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Download Radio Version Part One in MP3 60 mins.
Download Radio Version Part Two in MP3 60 mins.
Listen to WPSU Interview 2010 6 mins.
Listen to WKPS Interview 2010 55 mins.
Listen to WTAJ TV Interview, December 11, 2011
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Dr. Lentz's interest in the field of oral interpretation dates to his first experience with it as a wide-eyed freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1965. He wandered into a performance of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol at the old student union building. The room was a lounge with hardwood wainscoting, overstuffed furniture, and a fireplace at each end. One whole side of the long room was made up of windows facing the Morehead Rose Garden, and in the winter evening it was a study in black tree limbs reaching out to the night sky. A brass band was playing Christmas carols for prelude, and then one man walked to a lecturn in front of the windows. Prof. Earl Wynn manipulated his elastic face and resonant voice into dozens of characters, spinning a web of imagination through the starry night.
"I resolved as a graduate student to perform A Christmas Carol when I became a professor," Dr. Lentz says, "out of gratitude for the magic Professor Wynn shared with me that night. I knew I was meant to come to Penn State when I discovered that the University Readers here had sponsored a reading of the story dating back to at least 1947. I was born in 1947."
Lentz later discovered that the annual reading of A Christmas Carol at Chapel Hill was a tradition dating back to the 1920s, when it was performed by Prof. Frederic Koch, the first chairman of the UNC Department of Theatre. Koch was a legend on campus, teacher of Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward Angel), and charismatic leader of the community theatre movement.
Lentz began by cutting his own script of the story (around two hours long) based on what he remembered from Prof. Wynn's version of the story. He first performed it to a small audience in 1978 on the campus of Wingate College (near Monroe, N. C.) where he began his career as a professor. He was a one-man theatre program, teaching four sections of public speaking and directing a play each semester. "I loved the story so much I didn't really think too much about the rehearsal time required," Lentz reports. "I guess it was like the bumble bee's ability to fly...it never occurred to me I might not be able to do it."
Dickens himself had begun the tradition of one-man performance of A Christmas Carol in 1853, when he performed the story for a Birmingham charity in a three-hour session. Later he shocked proper literary circles by performing his works, including the Carol, as a way to get some income from the United States. Many unscrupulous publishers simply pirated his works, but people would pay him directly to hear his version of the stories. At one time tickets to a reading in Boston were scalped at up to $26 each, a remarkable sum for the time.
Dickens shortened the work considerably in his script, and eliminated many of the most emotional moments of the story, including much of the criticism of social policies in industrial society. Dr. Lentz retained much of the social criticism in his two-hour and fifteen minute version, following the gradual change in the crusty character of Ebenezer Scrooge as he softens into a likeable person. "At heart the story is about the choice we all face every day, the choice to either make life a little better for those around us---or to close ourselves off from the world completely," Lentz says. "In those little ways we choose whether we will be lonely and forgotten, or a part of the fabric of society. It's good at any time of the year to remember that we ARE masters of our fates, because we choose how we will let the world affect us."
Through the years since his first Penn State reading in 1980 Dr. Lentz has had a small but loyal following of audience members who come to hear the reading nearly every year. Many see it as a way to get themselves into the spirit of the holiday season. Then in 1995 WPSU recorded him doing a slightly shorter version of his script, and the station broadcast it again in 2001. You can download the recording through the links above on this page. Through it all the performer has never charged for the reading, although one church board in Tyrone insisted on an honorarium to cover his travel costs. "I consider it my gift to the community, a sort of faculty recital," Lentz says. "I was lucky enough to know a number of professors like Wynn who gave a lot back to the campus and the town. This is my way of carrying on their tradition."
And each year Lentz dedicates his performance to Professor Wynn, and "all the spirits of Christmas."
Dr. Lentz as Old Fezziwig "leaping down from the high desk with wonderful agility" in a performance at the Boal Mansion Ballroom.
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