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Ira David Wood III may be best known for his role as Ebenezer Scrooge in Theatre in the Park’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” but he’s anything but selfish in real life. For 45 years now, Wood has sacrificed much of his holiday time to direct, rehearse and perform in the show in Raleigh and Durham. Wood will tell you, however, that he is being selfish, because to him, he says, performing on stage is one of the most thrilling feelings in the world.
Wood came to the role of Scrooge after serving as North Carolina’s first theatre arts consultant, a job he took after declining an invitation from Andy Griffith to play a role in “The Andy Griffith Show” because of the debt he felt he owed to his home state. Wood, who grew up in Halifax County, thanks North Carolina for offering him a way out of the agriculture industry, giving him the resources he needed to get into the Governor’s School—a publicly funded residential summer program for gifted students—and then into the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.
After successfully directing a production for the Raleigh Children’s Theatre in the early 1970s, Wood was selected to be the theater’s executive director. It was during that time that he changed the institution’s name to Theatre in the Park in order to broaden the scope of the theatre and to attract people of all ages to get involved. In 1974, while most Raleigh theaters were closed during the holiday season, Wood opened Theatre in the Park’s doors to encourage families spending time together around Christmas to come out and see “A Christmas Carol.”
“It’s an honor to have people make us part of their celebration of the holidays,” Wood says.
Wood says he’s learned a lot from playing Scrooge for so long, namely about the spirit of giving and the message of the story, which, according to him, is “that we’re capable of transforming ourselves and becoming better than we were.”
“[Scrooge] has certainly made me better,” Wood continues. “At this point, it’s like meeting an old friend when I go into the dressing room.”
At 72, Wood is gearing up for retirement. On the 50th anniversary of A Christmas Carol, he will pass Scrooge’s signature tights and top hat on to his son, Ira David Wood IV, who has been alternating in the role with his father ever since Wood underwent open heart surgery in 2010. “Nobody wants to see a 72-year-old man in tights running around the stage,” Wood says with a laugh. “It’s time for me to hang them up.” Wood will continue to direct the production as long as his health allows, and son Ira, along with his daughter, the actress Evan Rachel Wood, say they plan to see to it that the show outlasts him. “That’s a very humbling thing to think, that you’ve created something that will outlive you and will continue to touch hearts and change lives.”
Wood says getting older has also given him a meaningful perspective on life in general. “Life is so short in the scheme of things and it’s so important, not just to live, but to celebrate moments,” Wood says. He says he’s learned to celebrate the fellow actors he’s worked with in “A Christmas Carol” and all the memories they’ve made, the simple pleasures that come with Christmastime and the happiness that theatre has brought him. Most of all, Wood says he hopes the production has brought joy to everyone who’s come to see it over the last 45 years, and that it will continue to bring joy to those who see it in the future when he’s no longer on stage playing Scrooge.
“We encourage people to laugh, to celebrate being together and to enjoy those tender moments,” says Wood. “And when you walk out, you’re better equipped to celebrate the holidays; you’re a better person than you were when you walked in.”
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