Wandering through airports, malls and crowded streets, Will Schutze quietly judges people. He asks himself what Scrooge would think, and he usually already knows the answer — he’d find a way to mock them.
This may seem like cause for concern, but Schutze simply is preparing for his role as Scrooge at NorthPark Center this December.
“Everywhere I go, I’m constantly walking and insulting people in my head, in that playful way, of course,” he says.
The 30-year-old puppeteer will transform into Scrooge 10 times every day for the next month. He’ll spend his time jokingly hurling insults at shoppers and maybe even spraying them with water as a warning to step off his property. Using the raspy old-man voice he has practiced for months, he’ll sarcastically compliment families’ thrifty tendencies and fashion choices.
Each time he enters the puppethouse, he will remember his longtime mentor John Hardman, who embodied Scrooge and his disdain of the holidays for nearly four decades and was handpicked by the Nasher family, who built NorthPark, to usher in the season.
When Hardman lost his battle with cancer in 2015, it was unclear whether the beloved Scrooge bit would return. Schutze already had done a one-week stint as Scrooge when Hardman was in the hospital with pneumonia, and he was asked to take Hardman’s place.
But taking on a 38-year legacy is no easy task, especially when there’s a constant reminder of what’s missing.
“It’s bittersweet because when I’m doing the show, I’m constantly thinking of John,” Schutze says. “But I find myself laughing at his jokes, and I feel like I can do that.”
Schutze returns to Dallas twice a year for Hardman’s Scrooge Puppet Theatre and the World on a String show at the State Fair of Texas, even though he now lives in Charleston, S.C., with his fiancé and cat.
Anxiety settled in before his NorthPark performances last year, but he’s looking forward to seeing the smiles—and maybe a few frowns—on shoppers’ faces this time around.
“I think it probably should have been a whole lot of pressure,” he says. “But just the show itself is a lot of pressure when you have an entire audience staring at a puppet on your hand, and your job is to insult them and make them laugh.”
Schutze first was introduced to puppeteering after he graduated high school. Hardman’s wife, Patti, was his theater teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School who asked him to work at the World on a String show. Seeing the marionettes hanging from the back room ceiling fascinated him, and Schutze found his niche without even realizing it.
“They didn’t even have to be performing. Just hanging there, they really spoke to me,” he says.
Schutze considers Hardman to be the catalyst for his career. He moved to Los Angeles after college to pursue acting, where he showcased his puppet show in Jon Favreau’s movie “Chef” in 2014. He’s now a full-time puppeteer in South Carolina, too, and he’s even started creating his own marionettes.
He’s memorized Hardman’s list of comebacks and insults, and remembers his advice, but his larger-than-life personality has left the largest impression on Schutze. He says Hardman never stopped performing, even if he was just sitting at the dinner table with his family and friends.
“I’ve always wanted to be like that. I’m more naturally shy when I’m not performing,” Schutze says. “And I always kind of think about John when I’m trying to channel that sort of energy and tell jokes and crack people up. He’s an inspiration in all ways.”
Scrooge at NorthPark
Visit northparkcenter.com for performance dates and times
4 more seasonal celebrations at NorthPark
Explore the United States from Times Square to the Golden Gate Bridge during the Trains at NorthPark. The Ronald McDonald House of Dallas fundraiser runs through Jan. 8.
Santa Claus will share festive tales about the snowy North Pole at 10:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday and noon on Sunday until Dec. 23. In addition to Storytime with Santa, he will be available for portraits with kiddos until Christmas Eve.
For the seventh year, Gingertown Dallas brings design, engineering and construction firms together to create a gingerbread village. The
live build competition on Dec. 6 benefits the Children’s Craniofacial Association.
Treats of Christmas on Dec. 17 brings together chefs from across the city to share their best gourmet cakes, sweets, pies and cookies. The bake sale extravaganza benefits the North Texas Food Bank.
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