Goodman Invests in the Next Generation of Artists with CHRISTMAS CAROL

Goodman Invests in the Next Generation of Artists with CHRISTMAS CAROL

(l to r) Maya Reyna (Belinda Cratchit) and Ariana Burks (Martha Cratchit), along with Maggie Chong (Emily Cratchit), Asher Alcantara (Peter Cratchit), Thomas J. Cox (Bob Cratchit), Lily Mojekwu (Mrs. Cratchit),Nelson Simmons (Nelson Cratchit) and Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) in the 41st annual production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Henry Wishcamper at Goodman Theatre (November 17 – December 30, 2018).

By Jason Epperson

More than 1.5 million people have experienced A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Goodman Theatre over 41 seasons, and there’s plenty of good reason. It’s not just that the perennial story warms and delights any holiday heart, it’s that the Goodman does it so well. While other holiday shows can tend to get rough around the edges year after year, the Goodman is constantly improving on Charles Dickens’ classic. One of the most important pieces to any CHRISTMAS CAROL puzzle is the youth cast, as they are the ones that truly pull on the heartstrings. Our Josh Flanders said of this year’s cast that the “duets and trios from the talented young actors are absolutely breathtaking.”

This year, two such young artists in the show were trained through the Goodman’s Summer Musical Theater Intensive program, led by acclaimed music director Doug Peck. It’s an eight-week program designed for young artists wishing to pursue a musical theater career. Peck’s curriculum not only trains in technique, it explores the musical theater artform and examines the influence of musicals on topical political and social matters.

16-year-old Maya Reyna makes her Goodman debut this year as one of the Cratchit sisters, Belinda. She says that the intensive gave her a large toolset, showing her how to better place herself in the character’s world. “In the program, we worked a lot on ‘the moment before,’” she said, referring to a methodical approach to building the world the character lives in. “We looked in detail at what my character is feeling before the scene starts, what my character hears, sees, and feels. Before the program, I always thought of my reality and my character’s reality as two different universes. Now, I understand that they intertwine and become a universe of their own, a different reality that we create and draw the audience into in order to tell the story.”


MAYA REYNA (Belinda Cratchit) makes her Goodman Theatre debut. Over the summer, she participated in the Goodman’s Musical Theater Intensive. Reyna was most recently in a production of Heathers The Musical, additional credits include the After School Matters Musical Theater Experience program and performances at Jones College Prep. She currently take classes at Piven Theatre Workshop and is a member of their Young People’s Company.

Perhaps a rarity among musical theater intensives, the Goodman looks to get young actors to place their performance within society, something Reyna says was eye-opening. “Our focus was the year 1968; its events and the similarities and differences in 2018. We learned a lot about civil rights, politics, and the influence artists have on the circumstances of their time,” she said. “It has changed the way I think of myself as an artist; I can go forward now with an understanding of how I can be a better citizen and actress in the world around me at the same time. Being better acquainted with my country, my artistry, and my time has made me a better person.”

Ariana Burks, another graduate of the MTI, plays Martha Cratchit, returning to A CHRISTMAS CAROL for her second consecutive year. Burks has a slew of Chicago theater credits, including Steppenwolf, Writers, The House, Paramount, and Drury Lane. She’s also in the upcoming Netflix film BEATS, and has appeared on Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and other TV shows. “The Goodman musical theatre intensive has prepared me for so much,” she said. “Not only have I gained so many skills, but I have learned to handle myself in a professional setting. It was never a place where we were afraid to say how we felt. All ideas and thoughts were welcome and so, I was able to learn how to voice my opinions in a very considerate and artistic way.”


ARIANA BURKS (Fan/Martha Cratchit) returns to the Goodman, where she previously appeared in A Christmas Carol. Chicago credits include Trevor: The Musical (Writers Theatre), The Nutcracker (The House Theatre of Chicago), The Compass (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Wonderland: Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure (Chicago Children’s Theatre), the staged reading of The Black & White Ball (FWD Theatre Project), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (The Broadway Playhouse) and Hairspray (Paramount Theatre and Drury Lane Theatre). Film credits include the upcoming Beats (Netflix, 2019), South SideChicago MedChicago FireThe Jr. Cuisine Cooking Show and PrankStars. Burks was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on WTTW and is currently working on her own music.

Holiday shows can often have abbreviated rehearsal processes, and I asked Burks and Reyna whether that intimidated them. “Honestly, I was pretty nervous,” Burks said. “Although I was a part of A CHRISTMAS CAROL last year and in 2012, there are always new actors and different ways to go about the show itself so, I am always a bit anxious because I hope going in that people like what I bring to the table. Thankfully, everyone is always so kind and open to hearing what I have to say. I am able to be myself without fear of being judged, something that the MTI program has also taught me to do.” Reyna says that rehearsals were a ball. “I am so lucky to have witnessed [the returning actor’s] work and the way they build the story,” she said, adding that the familiarity the returning cast members bring to the table allows them to move past logistics quickly in order to focus more on telling the story. “I have never felt as knowledgeable [about theater] as I do right now. Most of the time I do shows with people my age, and we’re all at about the same level of education. Working with people who have so much more experience and knowledge is an opportunity unmatched in fortune.”

It all culminates on the Goodman’s Albert stage, where Reyna said that stepping out for the first time was exhilarating. “The audience, when I looked out, was so huge; it was kind of surreal. What was especially moving, though, was their response. Most audience members have a really strong connection with the show, whether they have seen it many times before or not. So, their emotional and verbal responses really resonate. It was really wonderful to absorb that.”

Both young performers are planning to make performing their life. “That was a decision I made very early on,” said Burks. “When I was little, I would tell my mother repeatedly that I was going to be an actress. It has just been a very big part of who I am. I would not be the same if theater weren’t in my life, and I don’t plan to live without it. I believe that one can work in a profession that doesn’t just support them economically but that gives them sublime joy each and every day they do it.”

About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.