7 Backstage Secrets of A Christmas Carol

The cast of A Christmas Carol (2011) David Cooper

by Adam Schrader & Zachary Moull

Our holiday production of A Christmas Carol is just as intricate behind-the-scenes as it is onstage. Technical director Adam Schrader shares some backstage secrets:

1. The world of ice on the walls and floor of the stage comes from a single photograph of hoarfrost on a window. It’s been magnified and printed across the many pieces of the design. 

2. It takes a lot of sparkle to create the magical effects of A Christmas Carol – so much that Theatre Calgary ordered a full keg of glitter from an Okotoks-based company in the first year of the production. To apply it, a scenic painter smeared glue on the surfaces and threw handfuls of glitter at the scenery.

3. Characters such as the Spirit of Christmas Past are flown using an automated system that was custom designed for our theatre. Once a flying sequence has been programmed into the computer, a technician just needs to hit the “go” button and monitor the effect. 

4. The space just behind the upstage wall of the set is known as Wardrobe Alley, because it’s filled with changing booths and clothing racks to accommodate the show’s rapid costume changes.

5. The Spirit of Christmas Present’s steampunk tricycle was built from real bike and motorcycle parts, in collaboration with the Shaw Festival’s props workshop. 

6. The production staff constantly updates scenic elements to keep the show running smoothly year after year. The trapdoors for the graveyard, once gravity-based, are now automated with electric pistons. The design’s original trees were built from plywood and carved foam, but they’ve since been replaced with ones made from durable aluminum and plexiglass.

7. The show’s 10 snow machines use soap bubbles instead of confetti or cornstarch, since any build-up on the stage floor would be dangerous to the performers when they skate. Even still, the cleaning regimen needs to be intense. Stagehands scrub the floor with vinegar (to cut the soap) or ammonia (to cut the vinegar) on alternating days, and also give it an industrial-strength buffing once a week.