Get to Know Your Antique Carol Performers: Nell Cunningham

Nell Cunningham has lived in the Columbia area for four years, and has been very busy “having and raising” her two sons, Charlie and Henry, as well as with extended family and church responsibilities, and running some small businesses out of her home.

Nell has been doing theatre since she was a child; she began working with theatres in Columbia just last year. Her first CoMo production was The Music Man with CEC in the summer of 2016. She has spent much of her theatrical time working behind the scenes, most recently as the choreographer of CEC’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

We are excited to welcome Nell to her first production on the Talking Horse stage! Read on for Nell’s thoughts about holiday traditions, A Christmas Carol, and much more.

What was your musical training?

I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of my life. I’ve always danced and sung, but my vocal training has been largely informal. My mother is an accomplished soprano and was my first and most influential teacher. I grew up watching her perform in local community theater and got my first chance to perform with her when I was eight years old in the musical Carousel. She played Julie Jordan, and I played the youngest Snow child.

What is your relationship to the original story of A Christmas Carol?

I think, like most people, I was first introduced to the story as a young child through several movie adaptations. I remember being scared of the ghosts, especially the ghost of Christmas future. When I was older and read the book, I was especially intrigued with the character of Scrooge and the promise of redemption that the story offers. No one is too far-gone to save!

What similarities & differences do you see between yourself and Alice?

We are very similar actually! I think Alice is so earnest in her desire for her uncle to see the light...she loves Christmas and can’t imagine anyone not wanting to celebrate the season! I also love how generous she is—she wants so desperately to be able to help others and goes out of her way to be kind and giving. I aspire to be more like her in that way.

How is the rehearsal process for an opera different from rehearsing for a straight play?

THE MUSIC!! The first few rehearsals are dedicated solely to learning and getting comfortable with the incredible music Hugo wrote. We didn’t even begin blocking until the second or third week because the music is the most important part. We want to do it justice, and there are several very challenging pieces. It’s been so fun to rise to the occasion and learn this incredible piece of work.

What was the first theatrical event you remember seeing? What was memorable about it?

I’m sure my absolute earliest memory of the theater was watching my mother perform, but a very strong early memory I have is of going to see Les Miserables in San Francisco with my parents. It was the first professional theater I saw, and I was completely enthralled. I’ve never looked back!

Versions of A Christmas Carol are traditional for families to view around the holidays all over America and the UK. What is your favorite holiday tradition from your childhood or more recently?

Our Christmas traditions are fairly common I think; decorating the tree, baking cookies to deliver to friends and family, singing carols together, piling into the car and driving around to look at Christmas lights. Many of these traditions are now being passed down to my own children now. I love being able to share the joy of the season with them, and to see Christmas through the eyes of a child again!


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