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“Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Dickens birth and his unique relationship with Ulster.”
This is the tagline to Northern Ireland’s involvement with ‘Dickens 2012’, an upcoming year-long festival which will celebrate Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. To commemorate this landmark date, a diverse group of Dickens-enthusiasts have come together with the one goal of honouring Dickens’ legacy and bringing his timeless work to a brand new audience.
Leon Litvack is heavily involved with the planning of the festival and recently took the time to speak to Toonari Post about what ‘Dickens 2012’ entails, why it matters, why it will appeal to people who know nothing about Dickens, and finally, why Northern Ireland has such a close history with the beloved writer.
Toonari Post (TP): So, tell us, Leon: What exactly is ‘Dickens 2012’?
Leon Litvack (LL): ‘Dickens 2012’ is an international celebration of Dickens’ 200th birthday. It’s being co-ordinated by the Charles Dickens Museum, The Dickens Fellowship, and also Film London, who are involved in the marketing side of things. There are quite a number of theatre events and exhibitions, but then there are also more quirky, more unique events.
There are some sporting events in the USA going on next summer, and the goal here is to embrace things that will be fun and that will draw people in. There is going to be a film event in Trafalgar Square. There is a reception and dinner at the Mansion House that is hosted by the Lord Mayor of London, who is also the Chairman of Trustees of the Dickens museum. There are other exhibitions at Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. We just have lots and lots happening.
TP: What online resources are there for those who want up-to-date news about the festival?
LL: We have a website, and we are on Twitter and Facebook. We hope to be issuing press releases for each event, and people from the media will be invited to get involved with us. I have already been on the radio three times talking about Dickens. Once things start happening, we will use those resources – as well as a printed program – to keep people informed.
TP: How far-reaching will ‘Dickens 2012’ be?
LL: My vision here has always been that it should be popular. I think it’s really important to involve people who may not know a whole lot about his life and work. I want to infuse a new generation in Dickens. There is almost nothing here in ‘Dickens 2012 NI’ which has to do with an academic approach to Dickens. It’s all popular. You just reach so many more people by doing it like this.
TP: After a few years of remakes and franchises dominating the cultural market, how important do you think it is for the public to support ‘Dickens 2012’?
LL: It is very important to support somebody whose legacy, whether we know it or not, is important to our ideas of what makes our culture tick. Dickens was very popular in theatres and music halls, even during his lifetime. We now have an interest in authors, and I think this would not have happened if we hadn’t had that staple of Dickens.
He was a master of character and situation, and the fact that he translates so well into cinema and television means that people get ideas about what else to do. Even Downton Abbey… that whole idea about costume drama and the episodic nature all goes back to Dickens.
TP: What would you say to people who know nothing about Dickens?
LL: I would say: focus on the performance aspect. By that, I mean, watch films, go to plays, or get involved with productions. We have a theatre company onboard named Theatre Without Walls who will bring kids in and put together some scenes from Dickens or will encourage the kids to do some roleplays.
You don’t need to know anything about Dickens – all the information will be provided by this theatre company. There will also be a version of Oliver at the Grand Opera House [in Belfast]. Again, you don’t have to know anything about Dickens. Personally, I belong to a Bach Cantata Consort. We’ll be participating in a Victorian musical evening at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast.
This was the sort of thing that Dickens himself was interested in because live theatre was the form of live public entertainment during his lifetime.
TP: With more adaptations of “Great Expectations” on the way, what do you think it is about Charles Dickens that makes him so accessible to generation after generation of readers?
LL: I think people love to hear the same story all over again. There is something about that particular drama that really enthuses people about Dickens. It has gothic horror, crime, a love story, eccentric characters, a fascination with money, and the story of a young boy growing up. It encompasses many of the elements that we love to have in our diet of TV-watching.
TP: Finally, what else would you like people to know about ‘Dickens 2012‘, particularly the events taking place in Northern Ireland?
LL: I think it’s important for us, particularly, that Dickens came here three times. We’re not just ‘some place’. Dickens liked this place, and people need to know that there is a unique relationship between Dickens and Ulster. We’re doing this in order to recapture something of Dickens’ spirit in a space that he’s actually visited.
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