Today at Berkeley Lab

Lab Computer Engineer is Dickens Fair’s Mr. Fezziwig

— By Keri Troutman



For the past 26 years, Berkeley Lab Computer Systems Engineer Dave Batzloff (center, in red coat) has been transforming himself into a Victorian-era Dickens character from “A Christmas Carol” to take part in The Great Dickens Christmas Fair. This year marks his 13th year as Mr. Fezziwig, who appears briefly in the classic Christmas tale in a glimpse from Ebenezer Scrooge’s past—the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back in time to see how well his former employer, Mr. Fezziwig, treats his employees. Recreated in real-time at the Dickens Fair, Fezziwig’s features 75 cast members enjoying a Victorian Christmas party complete with dancing, singing, and Victorian party games. Dickens Fair visitors can walk right in, be greeted by Mr. Fezziwig himself (AKA Batzloff) and feel as if they’ve been transported back in time.

“We are an immersive, interactive theater,” says Batzloff. “You can’t get any closer to your audience than holding them in your arms and dancing with them.”

Batzloff had never had any dancing or acting experience when he was convinced by friends back in 1988 to join the cast of the Dickens Fair, but he had always enjoyed Renaissance fairs and the Christmas season. In the early years, the Dickens Fair was a once-every-few-years affair. But ever since it started its current run at the Cow Palace back in 2000, it’s been going strong, every Saturday and Sunday from the weekend before Thanksgiving until the weekend before Christmas.

It’s a labor of love for Batzloff and the rest of the 700 cast members who volunteer their time each year to transform the 120,000 square feet of space at the Cow Palace into a realistic Victorian-era city with various characters and attractions from Charles Dickens’ many literary works. They start rehearsing in July and take part in classes, workshops, and more intensive rehearsals every weekend starting in November. Batzloff likens his Fezziwigs’ cast to family—many of them return year after year and he’s watched many of the younger ones grow up. Batzloff’s wife often takes part in Dickens Fair and she sews his costumes, which are quite authentically impressive.

“I love taking part every year, and the people who work Fezziwig’s are really devoted to it,” he says. “It is hard work though—I lost 25 pounds my first year; Victorian ballroom dancing is good exercise!”

Aside from Fezziwig’s, there are numerous Dickens-themed theatrical attractions, handmade period-specific goods for sale, and delicious and authentic food for sale at the Dickens Fair. Batzloff recommends arriving early if you want to see everything at the fair.

Batzloff’s theatrical work isn’t finished once the fair is over; he’s also involved in a couple of other groups that produce formal Dickens-era-themed events, including a Fezziwig’s ball and other formal dances.