The William & Mary community knows Ginger Ambler '88, Ph.D. '06 as the university’s vice president for student affairs. The Williamsburg theater-going community is getting to know her as Mrs. Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Christmas Past and other characters.
For the second straight season, Ambler is on the Williamsburg Players stage in an ensemble production of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of bitter skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s path from childhood rejection to late-life redemption. The show’s second week begins on Thursday, with evening performances through Saturday at 8 p.m. and additional 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
“One of the wonderful things about this show is the way it is structured; we each get to take on different characters,” she said. “You’re thinking about physical demeanor, vocal qualities. What kind of character are we presenting? Christmas Past is very different from Mrs. Cratchit, and very different from a charwoman, who has a cockney accent.”
The array of roles requires her to speak in several disparate accents, and she joked that she walked around her home practicing them in front of her family. A year ago, she even hired a coach to help her distinguish between the accents and how to perform them.
The timing of rehearsals and performances — after Thanksgiving and before Charter Day — aligns in a manner that allows Ambler a rare window of flexibility.
“It gives me an outlet that works with my professional and personal life,” she said
It's no exaggeration to say that Ambler has a special relationship with Carol’s co-director and lead character. Her father, Brink Miller, starred in an Atlanta production of the show for more than two decades, even after he and his wife moved to Williamsburg. This version of Carol is Miller’s adaptation. He is co-directing it with Jason Kriner, a veteran of regional community theater, and is playing Scrooge.
“Being able to do A Christmas Carol with my dad is especially wonderful because it is so much a part of his life and of his experience of Christmas,” Ambler said. “I’ve had the chance to get to see and know him as an actor and a director and that’s an unusual and special experience for a daughter to have.”
As an added bonus, Ambler’s son Mac, a high-school junior, plays the silent, eerie Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
“I am deeply grateful to be engaged in a creative experience that involves three generations of my family,” she said. “How rare and wonderful it is to spend multiple nights a week collaborating with both my father and my teenage son, and for grandfather and grandson to share that time together as well. This is a season of the year and a season in my life that I will forever cherish.”
Performing is hardly foreign to Ambler or her family. Her mother is a poet. Her youngest sister is a professional singer and songwriter. Ambler appeared in high school musicals and sang in her college choir, but then “took a long hiatus” as she earned advanced degrees, established herself as a professional and began raising a family with her husband, Richard.
“As my children got older, I found that I missed it,” she said.
Three years ago, she landed the role of Kitty in Six Degrees of Separation, followed by A Christmas Carol in 2017.
Then, and now, nepotism was no factor in her getting the part.
“I absolutely had to audition,” she said, chuckling. “I wanted to audition. Auditioning is a wonderful experience. Having only been in one previous show recently, it was good for me to have to do that. A cold reading and some singing. It’s not a musical; the singing is, appropriately, Christmas carols.”
The proper name of Dickens’ work, first published on Dec. 19, 1843, is A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. It sold out in five days and hasn’t been out of print since. Translated into many languages and staged in countless plays and dozens of motion pictures, Ambler explained that her father has orchestrated a rarely used twist in telling the story.
“It was my dad’s idea to really use Dickens’ language, and he’s adamant about us not deviating, or modernizing or straying from the exact words that Dickens wrote,” she said. “That’s been a challenge because sometimes when you’re acting and you’re not entirely sure you give the gist of the line. That’s not acceptable here. We’re really trying very hard to be true to Dickens’ language and his words. That distinguishes it from other shows, and some of his language really is convoluted.”
Ambler said that, taking its cue from Miller, the cast views A Christmas Carol as something more meaningful than mere theater.
“He’s very serious about this show and the transformation that it represents and means for Scrooge and the transformation it can represent for the audience,” she said. “It’s really important to him that the core message of this story be shared and that we contribute in any way we can to a spirit of love and redemption and holiday joy.”