"Christmas Carol" has extra meaning for VSC's Tiny Tim and the cancer-scare survivor's family
By Dan Duke
December 7, 2017
“A Christmas Carol” is a story of redemption, and this year’s Virginia Stage Company production of the classic tale contains its own redemption story in the form of its Tiny Tim.
Charles Dickens worked some frightening moments into his novella, but they are nothing compared to what Aidan Clarkson, a third-grader at Cedar Road Elementary School in Chesapeake, has lived through with his family.
A couple of years ago, Aidan was having relentless stomach trouble, his father, Trey, explained. One doctor led to another until, finally, a “gastro guy” did an ultrasound.
“We we’re there for a super long time on a random Tuesday. ... They said, ‘He has a mass and he has to go to a doctor right now.’ ”
Trey called his wife, Carrie, with the news and within 48 hours, a surgeon at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk was removing a baseball-sized tumor from Aidan’s abdomen.
The boy went to CHKD’s cancer ward. A nurse mentioned something about getting him set up for chemotherapy. “Everything was super scary. They didn’t know exactly what it was,” Trey said.
As it turns out, “it was one of the rarest of rare tumors. ... Horribly malignant, but at some point it had turned itself off.” The surgery was, in essence, the cure.
“As we were driving home, a big snowfall was just starting,” said Trey, who is the director of the Barry Robinson Theater and Fine Arts Center at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School. “We got a week off of school to heal and be together as a family.”
Trey also teaches theater at Old Dominion University, Tidewater Community College and Regent University, and has directed productions at Chesapeake’s Shakespeare in the Grove. When Trey and Carrie asked Aidan what sort of fun activity he might like to try, he replied, “I want something just with you, Daddy.” They naturally settled on something theatrical.
Trey plays several small roles – the undertaker, a friend of Scrooge – and appears in the ensemble, while Aidan plays Tiny Tim and Ignorance, one of the specters crouching under the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and also appears in the ensemble sections.
“It’s an exciting time,” Trey said one morning last week before a rehearsal. “The bottom of the ‘U,’ as I like to call it,” he said, referring to a time when cast and crew are bearing the full weight of the production and getting ready to rise up to the top of the learning curve for opening night.
Said Aidan: “It’s really long and kind of tiring.”
Memorizing his lines was easier than he expected, he said, as long he practiced consistently. But playing Tiny Tim is no picnic, what with the crutch and leg braces. “It’s kind of hard to maneuver around,” he said.
That makes it all the sweeter when Bob Cratchit carries him on his shoulders. “It’s really fun!” Aidan said in his piping, perfect-for-Tiny-Tim voice. “He’s really nice and funny, and I think he’s really good at his acting.”
Aidan saw the play in Norfolk last year and watched “a little bit of an actual movie with my grandma,” he said. But that was in black-and-white, and not as enjoyable, he said.
Is he ready for opening night? “Yes!”
“I kind of like that it’s a really important role, and I like spending time with Daddy.”
Asked about his favorite line, he said, right on cue: “God bless us, every one!”
Said his proud papa: “Oh, man. He’s digging it.”
Trey said his family is grateful to his doctors and CHKD, and to the stage company for giving his son this theater experience, as well as for bringing the arts to Hampton Roads.
Aidan still has trouble with certain foods, his father said, and has been tuckered out by the end of some rehearsals, but on the whole, “He’s back. He’s happy. He’s healthy.”
The cancer scare has given him perspective, not to mention a high pain threshold, Trey said. It also brought Aidan and his big brother, Ethan, 11, closer together. “It aged the boys, but not in a bad way.”
“It made us be more adventurous as a family,” he said.
“A Christmas Carol” carries extra weight for the Clarksons. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present about the fate of Tiny Tim, the answer cuts readers to the quick.
The spirit says, “‘I see an empty chair,’ ” explained Trey. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, man ... ’ ”