For going on 40 years, John Burstein of Lincolnville has slipped into a painted bodysuit and spread a kids-oriented gospel of healthy living as Slim Goodbody. This month, he transforms into one of the best-known characters for 268 years of English literature and explores a different kind of wellness.

“Scrooge is such a great part … and I like John’s script; he really found a way to perform to both the weaknesses and strengths of what it is,” Burstein said at Zoot Coffee in Camden on a recent morning.

“John” is John Bielenberg (Sr.) of Belfast, former chairman of theater department of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton (now Binghamton University) and current Professor Emeritus. “It” is that well-roasted chestnut of holiday stories, “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ beloved ghost tale that helped re-invent the way the English-speaking world celebrates the season.

Bielenberg is directing this production of his adaptation, which has been produced every holiday season for more than 30 years at the Cider Mill Playhouse of Endicott, N.Y. and was done locally last year by the Belfast Maskers. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. through Dec. 17; and a finale matinee Sunday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Camden Opera House, Elm Street/Route 1.

Ebenezer Scrooge is quite a change from Slim Goodbody and Burstein is relishing the challenge. Burstein started out as a stage actor, but the character of Slim Goodbody became his livelihood and full-time commitment, an industry that involved television production at one point, videos and now DVDs, Discovery Channel segments, curricula and lots of traveling live shows. Burstein is doing a lot less of the latter himself these days — there are two Slims out on the road — and he said he expects to sell that part of the business soon.

“It’s been 40 years of effort and is somewhat self-sustaining at this point,” Burstein said.

Maintaining that kind of career while living in Midcoast Maine has required creativity and commitment, but Burstein said once he and his wife Christine fell in love with the area, they had to figure out a way to make it work. Actually, it was Christine who fell first, having spent several back-to-the-land years in Brooks during the 1970s. She kept telling Burstein he had to go to Camden.

“Finally I did, was on tour close enough about 20 years ago. I pulled in on gray winter day and half of downtown was closed and I thought, what is she talking about?,” Burstein recalled.

Nonetheless, the couple started renting summer places in the area, on Norton’s Pond and in Owls Head, while maintaining an office in New York. It got harder and harder to leave each fall. Finally, a week before their son Luke was born, the Bursteins moved into their home on Megunticook Lake and have no regrets.

Burstein said he never would have been able to make the move without the Internet; business travel continues to be difficult to manage.

“By the time I drive to Portland and back, I could be across the country,” he said.

There were other challenges too. When he moved here, he was still producing the Slim Goodbody TV show for a national audience.

“I had to go to Portland to find ethnic kids! But then there were things like the local fire department opening up their station for a show; that never could have happened in New York,” he said.

The beauty of the Midcoast is such a draw that many people use their creativity to figure out how to do what they do and live here, where they want to be.

“It attracts such a mix of eclectic people. For such a small place, it’s amazing how many talented people there are here,” Burstein said.

Burstein got to work with some of that talent as a cast member of the Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of “The 39 Steps,” produced both last fall and this summer at the Camden Opera House. Bielenberg designed that show’s ingenious set; when he brought Burstein the script of his “Carol” with the idea of producing the show in support of Everyman, Burstein was intrigued.

“I started out as an actor and I want to do more work in this area. And this is the right time in my life for Scrooge,” he said.

A character so well known comes with a lot of preconceptions on everyone’s part, from directors and actors to audiences. Burstein was clear he wanted to explore the covetous old sinner on his one terms and Bielenberg, who played Scrooge for many years at Cider Mill Playhouse, agreed.

“He’s been hurt, that’s the thing … It’s not like he was an unusual character for the times. They really believed that people who were poor were idlers and the wealthy felt little obligation,” said Burstein.

He described Scrooge as someone who put on a certain kind of clothing when he was 10 or 12.

“It came to define him … and then, one night, he gets to take it off! It’s a great story and so beautifully written,” said Burstein, who readily bursts into Scrooge’s famous boiled-in-his-own-pudding rant.

Burstein said he thinks Bielenberg’s adaptation makes the 19th-century tale accessible to a family audience without sacrificing its language, and there is a fair amount of singing of familiar tunes. The show’s publicity materials recommend not bringing children younger than 6 to the show — Dickens subtitled “A Christmas Carol,” originally published in 1843, with “A Ghost Story of Christmas” after all — but Burstein said he disagrees with Bielenberg about that.

“Marley, played by someone long associated with this show, is a little scary and so is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but given what kids see these days, it’s no scarier than ‘Scooby-Doo.’ And there’s a lot that is light hearted and a lot of magic,” he said.

Bielenberg’s adaptation plays upon a longtime theatrical trope. Actors heading to a rehearsal of “A Christmas Carol” stop by to sing a few songs at a fellow performer’s home. There they find a heartbroken young girl, sick in bed and forbidden by her doctor to attend their production. The players improvise a performance for her, filling in for missing actors and using the contents of her attic room to contrive costumes, scenery and props.

“It’s a lot of fun for the actors,” said Burstein, who will be joined in the onstage endeavor by Marie Merrifield, Christine West, Sonia Vasquez, Angelina Nichols, Scott Anthony Smith, Jason Bannister, Jay Rosenberg, Jeff Spera and Ilianna Kahn.

Scrooge’s journey-of-one-night reflects an epiphany that most of us need more time to reach. Choosing to play this part at this time in his life was deliberate for Burstein.

“On a really personal level, I have worshipped at the altar of success for many years. It comes from a basic fear of insecurity and it’s a fruitless labor. I want to stop that behavior, and so does Scrooge — only he realizes it all in one night,” said Burstein. “It’s a wonderful story.”

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students Tickets are available through the Everyman Repertory Theatre website,; and at the Owl & Turtle Bookshop and HAV II in Camden; Reading Corner in Rockland; and Bella Books in Belfast. For more information, call 236-0173.

VillageSoup Knox/Waldo Arts Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 251 or