The set in Geva’s production of A Christmas Carol plays a crucial role in telling the story of Scrooge’s redemption, and in understanding how Scrooge sees things at any moment in the performance.
“For this production of A Christmas Carol,” says set designer Adam Koch, “we wanted to strip away the heavy adornment and the usual formal decorative baggage that can come with a telling of this traditional Dickensian holiday story. This is a new design for a new production of a new script of a story everyone already knows.” One of the thrills and challenges of designing for this production, he continues, is the opportunity to make a “seemingly simple space magically transform into all the haunting, joyous, scary, splendid, freezing, cozy, and infinite worlds within A Christmas Carol.” Since this production invites us to traverse the emotional landscape of Scrooge’s journey, Koch uses the “magic of suggestion” to take us “to a hundred locations, across London and memory and time itself.”
To accomplish this task, Koch began with “scribbled notes and ideas … [immersing himself] with research and sketches, just bits and pieces that speak to the moments of the story … it’s the most ethereal part of the process.” Koch’s design emerged with an expansive bridge, a massive clock, a maze of stairs and banks of windows which, when coupled with lighting and furniture, can become any number of settings – Ebenezer’s chambers, for example, or the Cratchit household, the school of Scrooge’s youth or the graveyard of his envisioned demise. With such an open set and what he calls the “chamber elements” within, Mark Cuddy is able to “keep the aperture wide and then make the aperture small” allowing the story to travel fluidly among the various settings. For example, the physically sparse space of the classroom can evoke Scrooge’s feelings of abandonment over the emotional neglect of his widowed father or the drab, colorless look of his home might reflect the equally grim manner with which he lives his life. As Mark noted, “the meager fire in his old school matches the meager fire in his office, in his chambers and in his heart.” With this pairing of space and emotion as a guide, Koch sought to bypass creating “environments Scrooge would have seen to illustrate, instead, what his journey felt like.”
SCROOGE: I wish to be left alone! Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer … It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not interfere with other people’s.
Scrooge, says Cuddy, “looks at the world in a very two-dimensional way, like he’s watching a movie or watching the world go by.” To help us understand Scrooge’s self-imposed exile, Cuddy decided to incorporate video projections into the show’s design. Koch offers that “providing the vast glass window surround as (occasional, surprising) projection surfaces seamlessly melds together the magic of projections with the permanent environment of the production.”
One of the priorities of representing this two-dimensional world, according to video designer Dan Scully, is to “try to stay connected to Scrooge … to try to show what he is thinking, feeling, or seeing. His change must be driven from him, not something done to him.” Like Koch, Scully also began his process of creating Scrooge’s world by exploring a number of fields including period research, contemporary images and video footage as well as his own original artwork.
In the course of developing the designs, Scully realized the effect that one area of research could have on the entire process. “While looking at collections of Victorian engravings of London, I discovered each technique of engraving imparts its own emotional charge.” This emotional charge guided Scully in his considerations of Scrooge’s relationship with each individual ghost. “I’m trying”, says Scully, “to illuminate the different kinds of experiences each ghost brings. The imagery for the Ghost of Christmas Past is a combination of ripple light reflections over period engravings in an attempt to capture the idea of the past and the imprecise nature of memory.” The Ghost of Christmas Present, continues Scully, “is a marriage of black and white photography and material sourced from various film productions of A Christmas Carol … I’m trying to get at the firmness of present as well as the dullness in how Scrooge sees it.” And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? That, tempts Scully, is a surprise. The design finally lands us on Christmas day where, Scully promises, “things are bright and in color.”
MARLEY: It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk in fellowship among mankind; if that spirit fails to do so in life, it is condemned to do so after death.
In echoing Cuddy’s notion that Scrooge “needed to know that the world was much larger than him,” Scully set about capturing Scrooge’s travels throughout London and beyond. To give the audience a sense of London, Scully employed “montages and maps of the city but that’s just a method of getting at the magic of Scrooge’s dreams … and allowing us to see how Scrooge sees his world.” In the end, Scully says, it’s not about the city but, rather, about “the common human experience of these people” and Scrooge’s new-found appreciation for those around him.
SCROOGE: Spirit, I begin to see how the mere mention of my name casts such a shadow!