role, of Dickens, and of combining English and Theatre in his undergraduate degree. In a touch of Dickensian serendipity, it started to snow just as we finished this conversation.

Henry:

I was wondering, what did you know about Dickens before you started playing this role?

 

Moldrup:

Very little. I remember picking up Great Expectations of my own accord in fifth grade, and that’s one of the only books I picked up in those younger years and thought, “oh, I think I’ll read this for fun.” Then I read A Tale of Two Cities for a high school syllabus, and A Christmas Carol, just because it’s everywhere.

 

Henry:

So, did you do any research for the role of Young Scrooge?

 

Moldrup:

Before the show? Yes, I read the novella. But that was the extent of the research really.

I guess that’s why we’re here in school to learn this stuff. But different people have different approaches to how much research they want to do or how much they want you to do for a show. I did Alias Grace a couple semesters ago, which is a Margaret Atwood novel adapted as a play, and we (the Clarence Brown Theatre) were one of the first productions of it. I studied the book really hard over the summer and got all into it. And then I got into the rehearsal hall, and the director said, “Yeah, okay, that’s great. But that’s the book. Now we’re doing the play.” So, for A Christmas Carol I read the novella, to familiarize myself with it, but we let the work in the rehearsal hall, with the director and the other actors, shape the story for the stage.

 

Anderson:

This year’s production features some really strong work by Jed Diamond as Scrooge, and you have to be the prequel to that performance. How has his performance affected your performance as Young Scrooge?

 

Moldrup:

So, I played Young Scrooge last year, and Terry Weber played old Scrooge. Brian Gligor, who plays Fred, and I talked about this early in rehearsal. We both did A Christmas Carol last year. We looked at each other and said, oh my gosh, it’s so alive. And there’s always something new so it’s changing. But it’s 60% of the same cast as last year. It’s the same director. It’s the same set costumes, everything. So there’s a ton of groundwork that was laid, and that’s really fun to revisit. Any new little thing that someone throws in, as little as touching your shoulder versus not touching your shoulder on a line, is like this breath of life that then feeds the rest of the scene. And Brian and I both agree that it’s coming largely from Jed this year. He is bringing such an energy. It’s really fun. I guess there’s pressure to be his predecessor in the storyline. But the groundwork that we did all last year has given me so much confidence to step in different directions because you kind of get bored in one little box. And then so you poke your foot outside the box. But it’s only when you get bored in the box that you realize, “ooh, oh, this is really cool.” And that’s where the life comes from.

 

Henry:

I am a Victorianist, and the novella and play are set in the Victorian period. We see a lot of the social issues around capitalism and greed that are very historically specific, but do you try to convey a more, if not a universal, then a more relevant message to the audience?

 

Moldrup:

First, I love Christmas Carol. I was wary to do it at first, but it kind of fell into my lap last year. They had a guy leave and they needed a replacement last minute. Sometimes Christmas Carol gets a bad rap because, well, it’s a holiday show and every theatre company does it, but I’ve found it so meaningful.  It’s one of my favorite theatrical experiences, which is not saying a ton, because I’m just 23, but you can just get behind the story that’s being told. I find it so easy to get up on the stage and tell this story because it’s about choosing life and choosing love over death and isolation and choosing people.

 

Henry:

Yes, and that story develops a lot about inequality, and, for example, capitalist greed. These are issues that were very pertinent to the moment in which the novel was written but might also have resonance for us. Are there political overtones at all to Christmas Carol?

 

Moldrup:

I’m not sure. What would you say?

 

Anderson:

I would say yes. As an audience member (and I’ve seen it most years for the last 20 years), it hits home with Fezziwig and those wonderful, festive scenes in the shop. You have such a stark contrast to the deprivation and the tight fisted-ness of Scrooge and you realize how unnecessary it is. This year, when Fezziwig’s shop is going out of business (and it’s just a short moment) he comes across the stage with his bundle. It’s devastating. I think that in an era where small businesses are closing, where we see so many things that are corporate, when it feels like regular people and little businesses might not be getting a fair shake, watching Fezziwig leave feels political in the broadest sense of the polis. What is our society, our life together? How does a good model of commerce support people in their thriving? Sorry, Brady, I’ve answered the question. But a little tear welled in my eye when Fezziwig left; it felt like the passing of an era. And that felt modern.

