For the past quarter century, Nat Fuller has spent his holidays onstage in the Guthrie Theater's annual A Christmas Carol.
In that time, he has played practically every male role in the show, from the man who knocks on Scrooge's door to ask for money for the poor to the great miser himself.
"To me, the story is what it is about. It is a ghost story and a story of redemption. It's about what it means to be alive," Fuller says.
Fuller has two main parts in the 2014 edition of the play, the 40th anniversary production at the Guthrie. First, he plays Parsons, the aforementioned man who arrives looking for money for the poor. Later, he is Old Joe, the rag-and-bone merchant who buys Scrooge's worldly possessions.
He first acted in the annual show in 1988, and has been a mainstay in the decades since.
During his years as the big man himself, Fuller shared the role with Richard Ooms, another longtime Guthrie veteran. The two alternated performances, which meant they remained relatively fresh compared to their cast mates, who were performing up to 10 times a week.
It also made for different Scrooges, as the two actors have distinct styles. "There are things Richard can do that I can't get away with, and vice versa," Fuller says.
With a 47-member cast and numerous scene and set changes, it can be a bit frantic behind the scenes. Part of the process for each actor is to determine their backstage path during the show. Once that is set, it is vital that it doesn't change, or there can be collisions and other accidents.
"The thing about theater is that everyone is in a highly emotional state. You are always doing things you haven't done before in this highly emotional state. That means you have to watch for safety," he says.
That backstage choreography extends to the various costume changes for the cast and keeping track of the thousands of props used for the production.
"Everyone is changing their costumes like mad. There are quick changing stations throughout backstage, and there are always people rushing to the dressing rooms," Fuller says.
Fuller has also seen several different interpretations of Dickens's story over time. In recent years, the Guthrie has used a version by British playwright Crispin Whittell. Even within each script, there are yearly changes as ideas and elements are added in, or subtracted if the play gets overstuffed.
All of this means each production is a fresh challenge, even for an old pro like Fuller. The story's message always endures, however, and reaches new, youthful audiences.
Fuller especially enjoys the weekend audiences, which feature a mix of adults and children. "Everyone gets something different. The energy is really high when all those groups come together," he says.
IF YOU GO:
A Christmas Carol Through December 28 Guthrie Theater 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis $34-$116 For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.