After 39 seasons, one of Louisville’s most loved holiday productions needed a face-lift. Fifth Third Bank’s “A Christmas Carol,” which is presented by Actors Theatre of Louisville, has undergone some major shifts since the last holiday showing.
We talked to three different members of the production for their perspectives on the changes and learned what theatre-goers can expect this year:
The Director’s Perspective
Drew Fracher has been involved with Actors Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” in several different capacities—he and his wife have played Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit and he has directed the show for the past three years. This year, he directs the re-imagined production.
“I inherited the old set, and the old clothes and the old everything,” Fracher said. “So this is really the first chance that I have to put my personal stamp on things and focus on what I think is important in the play.”
The process of remounting the holiday classic began about a year ago. Fracher met with costuming, set design and lighting specialists this spring to discuss how they could collaborate to make for a more inspired production.
“One of the things that I was interested in doing was opening up the space a little bit, making the transitions from scene to scene a little more seamless, a little more magical, if you will,” he said.
Fracher also wanted to ditch the rotating stage that had been used for years as a way to move from scene to scene.
“What that ‘revolve’ did was force me to stage the play, any previous director, to stage the play that, if you excuse the pun, revolved around the ‘revolve,’” Fracher said.
In past productions the cast would have to bide time on stage while waiting for the revolve to begin moving—as the set crew would frantically change scenes in the back—and the choreographer would put dance scenes together while minding the six-inch step that the rotating portion of the stage sat on.
Fracher also has a specific vision in relating Dickens’ story to audiences.
“I am interested in him (Scrooge) having a second chance, and pointing out to people, at this time of year—as his nephew Fred would say—take a second and think about those who have less, or those who are different, those that aren’t ‘your people,’ and see if we can be citizens of the world, instead of individuals stomping through life,” he said.
The Costume Director’s Perspective
“It’s similar enough to what people expect, but with a little edge,” costume director Christopher Castle said of the 82 new costumes that were made for this year’s production.
The process of getting Castle’s vision from paper to stage is intricate and labor-intensive.
Drapers interpret Castle’s sketches and turn them into two-dimensional patterns to fit the actor’s measurements. For this show, however, different actors interpret the roles each year, so the costumes need to be built large or small enough to fit a variety of people.
‘First hands’ then cut the designs out on fabric. Next, stitchers sew the pieces together. Various craftspeople work on the shoes, scarves and accessories.
A large amount of research goes into creating period-style clothing.
Castle set the present day of this iteration of the play in 1837, six years before Dickens wrote the book. This was also the year that Queen Victoria is on the throne and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The flashback scene of Fezziwig’s Party occurs in 1787 and the schoolhouse scene takes place in 1776.
“I thought those were really interesting periods in fashion history because they are both at a crossroads. 1837 is before England becomes overly Victorian, it is still kind of regency. And 1787 is right before the French Revolution when fashion is sort turned on its head,” Castle said.
Audience members may notice two main differences in the costumes this year. The colors are much brighter and the shapes and silhouettes are bigger, Castle said.
The Set Designer’s Perspective
Antje Ellermann didn’t want to reinvent the story this year when she was brought on to design the sets. She did want to think about the show’s place and movement in a more imaginative way.
“I was interested in creating different environments for the places we go, some of them more real, some of them more ethereal,” Ellermann said. “I think we were trying to devise a way to have a way to have more moving pieces to play with, which we have.”
As a set designer, one of the things that makes Dickens’ story different is the inclusion of fantasy elements—ghosts, time travel—that are grounded in a specific historical context. Like Castle, Ellermann researched what London in the 1800s looked like, specifically taking notes from the work of one of the first street photographers, John Thompson.
“I think that was a good jumping-off point for us, it gave you a real sense of how grimy it was, for a lack of a better word,” Ellermann said. “It’s rough, there’s a lot of manual labor, a lot of things are handmade, a lot of things are dirty. The things we associate with a city are not really in play yet for London in the 1800s.”
Fifth Third Bank’s “A Christmas Carol” opens on today and runs through Dec. 23 at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.