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SCR’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ set makes the past present

Production crew members Derek Epstein, left, and Mandy Horak carefully fit a side panel into place for one of the backdrop scenes for "A Christmas Carol." SCR's technical and scenic crews have reassembled the same stage set for "A Christmas Carol" for more than 30 years.
Production crew members Derek Epstein, left, and Mandy Horak carefully fit a side panel into place for one of the backdrop scenes for “A Christmas Carol.” SCR’s technical and scenic crews have reassembled the same stage set for “A Christmas Carol” for more than 30 years.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” depicts visits from a trio of specters who represent the past, present and future.

From the viewpoint of the crew who hustles backstage during the show, though, the Ghost of Christmas Past easily trumps the latter two.

The Costa Mesa theater, which has produced the play every year since 1980, has gotten by for 34 years with the same lead actor, Hal Landon Jr., and director, John-David Keller. Something else has also weathered those three-plus decades: the set, which has undergone any number of changes and retouches over the years but retains its original structure and even a few original parts.

“The basic way the show moves pretty much hasn’t changed,” said Jon Lagerquist, SCR’s technical director, earlier this month.

That means that while most SCR shows use computer automation to move scenery around during shows, “A Christmas Carol” relies on old-fashioned muscle. According to Lagerquist, the show requires half a dozen people to move scenery and props during scene transitions. Others, including a child wrangler to whisk kids on the stage and off, also contribute to a seamless production.

Lagerquist is entering his 30th season at SCR, and as workers assembled the backdrops around him, he counted off their lineage: third version of Ebenezer Scrooge’s office, second of the Cratchits’ home, and so on. Considering the potential for human error, it’s tempting to wonder if the show has ever known calamity — the Cratchits’ home falling off the wagon as it’s wheeled onstage or some such thing.

Lagerquist, though, can’t recall any major slip-ups, at least nothing worse than a scrim getting caught momentarily on a piece of furniture.

“We move large things around quickly and quietly and accurately in the dark, which takes a certain mind-set,” he said.

Among those who know that mind-set well is Emily Kettler, an SCR automation technician who is entering her eighth year with the show. With her years of experience, the Norwalk resident often finds herself mentoring her teammates — on athletics as much as dramatics.

“I tell a lot of the interns that come in that are new every year, they need to start working out now,” Kettler said. “It’s very physical and strenuous, but there’s also an enjoyment to it. It’s hard work and it’s fast-paced, but you feel like you accomplished something at the end.”

Has she ever sat in the audience and enjoyed that accomplishment from a different perspective? Not yet.

“I would love to actually see the show,” Kettler said. “But I’d much rather work it.”

If You Go

What: “A Christmas Carol”

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Nov. 29 through Dec. 26

Cost: Starts at $21 for children and $26 for adults

Information: (714) 708-5555 or https://www.scr.org


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