A Christmas Carol 2019,2012 & 2011
“The director Reid Farrington is a man of the moment. A multi-media collage artist who transcends genera, he makes plays that blend film, drama, with art installation. His work is formally impressive and conceptually fascinating.”
Jason Zinoman – The New York Times
7 min. video of performance - The Fred Scene. This is the second scene in the show which introduces all of the versions of the films I am using. We hear all the Bah Humbugs from each of our different Scrooges.
What the Critics said:
“Rather than arbitrary experimentalism, this take on Dickens’s cultural touchstone feels like necessary innovation. By making the narrative’s pervasiveness the subtext and its past versions the characters, Farrington’s Carol revives the meaning of Dickens’s enduring message, jolting familiar audience members back to the edge of his seat while creating a singular piece of wonder for the uninitiated”
– Frank Boudreaux – American Theater
“Never bordering on film reenactment, A Christmas Carol, instead plays at reappropriating film for the stage. In his quasi-Brechtian way, the audience is kept at a distance by being fully familiar with, or at the very least aware, of the material being utilized, and with that comfort zone of no dramatic surprise, Farrington is then able to allow audiences to playfully delve in the traditional lineage. Whether the takeaway is simply holiday enjoyment, or a deeper assessment of the English Classic’s sturdy foothold in Christmas culture, both are secondary to the impressiveness of the production” – Rachel Merill Moss – nytheater.com
“Like all of Farrington’s pieces, A Christmas Carol is suitable for revival…It can be enjoyed as a game of spot-the reference, as an astute cultural commentary, and for the simple power of Charles Dickens’ tale.”
– David Barbour – Light & Sound America
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is unquestionably one of the most recognizable and relatable stories ever told. It’s a cry for humanity, a testament to the resiliency of the human race and proof of its uncanny ability to change. Guided by the three spirits, the monster Scrooge becomes human. Never has the hero’s journey been more powerful. Never has there be a story so ripe for a new media mash-up of a classic tale.
Using a source text that is so relatable will aid in the language of the work to immediately connect an audience. Often I am missing this opportunity when choosing and less common story. Using such a ubiquitous tale will allows my boundary pushing blend of theater, film, and dance, make a more immediate connection with whatever audience see the work.
A Christmas Carol has been adapted into over seventy films spanning one hundred years of cinema. The first was a silent film made in 1908 and the most recent was 2009’s digitally animated adaptation directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carrey. Each of these seventy films essentially follows the same narrative and reaches the same truth. Each film is also a window into a specific time period and place in film history.
In my research and re-visiting of A Christmas Carol, the term “magic” kept coming up. The “magic” of Christmas, the most “magical” time of year, etc… In researching further, I stumbled upon a bit of information which became the impetus for the entire project: Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. Shortly after discovering this I obtained a program of magic that Dickens himself performed in 1858. I have since done extensive research on magic and the history of the art.
Using Dickens’ program of magic as my guide, Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol will retell Dickens’ tale using the format of a traditional Victorian magic show. The entire show will be lit with candles and authentic limelight. A continues series of magic tricks will conjur up the spirits from the films and allow there ghostly shapes exist on stage with the Magician. There are finite number of tricks in magic, despite the hundreds of variation upon them. I will recreate these tricks. For example, I will recreate the traditional Feats of Dexterity, which include close up hand magic. Another series of tricks are known as Experiments in Natural Magic, which include box tricks, trapdoors, and magic lanterns. Then there’s Mental Conjuring or mind reading, Pretend Mesmerism or hypnosis, and the very important Mediumship, the pretend evocation of the spirits. In Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol, I will incorporate the classic sleight of hand illusions with cutting edge video projection technology. I will project characters from all seventy adapted films using similar projection techniques used in my previous work THE PASSION PROJECT and Gin & “It”.
My video techniques fit perfectly within the age of Victorian magic. During the Victorian era, whole performances were created around the projection of light and reflection. These effects are known as the Pepper’s Ghost and the Magic Lantern. I will adapt and reproduce these same techniques of illusions with the use of cutting edge software design and modern video projection.
The main arc of Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol is that of a monster becoming a man paralleled with a projection becoming an actor. With the use of smoke and mirrors, Scrooge will age both forwards and backwards before the audience’s eyes. This action will parallel Scrooge’s visions through time. I will have three actors playing The Magician. When Scrooge is having visions of his past, The Magician is young. When Scrooge has visions of the future, The Magician is old. By the end, The Magician and Scrooge himself meld into one character.
The Magician as “old” will start the show, in the same way that Scrooge as an old miser starts A Christmas Carol. At rise, The Magician is failing at his old tricks. With each trick he attempts he creates a new surface for characters from the film to be projected on and appear. For example, a projected character may appear on smoke, or on a scarf. These surfaces are typical and useful in magic as they can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.
Dickens’ wrote A Christmas Carol in a series of five staves. A stave is an old English word for a staff of music. His use of this idea in A Christmas Carol informs how I will be organizing the projections of the characters from the film. I am going to adopt the modern technique of the mash-up. Mash-ups are typical in contemporary music, especially hip-hop and rap.
Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol will also be telling the story of one hundred and one years film history using this mash up technique. In a single line from A Christmas Carol, we will hear it interpreted through three or four or five voices from film history. I will do this by mashing up the principle characters from each of the seventy films in chronological order. For example we could hear the famous line, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” from Seymour Hicks (1934), Alastair Sim (1951), and George C. Scott (1984) or Patrick Stewart (1999).
Every film version of A Christmas Carol portrays the spirits in their own unique way. In the Alastair Sim and Patrick Stewart versions, for example, the spirits adhere strictly to the book. But, in Scrooge’d, with Bill Murray, the spirits are very different, portrayed as a cab driver and a masochistic fairy. The final ghost, interestingly, is almost always portrayed the same way, as a cloaked specter of death. I intend to also mashup my representations of the spirits using contemporary editing techniques and parallel them with my three performers in the same way they parallel Scrooge.
This work has already found the support of The Henry Street Settlement and the Abrons Arts Center. Jay Wegeman, the atistic director of Abrons, has given me an office in his building for the next year and a half. I am working with his staff to create an education program for college and high school young adults. This program will teach the basics of contemporary video editing techniques while helping to create the imagery for the video in this production.
I am putting my work with young adults at the forefront of this project. I have been doing for the past several years, since designing the video for The Wooster Group’s Hamlet. My work requires an army of editors to complete the frame-by-frame isolation of the characters from the film. This techniques is called rotoscoping a traditional animation technique that I have adopted in my work. It is how I accomplished the video work for Gin & “It” and for The Wooster Group's Hamlet.