Behind the Scenes: USI Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol”


Photo by Sydney Lawson

Evelyn Pigman working on the costume for The Ghost of Christmas Present. “A Christmas Carol” is USI Theatre’s first large scale in-person production since COVID-19.

Sydney Lawson, Lifestyle Editor

After seeing USI Theatre’s first Fall 2021 performance, “The Mad Ones,” with a cast of four, I was excited to see their upcoming first large-scale production since COVID-19, “A Christmas Carol.” Not only did I get the pleasure of viewing this performanceI was able to get a behind the scenes understanding of what goes into making a USI Theatre production.

COVID-19 safety precautions have changed some aspects to the behind the scenes process. Based on the director’s discretion, actors had to be vaccinated in order to be casted in this performance

Crew and cast members across all departments are fewer in number than pre-COVID-19 years but are steadily increasing. “It now looks much more similar to how theater looked pre-COVID,” said Grace Koltz, a senior theater major and the stage manager for “A Christmas Carol.”

Elliot Wasserman, chair of the Performing Arts Department, wrote the adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The students performed it Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Casting for “A Christmas Carol” and “The Mad Ones” began simultaneously in late August. 

Cast and crew consists almost entirely of students in the theater program , with the exception of a few faculty advisers and local young actors to play children’s roles. The actor for Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol” is actually the daughter of a USI Theatre alumni. 

In the past weeks, Koltz worked with the cast to plan technical aspects of the show, such as sound, lighting and special effects. 

The week before the opening show, referred to by members of the crew as “Tech Week,” marks the transition from rehearsal and prep studios to the Performance Center. Dress rehearsals began the weekend before opening night with actors practicing the entire show in full costume. All cast and crew members came together with their props, costumes and technical skills to perfect a complete run-through. 

I was also able to get an in-person look of costume and set production for the show. I began by visiting the Theatre Support Center.

When I walked into the costume department, I was surprised to be met by a giant skeleton in black robes. The skeleton was the height of two men. The effect was created by the use of a large hiking backpack the actor wore and used to manipulate the skeletal limbs. 

From behind the skeleton came Shan Jensen, a professor of theatre and costume crew adviser. Jensen gave me a tour of the workspace full of supplies, tools and costumes from past performances. I learned that many props and costumes are altered to be reused.

Kim Coleman fitting Bladen Allbright for the Ghost of Christmas Present costume. “A Christmas Carol” is USI Theatre’s first large scale in-person production since COVID-19. (Sydney Lawson)

The costume storage room looked like what I had imagined a clothing factory to look like, and entering the storage room for props felt like stepping into an “I Spy” book. 

She told me about the process for creating a costuming team, including selecting a head designer.

“Obviously there has to be a level of confidence and responsibility before we put them in charge of a show,” she said. Annabelle Gladding, a senior theater major, was the head designer for “A Christmas Carol.” Gladding already has “The Laramie Project” under her belt. 

Downstairs the stage crew were working on wiring a door, which they all laughingly referred to as the “Magic Door” a door to knock, rattle and slam open and closed by itself.

Earlier they had already wired the bed to allow the curtains to fly open at the pus of a   button. The stage crew started working on some technical aspects of the show in September. 

Andrew Hammond, a faculty adviser and technical coordinator, said “we take things that are used in a very specific way and apply them in a very unique way to our props”.

Andrew Hammond working with students on the “magic door.” “A Christmas Carol” is USI Theatre’s first large scale in-person production since COVID-19. (Sydney Lawson)

Getting to have a behind the scenes look at a USI Theatre production felt like stepping into an entirely unfamiliar world, filled with creativity and passion. It is clear the students and faculty involved put a lot of hard effort, heart and spirit into their work. 

Grace Koltz, like the rest of the cast and crew, is eager to share her hard work and passion with the university. “In light of COVID-19, I really hope that everyone can take away that joy of seeing live theatre, of being together, both the actors and the audience,” she said.

Read my review of the performance “A Christmas Carol” here