The Tenth Annual Dickens Festival, that’s what! ‘Twas a weekend filled with unique activities in the guise of Victorian England to establish an overwhelming sense of community. The festival occurred in Stadium District in Tacoma, Dec. 6-7.
It is difficult to find the words to describe what a truly lovely experience the festival gave its participants. The world of Charles Dickens was brought to life in a way you wouldn’t expect. This was not completely centered around the man and his works, but rather around the ideals he stood for and wrote about – the community of a people.
Community was established and celebrated in a variety of ways. First, well over fifty small businesses were represented, either through vendors and performers in the main showroom, restaurants/cafes/pubs/etc. that hosted free or discounted items for participants, the various shops that hosted events, and the many sponsors who donated gifts for the costume/beard contests and ads in the festival handouts. It was a great way to see what the Stadium Business District has to offer.
Community was also established in the huge variety of people that arrived to enjoy the fun. From kids to kids at heart, from first-timers to veteran festival attendees (and not just Tacoma – festivals across the nation!), and even from people just passing through to people going all-out with their costumes, everyone had a wonderful time. One lady stole the show by dressing in a white wedding gown and remaining in character as Miss Haversham from Great Expectations – all day long! Her efforts paid off when she won the “Best Dickens Literary Character” award in the costume contest.
Saturday consisted of a fundraiser marathon – Run Like the Dickens – a series of shows and songs in multiple locations, and the normal ball and silent auction in the evening and horse-drawn carriage rides in the afternoon were replaced with a “Procession of Stars.” Veteran festival-goers were disappointed by the missing ball, but there was plenty to do to keep everyone entertained.
Sunday hosted a very unique concert by John Doan, a historian and music professor at Williamette University. He is world renowned for his collection of harp guitars. The instruments are incredibly unique and rare, his playing transports listeners to other worlds, and this particular concert focused on the classic Christmas tradition of home and the hearth. This added beautifully to the sense of community established by the rest of the festival.
There was so much going on on Saturday! There were four places hosting events and shows, so people were kept on their toes to see as much as they could. The majority of the events happened at Titus Will Showroom, and some of the highlights included an excerpt from Scrooge the Musical (premiering now at Tacoma Little Theatre!), Duo Finelli (two ladies performing a fantastic comedy skit for all ages), former mayor Bill Baarsma’s story of Jack the Bear (a 800 pound black bear who lived at the Tacoma Hotel in the late 1800s), and our hosts Mario and Frances Lorenz performing an authentic musicale. Children also loved the “Procession of Stars,” first in creating the stars in the month prior and then getting to participate in a parade with them.
There were some truly delightful people at the festival, and the folks who had been part of the committee to make it happen were a step above the crowd.
The Lorenz’s started the festival ten years ago after Frances joined the Stadium Historic Business District Board as chair of the “Holiday Committee” and had no participation for two years. The Lorenz’s for 5 years had lived near Galveston, Tex., home to one of the biggest Dickens Festivals in the country. They enjoyed their festival so much, they decided to bring it to Tacoma.
Mario was exhausted by the end of the evening, as he was up and down for ten hours straight, announcing the acts and entertaining in between, and his own major performances. He delighted the audience with his juggling and incredible balancing acts (not many can balance a metal chair on their chins!). This seemed to represent the great work he’s done for ten years to organize these festivals, and many people personally thanked him for the wonderful time they’d had.
Frances was delighted with this year’s level of participation. She said the crowds always depended on the weather, but despite the rainy start to the day, there was active participation all day. She said her favorite Dickens quote was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” as it seemed to represent life for her and the world right now.
Colleen Allen ran the auction chair this year, gathering all the items to be used for the silent and live auctions that would have occurred in the ball. She said it was a lot of work, as the meetings to start planning the festivals began in January, but she enjoyed the process and had a wonderful time. She was particularly excited for the “Procession of Stars,” a new addition to the festival this year.
Adam Martin was extremely passionate about the stars. He served on the committee to add this to the festival. He described his work in an interview afterwards. “Tacoma’s Lumins Festivus is an autumn holiday unique to the city of destiny. Their first year’s theme in 2012 was the ‘Stellar Galactic Zoo of Life;’ so, when the Dickens team asked [me] to include a luminary in this year’s festivities, [I] decided to take the simplest element from last year’s theme – the stars – and to focus the ‘Procession of Stars’ on the elements of life shared in common across South Sound communities.
“There is a light in all of us. We celebrate that,” he said.
Martin also works with a group dedicated to joining the arts with learning and life in the South Puget Sound, as well as contributing to the “Tacoma’s Outsiders Guide,” a great resource for anyone looking to get more involved in Tacoma. He said students at Puget Sound tend to find themselves in a bubble, but his work allows people to get out of that and experience what this great city has to offer.
All in all, it was a wonderful time. If you’re looking to get involved in Tacoma, this festival is a great way to do it. There are some truly wonderful people in this town, and this festival was a wonderful celebration of that. As we enter this holiday season, let us never forget Dicken’s famous words: “God bless us, every one!”