Stage manager Talia Krispel is responsible for ensuring that South Coast Repertory's perennial holiday favorite, "A Christmas Carol," runs smoothly.
What happened in 2014, when she began overseeing the show, calling cues and actors' entrances, is never far from her mind.
During a technical rehearsal, she asked the stage crew to drop a prop from the ceiling. It nearly hit beloved actor Hal Landon Jr. — who has played Ebenezer Scrooge at SCR since 1980 — on his head.
"I froze," Krispel said. "I was mortified and I apologized hundreds of times, telling him I'd never do it again, and he was so sweet, telling me to stop saying 'sorry.'"
Since the snafu, she has has written "DO NOT HIT HAL" in bold on her script.
This year, Krispel is gearing up for her third turn at the helm for the Costa Mesa theater's 37th annual production of "A Christmas Carol," which opens Nov. 25 and runs until Christmas Eve. She is the fourth stage manager of the holiday show.
The Charles Dickens story about a bitter old miser who transforms into a gentler, kindlier man after ghostly visitations has become a special part of Orange County families' holiday traditions, Krispel said.
Theatergoers anticipate not only Landon's portrayal of Scrooge but also look forward to watching new actors, cast members who have been with the show for decades and local schoolchildren who auditioned after training in the theater's conservatory.
"There's a lot that feels the same, but what's amazing is the energy and life that comes into it despite everyone knowing everything about it backwards and forwards," Krispel said. "It's a beautiful tradition for people and you get so excited. You can feel that in every performance."
Krispel, whose SCR experiences include "Abundance," also has credits from beyond the local theater, including "Inherit the Wind," starring Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy, and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," starring Clay Aiken and Tony nominee Keala Settle.
Her interest in theater began as a young girl living in El Segundo, where she would see plays with her mother.
She started performing at age 8 and eventually considered being an actress. After graduating with a degree in theater arts from the University of the Pacific, Krispel moved to New York City, receiving her master's degree in theater from New York University and seeking roles.
She was diverted when her mother checked the answering machine and heard a message from an executive at New York-based Theatreworks USA looking for an assistant stage manager.
Krispel had only stage managed one show in her life.
She got the gig and was mentored by a female stage manager during her budding career.
Krispel assisted on shows like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," with the original Broadway company, the Broadway workshop of "Legally Blonde" and "The Times They Are A'Changin,'" directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp.
While she was calling the shots for "Guys and Dolls," Krispel learned of a stage manager opening at South Coast Repertory for its annual "A Christmas Carol."
Since obtaining the position three years ago, Krispel calls herself "the baby" of the production, though she is responsible for managing over two dozen child and teen actors, whom she called "bright, mature and role models for younger children."
Krispel, who lives in New York, flies out every year for the position and is able to spend more time with her family in Los Angeles County for the holidays.
"There is a lot of joy in this show, and that's the big reason why I come back every year," Krispel said. "And when we rehearse the scene where I almost hit Hal, I can joke about it. There's a lot of humor behind the scenes."
IF YOU GO
What: 'A Christmas Carol'
When: Nov. 25 to Dec. 24
Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Ticket prices vary
Information: (714) 708-5555 or scr.org.