Wandering through airports, malls and crowded streets, Will Schutze quietly judges people. He asks himself, “What would Scrooge think?” He then finds a way to mock them.
This may seem like cause for concern, but Schutze is busy preparing for his role as Scrooge at NorthPark Center this month.
“Everywhere I go, I’m constantly walking and insulting people in my head, in that playful way, of course,” he says.
Wearing all black, the 30-year-old puppeteer will walk into the puppet-house stationed inside NorthPark Center and put the Scrooge puppet on his hand for his second season. He’ll hurl insults at children and spray them with water as a warning to get off his property. He’ll sarcastically compliment families’ thrifty tendencies, using the raspy old-man voice he has practiced for months.
Schutze will transform into Scrooge 10 times a day for the next month, and each time, he will remember his longtime mentor and Dallas legend John Hardman, who embodied Scrooge and his disdain of the holidays for nearly four decades. The character created by the longtime neighbor and puppeteer became a holiday icon in Dallas — it’s not Christmas until Scrooge’s sharp tongue begins to thrash, welcoming in the season as only he could.
When Hardman lost his battle to cancer in 2015, Scrooge’s future at NorthPark became murky, until Schutze was asked to take over the role. He already had done a one-week stint at Scrooge when Hardman was in the hospital with pneumonia, so he was familiar with the technical aspects of the show.
But taking on a 38-year legacy of trash talk is no easy task, especially when it’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 now lives in Charleston, S.C., with his fiancé and cat, but he returns to Dallas twice a year for Scrooge Puppet Theatre and the “World on a String” show at the State Fair of Texas.
Although anxiety crept in before his performances as Scrooge last year, he’s looking forward to seeing the smiles — and maybe a few frowns — on shoppers’ faces this season.
“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 graduating high school. Hardman’s wife, Patti, was his theater teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School; she later invited him to work on the “World on a String” show at the fair, another one of Hardman’s projects. 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.
Hardman was the catalyst for Schutze’s career, which includes an appearance with his puppet show in Jon Favreau’s 2014 movie “Chef.” He initially moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, but is now a full-time puppeteer in South Carolina. He’s even creates his own marionettes.
He’s memorized Hardman’s list of comebacks and insults, remembers his advice, but his larger-than-life personality has left the largest impression on Schutze. He says Hardman was performing around the clock, 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 times and dates.
3 more seasonal celebrations at NorthPark
1— Explore the US from Times Square to the Golden Gate Bridge during the Trains at NorthPark. The Ronald McDonald House of Dallas fundraiser runs through Jan. 8.
2— Santa Claus will share festive tales about the snowy North Pole at 10:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday and noon on Sunday. In addition to Storytime with Santa, he will be available for portraits with kiddos until Christmas Eve.
3— For the seventh year, Gingertown Dallas brings design, engineering and construction firms together to create a gingerbread village. The live build competition Dec. 8 benefits the Children’s Craniofacial Association.