A Christmas Carol

Tiny Tim (Whitney Humphrey) and Scrooge (Rusty Salling) starred in the 2009 production of "A Christmas Carol."  

When you walk down the third floor hallway of the Hippodrome Theatre, shoes greet you.

About 40 pairs are neatly lined up against the right side of the hallway, hiding the polished wooden floor. Brown boots to black flats ranging from kid to adult sizes are placed next to each other in rows because there is not enough room in the costume shop.

"You really know it's ‘A Christmas Carol' when you go up on the third floor and the shoes are lining the hallway," said Sara Morsey, nine-year director of the play. "I'm always excited to see the shoes."

"A Christmas Carol" begins at the Hippodrome for the general public Nov. 26 at 2 p.m. and ends Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. The production, told through the eyes of Jacob Marley's ghost, runs about one hour and 10 minutes.

It has been performed annually since 1978. Rusty Salling has been in every production and has played Scrooge since 1990.

"Rusty is ‘A Christmas Carol,'" Morsey said. "You don't think about doing it without him."

Salling first got involved with the play because it was a job opportunity.

"[Actors] live and breathe to get out on that stage and perform," he said. "It feels like it's something I was born to do. Some people pick up a musical instrument and can almost play it by themselves, and they love it instantly. That's sort of what acting is to me."

Scrooge allows Salling to go through every emotion onstage.

"He starts off being the worst person you'd ever want to meet in the world," he said, "and ends up being the most wonderful person you'll ever want to meet."

After 20 years, Salling does not have problems learning the lines or performing the role. He does get physically tired because Scrooge is in almost every scene. It is not easy, but it is very comfortable and exhilarating, he said.

He does not have to audition for the role anymore. Almost half of the 60-member cast, about 30 of which are children, have been in the show for years, he said. Some children have started out as Tiny Tim and have grown into adult parts.

The Hippodrome casts several children for each role to avoid too many school absentees for one child. This year there are four Tiny Tims.

"I never know who's going to come out on that crutch," Salling joked. "That keeps you on your toes."

Many families and children go see the play each year. It is great to perform for children because they believe, Salling said.

Morsey said "A Christmas Carol" is something people in Gainesville remember from when they were young. They bring their children to see it because they want the tradition to continue.

"You never know what's going to happen year to year," she said. "It's always brand new. Every time you do it, it has to be the very best time because someone's only going to get to see it once. You're going to make that memory happen."

For tickets and more information, visit thehipp.org.