MOSCOW — If our past, present and future could speak to us about our course of life would we change for the better?Since its publication in December 1843, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has asked people to suspend their belief and imagine the passage of time as ghosts offering the promise of epiphany. Using larger-than-life-sized puppets to illustrate this fantastical idea, the Idaho Repertory Theatre and University of Idaho Theatre Arts open the holiday classic Thursday, Dec. 4 at the Hartung Theatre.
The rod puppets were carved from basswood by retired professor Stephanie Miller and engineered to move by graduate student Michael Brandt.
“They give us that otherworldly feeling for those ghosts,” says director David Lee-Painter. “It’s very theatrical in that you see the operators, the roustabouts, make the world happen for us. You see the wires. We want to celebrate the fact we’re in the theater and not try to hide that.”
While filmmakers strive to hide the special effects in movies, in theater the goal is not to hide but to create an interactive experience, says Miller, who designed the puppets to be realistic and yet somewhat stylized to indicate otherworldly origins.
Brandt is a Chicago native working on a master’s degree in theater arts design and technology at UI. Drawing from his background in construction engineering, he spent weeks creating the inner mechanics that allow the puppets to move. Christmas Past is a woman. It takes two people to operate her moving mouth, arms and long fingers. The male Christmas Present is strapped to the body of the operator who can move the mouth and head. Christmas Future is a looming 12-foot-tall shadow of death.
A cast and crew of 50 are behind the production. The story of Scrooge’s redemption keeps audiences coming back, Lee-Painter says.
“We all have some Ebenezer Scrooge in us. We’re hard-hearted in some way, mostly to ourselves. The show presents us an opportunity to be kinder to ourselves and others, and not just at Christmastime.”
If you go:
What: Idaho Repertory Theatre presents Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”
When: 7:30 Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 4-6; Dec. 13, and 18-20
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14
Where: University of Idaho Hartung Theatre
Cost: $15 adults, $10 seniors, UI faculty and staff, $5 children. Free for UI students.
Tickets are available at BookPeople of Moscow, Shoup Hall Theatre office Room 201, at the door or by calling (208) 885-6465.