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Dickens lives on in Holly festival

Take a walk down Battle Alley and you’ll likely come across street performers. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Take a walk down Battle Alley and you’ll likely come across street performers. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

BY MATTHEW E. SEMRAU
OU News Bureau

The Holly Dickens Festival transforms downtown Holly, Michigan, into Victorian-era England.

The village’s historic downtown is filled with period-focused street performers, vendors with foods and wares, and live entertainment, including music, games and a regular performance of Charles Dickens’ beloved story, “A Christmas Carol.”

Ebenezer Scrooge can often be seen roaming the streets and petitioning restaurant patrons for donations.

During the first weekend this year, an estimated 4,500 people visited the festival. That’s more than double the number all last year. It runs weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This year’s festival almost didn’t happen. After years of stagnation and loss of sponsorship, due to the economic downturn in ’08, there was serious talk of canceling it.

“So the talk was, 40 years, maybe the Dickens Festival has run its course,” said George Kullis, former village council member and new director of the festival.

George Kullis was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge a few years ago, and has become somewhat of an icon - PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

George Kullis was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge a few years ago, and has become somewhat of an icon – PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Once word reached social media, there was strong opposition to canceling the town’s last major festival. During a meeting at the village chambers earlier this year, the vote was unanimous to continue.

Kullis was nominated as director, but was reluctant because of the workload. He agreed on the condition that enough people volunteered to head the committees he felt was necessary. He had more than 20 by April and more than 40 by the beginning of the festival.

They wanted to promote an environment that encouraged volunteers, he explained. That meant that mistakes would be expected.

“I think that’s huge, because you take pressure off of people,” Kullis said. “They know it’s OK to make a mistake.”

The approach quickly proved successful.

“People automatically started taking responsibility,” he explained. “The lesson was learned internally.”

This past Sunday, traditionally a slow day for the festival, the streets were full of activity. Restaurants were busy and some businesses reported three times more business than their previous best, Kullis said.

Performers walk around town and interact with visitors — a staple of the festival. In one instance, a boy was playing with a remote controlled car. Two gentleman, with thick British accents, began yelling, “Sorcery! Off with its head!” One replied, “It doesn’t have a head! Off with its wheels!”

This is just an example of the unscripted interactions a festivalgoer can have.

“I think what’s good this year is that it’s returned to what it was,” Kullis explained, describing the festival prior to its decline.

The success is apparent, Kullis said. But this year is only the beginning. The process is expected to take three to five years, he explained.

“Vision wise, I’m not where I want to be,” he said.  “I know I have more to do.”

The festival’s final weekend is Dec. 13 and 14. It runs 1-8 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. More information is at www.hollydickensfestival.org.

 

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Posted by on Dec 12 2014. Filed under Featured article, Oakland County, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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