Artist Interview: The Creative Team of A CHRISTMAS CAROL

A discussion with the co-creators about this year’s transition from stage to screen

Anthony Lawton in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Streaming on demand to you at home December 4 through 27, 2020, Lantern Theater Company is thrilled to again present this original adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, created by acclaimed playwright and actor Anthony Lawton in collaboration with Christopher Colucci and Thom Weaver, and presented in partnership with Mirror Theatre Company. Now in its third year and reimagined for film, Lantern resident dramaturg Meghan Winch caught up with the creative team to talk about the transition to film and what the play has to tell us in this moment.

Meghan Winch: What did you see as your biggest opportunities in moving this play to film?

Thom Weaver: I like to think of theater in terms of punctuation. I think it’s a valuable way of thinking about the way beats and tempos work in theater and really thinking about it in terms of framing: “Because we have a camera now, we can put in a set of parentheses around this idea. We can underline this idea.”

There’s one shot you’ll see that’s a close-up of Tony singing a little song, Hippopotamus Song. We came to that idea early on in the original creative process; the prompt was “What was the song that your son would sing when he was young?” That was one of those moments where we got away from Dickens and did something more personal. I always thought “Oh God. I wish more people noticed how personal and emotional that was.” Now, the camera allows us to put a bracket around that and say, “You should pay a little bit more closer attention to what’s going on here.”

Anthony Lawton: The great advantage that the camera gives that you can never really get in the theater is the close-up, which gives the audience such an intimate experience because the audience can see what’s happening inside you. If there’s a lot of movement, yeah, you need the wide shot. But so much of this is storytelling and psychological experience. And where we can get a close-up on that I go, “Wow. This is something I’m really going to be proud of, I think.”

Anthony Lawton in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Christopher Colucci: With respect to the sound design, the biggest challenge of the move from stage to film is probably the shift from an immersive sound experience in the theater to a stereo mix through home speakers. There is some subtlety in the sound underscore in A Christmas Carol, and I’m excited to work on the mix of our show in November. Although the sound design content is “the same” on film as in the performance for live audiences, its presentation is very different — cue “more excitement.”

Winch: Can you talk about transitioning from an intimate theater to film? How does that affect your performance or your approach?

Lawton: Well, the camera becomes my audience and they can be any audience member that I can imagine them to be. If I’m in a room with 160 people and if I see one person who is not having a good time, I think, “Oh, I’m failing.” Whereas if I look at that camera and I don’t see somebody who’s not having a good time, I can make myself believe that it’s going really well.

Weaver: It’s interesting that as creators the camera becomes the proxy for our idealized audience. Not just an audience, but our idealized audience. We make the camera look at the performance the way we want an audience member to look at the event.

Colucci: The most interesting discovery that I made in the process happened during my “quiet time” remixing the show in the theater prior to filming day. I realized that since there would be no physical audience, instead of the dozen or so speakers I would use to send different sounds around the theater, I could basically mix the show in stereo, and at a much lower level than we would use with an audience.

Winch: Did you make any discoveries during filming?

Weaver: The original performance is created for a three-sided room, a thrust, and we had cameras positioned in a semicircle around the front. So there was some angularity to the performance, but for the most part it was a pretty much straight-on performance. So Tony had to adapt to that for film.

Lawton: I used to have to walk around the edge of the stage to connect with the audience. For film, we had five cameras in front of us. But the one I wanted to go to most often was the one in the center that I knew was for close-ups because I knew that that was the camera that was going to give the audience watching at home the most intimate access.

Weaver: I’m realizing that this performance is different, but it’s not because of the cameras. It’s different because of the context of the world we’re doing it in right now. The pandemic, the financial inequity that the pandemic has exacerbated, the racial inequity that we’re finally having an earnest conversation about. The election… it suddenly occurs to me that people are going to see this after the election. So the themes and the language of A Christmas Carol and the way all of that resonates right now — that was the biggest change. That’s what’s different. There’s a lot of text in this play that sat different for us this year than the previous two years that we’ve done it.

Lawton: Yes, questions of class and income and power and the power that money accords the people and the value that that power and that money have get a little more relevant every day.

Anthony Lawton in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Winch: What was the most fun thing about filming or the thing that you’re most excited for folks to see?

Lawton: There’s a scene where there’s a lot of action around a dining room table. We moved the camera constantly at 360 degrees around the table to emphasize the idea of mayhem. And there’s a scene where we put a GoPro in my hand and I talked to the GoPro as I walked to imply the idea of traveling, you know. Those were fun.

Weaver: I was going answer the same thing. The crash at dinner scene alone is worth the price of admission because the camera just puts you at the dinner table with them in this chaotic Christmas madness —

Lawton: Full of children.

Weaver: Yeah, and it’s always been my favorite scene in the play anyway, and so to be able to really kind of make you feel like you’re sitting at the dinner table with them is just too much fun. It’s great.

Lawton: I’m excited because I have friends and family all over the country that always go, “We would so love to see one of your plays!” And now I’m like, “Now you have to! Yeah, no excuses!”

Winch: For people who have seen the stage version, is there anything new you want them to take from this experience of it?

Lawton: Just to amplify what we said already — if there are people coming into this environment who think it’s a good idea to have someone in power who has a big pile of money and is taking people’s power away from them, I hope this helps them change their minds. That’s all.

Weaver: I would say that in the three years since we started developing this show, the selling point to me was always that everybody knows A Christmas Carol. What you don’t know is Tony Lawton’s Christmas Carol, and that is what is exciting. To me that’s always been like, why would you not want to see Tony Lawton do A Christmas Carol? The ability to have that in your home, on your computer or television, sitting on your couch, with your popcorn — I think that’s thrilling. We’ve been able to see some first cuts of the finished film and I think it lives up to that anticipation.

This article is compiled from two separate conversations and has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

This performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was recorded live on-site at St. Stephen’s Theater in Center City Philadelphia, with strict adherence to all CDC, state, and local health and safety guidelines and streams December 4 — 27, 2020. Visit our website for tickets and information.

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Lantern Theater Company

Lantern Theater Company

Creating intimate and engaging theater in Philadelphia since 1994.