Hugh Vanstone’s Atmospheric, Tony-nominated Lighting for A Christmas Carol

(Joan Marcus)

The Ghost of Christmas Past visited Hugh Vanstone on October 15 with the news of a 2020 Tony Award nomination for his lighting design of A Christmas Carol, which graced Broadway last festive season at the Lyceum Theatre. “It always feels great to have your work noticed, and this is the ultimate honor,” notes the designer.

The Jack Thorne adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famous story premiered at the Old Vic in London in 2017 and has revived its stay at the end of each subsequent year. The play made its Broadway debut in November 2019.

Photo by Joan Marcus

The original design directive requested a simple visual language. “’How would you stage this scene with nothing but the absolute minimum?’” was the question posed to Vanstone who ultimately designed more, with less.

“Director Matthew Warchus observed that Scrooge’s journey in the piece is one of darkness into light,” explains Vanstone. “I wanted to conjure the various atmospheres of the story simply and beautifully with seamless fluidity as the ghosts summon memories from Scrooge’s past and premonitions of his future.”

Adding to the ambience was a canopy of 682 prop lanterns, fabricated by Kathy Fabian of Propstar, NYC, as major scenic elements in Rob Howell’s set design. Production manager Ryan Murphy and the rigging team handled the complex rigging of the lanterns, all on individual dimmers and pixel-mapped.

Vanstone utilized a limited range of blues, whites, and candlelight supplemented with very sparing use of warmer tones to generate the simple, yet effective atmospheric lighting. The rig, supplied by PRG, featured Martin MAC Encore Performance CLD spots and Martin MAC Aura washes as workhorse lighting fixtures. Scott Tusing programmed the system on an ETC Eos lighting console.

Photo by Joan Marcus

“I’d like to pay credit to the huge talent and commitment of my associate Craig Stelzenmuller, UK associate Sam Waddington, and assistant Jess Creager, who together lovingly adapted the London design,” concludes Vanstone, “and to the A1 team of production electricians led by Jimmy Fedigan and Michael ‘Brownie’ Brown and house electrician, Karen Zitnick, who achieved the gargantuan task of hanging it all in the air and making it turn on!”

A Christmas Carol will be performed and streamed live from December 12-24 as part of the Old Vic: In Camera series. The play will return to Broadway during the 2021 holiday season.

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