Trinity Repertory Theater’s classic and traditional presentation of “A Christmas Carol” starts today under show biz’s equally classic line – the show must go on, even without a live presentation.
In this 43rd year of presenting the play, the stage production instead will be a recorded video of performers, including Bob Cratchit, played by Taavon Gamble of Matunuk, and featuring costumes designed by Amanda Downing Carney of Wakefield.
If that’s not enough South County presence, there’s also graveyard scenes this year from St. Francis Assisi Church on High Street in South Kingstown.
This virtual presentation allows the theater company to bypass COVID-19 restrictions through online viewing. It drew the cast together through filming at their homes and elsewhere so that the many characters who make this a timely classic, such as Cratchit and his family, still find a way into people’s lives this year.
“The thing I find nice about Bob, that I like,” Gamble said, “is that he’s the heart of the show, he’s overwhelmingly positive,” especially in this year of the pandemic that has shuttered theaters nationwide.
“He really seizes what’s important in front of him. Doesn’t let the small things bother him,” he said about his role as Ebenezer Scrooge’s plucky clerk.
Trinity Rep’s free, on-demand digital production of “A Christmas Carol” will begins streaming at noon today (Dec. 17).
Viewers may register now for free access to unlimited on-demand viewing of the video between today and Jan. 10, 2021. Teacher registration for virtual field trips will include a study guide connecting the production to educational curricula and class work.
Registration and additional information can be found at trinityrep.com/carol.
Over the summer, with the possibility of an in-person production diminishing daily, Curt Columbus, artistic director; and Tom Parrish, the executive director, set in motion plans to pivot to an online version of the company’s holiday tradition.
Two early decisions set the tone for the development of the project– the video would be free to anyone who wished to view it, and the digital experience would be different than productions audiences had seen before.
For instance, the video avoids recording the play on stage from beginning to end. It also bypasses a Zoom reading of the script. Brainstorming sessions and writing workshops followed, and what emerged was a blueprint for a unique, new media experience, a theater spokeswoman said.
The streaming video includes segments filmed in person under strict safety guidelines and scenes recorded by actors in their homes, which required shipping cameras, props and costumes to locations throughout Rhode Island and as far away as California.
The video also includes animation and opportunities for audiences to participate in the action from home. Bonus content, including a community sing-a-long, will be released at the same time as the main feature.
Wakefield’s Downing Carney made her own debut as a costume designer at Trinity Rep, where she is the costume shop director. In the past she has worked with and helped manage designers, but this time she had the process to herself.
“I am always thinking about what the audience will see,” she said. “There were endless new challenges this year. We are theater-makers and there are always problems to solve and different ones to solve this year,” she said.
For example, she said, one actor’s costume had to be sent to California, because performers were doing videos from home, which would be spliced later into the entire video production.
“We had no fittings with anyone,” she said. “Sometimes we wouldn’t know until right before we filmed, or perhaps a day before filming, what the measurements were.”
In other instances, Downing Carney explained, she had to depend on previous measurements, since no one was onsite to be measured.
“I also had to drop off costumes at their houses, and I put in elastic waist bands, just in case they gained weight or the measurements we had weren’t exactly correct,” she said.
Literally sewing together an approach usually done on-site meant many new considerations.
“I was trying to anticipate every potential problem that could come up,” she added.
In the end, only two minor issues arose – one blouse and a vest needed to be swapped out. Otherwise, everything fit as planned, she said.
Pulling together many moving pieces for a video – rather than a stage – was a challenge, said Columbus, the theater’s artistic director. It included giving performers equipment for special effects that they needed to learn how to operate.
Columbus directed and was accompanied by Alberto Genao as director of photography.
The cast includes Gamble, Joe Wilson, Jr., Daniel Duque-Estrada, Rebecca Gibel, Stephen Thorne, Rachael Warren, Leander Carney and Tristan Carney – young sons of costume designer Downing Carney – Adam Crowe, Christopher Lindsay, Evelyn Marote, Jessica N. Smith, and Rodney Witherspoon, II.
“It is both a small crew and a lot of people who worked on this,” Columbus explained in a video entitled “Your Half-Hour Call,” about the production’s behind-the-scenes work.
“Bless the entire crew,” Gamble said. “All of us actors were given all this equipment. I don’t know where this goes. And then, suddenly, trying to fix shadows, like, it’s something we don’t think about.”
“It’s a whole new respect that all of us have for the crew,” he added.
Bill Seymour is a freelance writer covering news and personality feature stories in Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. He can be reached at email@example.com.