 

Moldrup:

That’s cool. And I mean, that’s a perspective that I don’t have on it. I never sit out there and watch this and see.

 

Anderson:

Dickens worked on public sanitation and was a crusader for clean water before he worked in the theater, and only after started writing novels. Do you think this background comes out, that thread of connection between wanting your society to be better than it is, and telling stories that will help people want that too?

 

Moldrup:

Yeah. I mean, we never talked about it in rehearsal as far as the direct Dickens connection to his work before. We were more working with the story at hand, the script version, which is pretty interesting. I didn’t know that he was in theater before he wrote this but that kind of comes across. Even when you read him, the novels read like a script reads, with stage directions.

 

Henry:

With Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim, it seems that much of the focus is on inequality, things like working conditions and exploitation. You could use that language or you could say, for instance, that Scrooge found his heart. So one interpretation would be that it’s more about charity and personal reform rather than a recognition that working class conditions are terrible.

 

Moldrup:

I guess maybe today in Knoxville in 2019, the story comes across more, at least to me, through the charity language and the love language. But it is the actual working class life being represented.

 

Anderson:

Theater doesn’t tend to go well when people feel preached at. It needs to be a story that engages them, which I think you all do so beautifully. So does working with the same (nearly the same) cast do something for you? Does it add to your sense of the company?

 

Moldrup:

Yes, it does! There’s a comfort in walking into that room. I mean, the first day of rehearsal was just so exciting. You already have all of these relationships. And it’s fun on the other end to invite in the 40% of the cast that wasn’t in last year, and say “welcome to the family.” This is what we get to do here, and it is really, really cool.

 

Anderson:

I think the dinner at Fred’s made us all feel like we were there with friends.

 

Moldrup:

Yes. And only one person in that scene is new this year.

 

Henry:

You’re an English minor, Brady, right? How has that been, and how has that influenced your career?

 

Moldrup:

Incredibly. More than I ever would have thought. So for the College of Arts and Sciences, we have to have a connections package, where you have to study abroad or do a minor or do something else. At first, I was bummed that this meant I had to stay an extra semester (well, that and some transfer stuff). But I was able to bend the English minor to my passions. I took three different Shakespeare classes, three different poetry classes, a screenwriting class, modern drama class, and I have loved it. They’ve been incredibly valuable. The stuff that I’ve learned the feedback that I’ve gotten from professors has been so important. And I think that it helps everything. It helps me look at a story now and laugh at myself freshman year, the way I would look at a script. Just so much went completely over my head. I didn’t realize what themes were and how they were conveyed. Now I feel so much more equipped. And I’ve started writing and exploring different sorts of avenues that I wouldn’t have explored if I didn’t have the minor. I’m really thankful for it. It’s fantastic.

 

Anderson:

So do you know what you want to do with this theater major and English minor that you’ve created?

 

Moldrup:

I do. I’ve recently decided that I want to stay here for a little bit, save up money, and then move to New York City to pursue a career as an actor. Actor-slash-theater artist, whatever it ends up being. It’s pretty scary because there’s no “correct” way to do it.

 

Anderson:

Well, you’ll be following a long and proud line of Theatre and English majors, who’ve done exactly that. Ashley Latimer, who was an English minor theater major, has already won her first Tony, and she’s one of the producers for Hadestown. We must be doing something right around here in English and Theatre! We’re seeing people start some beautiful careers out of this place. I’m hopeful.

 

Henry:

Anything that you would say to somebody who’s thinking about either English or Theater as a major?

 

Moldrup:

Do it. I think if you’re drawn to it even in the slightest, do it. I didn’t know that I could. I didn’t realize what I was capable of. I always had a bit of an affinity for stories. I’ve always loved movies, since I was little, and I did well in English classes in high school. I always preferred them over geometry classes. But If I didn’t get shoved in this direction in college, I wouldn’t have ever realized that I’m capable of a lot more when it comes to writing and story.

 

Anderson:

Hey, we’re all in the storytelling business, right?

 

Moldrup:

Exactly.

 

Henry:

Yes, telling, or interpreting.

 

Anderson:

We’re really proud of you, Brady. I thank you so much for making time to talk to us.

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