Purveyors of Fine Dancing, Games, Songs and Tea
By appointment to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria,
Suppliers of Christmas Cheer
What is a Fezziwig?by Hilary Ayer
Charles Dickens is famous for vivid characters, characters so well-described that you feel you know them. From his famous "A Christmas Carol", characters like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit are household names to this day, with cartoon versions, classic film versions, stage plays, family readings, pastiches and parodies galore. The name "Fezziwig" comes from this novella as well, and though the name is less well known, the scene in which the Fezziwigs are used is one of the most popular. All I have to say is "remember the party which Scrooge's old employer gives, the one in his shop? That's Mr. Fezziwig, the old employer."
What happens? Mr. Fezziwig has his apprentices clear the shop and put up the shutters "No more work, it's Christmas, Dick! Christmas, Ebeneezer!"
"In came a fiddler with a music book, and went up to the lofty desk and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomachaches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Misses Fezziwig, beaming and lovable. In came the six followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother's particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress...Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and up in various stages of affectionate grouping; ...people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance and had no idea of walking."
There is food and forfeits, more dances, ending with Sir Roger de Coverley, and carols. The Fezziwigs stand at the door and wish a warm good night to each guest.
Scrooge looking at the past reexperiences how little it took to make a happy Christmas. He remembers his own happiness. Scrooge the protagonist has the first change of heart about his coldness; one might almost say that he rediscovers his heart. By the end of the scene, he is arguing with the Ghost against his own former position. "A small matter," says the Ghost, " to make these silly folks so full of gratitude." "Small!...He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lives in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add or count them, what then? The happiness he gives is as important as if it had cost a fortune...I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now."
In most of the film versions, the party is presented as taking place in a large warehouse or barn, though one or two have kept the "office party" in an office. And most versions have kept the time frame in the 1850s and 60s, ladies in hoops and gentlemen in trousers. The party often rises a little in scale to include Fezziwig's business associates, becoming an upper middle class party. One cannot blame costumers for wishing to show their best work, after all! The version I have the honor to direct, The Dickens Christmas Faire's, takes place in Fezziwig's tea warehouse, and has a mixture of all the classes of London. Some very specific training goes on to become a Fezziwig dancer. I ask for actors who are willing to dance and dancers who are willing to act. We take on roles from Dickens' entire body of work who might conceivably be there. We learn how to teach a dance or game quickly and in character. But the tricky part of the training is making people feel welcome and getting them up and participating. Fezziwig's is not about watching other people have fun, but entering into the spirit of a "family party" and having fun while you do it. There is always somebody in the cast who isn't able to dance just now, who specifically is told off to TALK to people in character. Guests who are winded like to be told about the season from a new, less "gimme-oriented" point of view. We play some very silly, period-specific games to further bring people in. And we mix the dances so that anyone with two feet can do at least something. When enough people who have worked with us at one time or another are present, a sort of "critical mass" forms, the feeling in and for the people who come, that they are welcomed, experiencing something special. Many couples have met, have proposed, have even married through Fezziwig's. A 94 year old man told me it was just like the parties he remembered as a child. (I lived on that for weeks!) And innumerable husbands and wives have found that there is one dance left in them yet.
I have mentioned the work behind the scenes it takes to make a Fezziwig's come off. But for the partygoer, it only takes a willingness to be happy and to see others made happy. If you can make this one, please do. Mr. Fezziwig and I both feel that it wouldn't be the same at all without your presence.