Creating the Ghost of Christmas Present

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The original costume sketch for
the Ghost of Christmas Present
This interview is adapted from the Christmas Carol edition of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s behind-the-scenes theater guide. Purchase a copy to read the complete interview and learn more about Charles Dickens and the magical world of the show.

When costume designer Beaver Bauer undertook A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol in 2005, she knew it would be a substantial endeavor. “I wouldn’t have considered doing a show this complex at another theater,” she confesses, “in part because A.C.T. is a unique place where you know you can make a bold creative choice in a rendering and then have a ghost of chance that what you are envisioning can actually be achieved. There is enough depth [of talent and experience] in the costume shop to paint fabric and create a hat from scratch and really take something all the way from the ground up—from just fabric.”

Jane Boggess (former A.C.T. accessories artisan) applies red paint to the Ghost of Christmas Present costume
Nowhere was this experience put to better use than in creating the costume for the Ghost of Christmas Present, played this year by A.C.T. core acting company member OmozĂ© Idehenre. “I was interested in the power of the color green as a life force, as a metaphor for the present tense—especially because it seems like Scrooge is so disconnected from his present life and from his environment that his is walking in almost a parallel universe. I thought it would be great, in contrast, to have something really, really vital. In the book, Christmas present is described as someone, either a man or a woman, wearing a green robe, and it brought to mind for me something more organic and more, not necessarily Druidic, but something with a powerful force of life and nature running through it. . . . We knew we wanted green velvet, with red veins running through it, and we hoped we could buy that fabric.”

Unfortunately, they were disappointed. Bauer recalls: “We went to New York and Los Angeles just to shop for exactly what we needed, and we [went] to every store here [in San Francisco]”—but to no avail. “We couldn’t find it!” says former costume shop assistant manager Joan Raymond. “It might be in Milan, but it was definitely not in New York or Los Angeles.”

Scrooge (James Carpenter) is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Omozé Idehenre). Photo by Kevin Berne.
Still, Bauer was undeterred. “We decided to buy white fabric and dye it ourselves. . . . We started creating samples, because you never know how the fabric is going to behave with the dye, to figure out which [dye] is most effective.” Eventually, the 50 yards of velvet for the Ghost of Christmas Present’s costume would undergo an elaborate six-step coloring process that took the staff of the costume shop over eight weeks, making it the most labor-intensive costume in the production. After it was dyed green, caustic chemicals were used to burn vine-like designs in the fabric. Gold paint was applied, then red; next, the fabric was rolled in paper and steamed to set the dye. Finally, it was painted green, rinsed, and dried. Once the velvet was finished, it was cut and sewn into a robe that was fitted to the actor.

“Someone will look at it and think, ‘Oh, they probably bought that at Britex,” Bauer says. “But it takes [more than 100] hours to make the fabric—and that’s before it’s sewn, before the collar is made, before the cuffs are made, before the drape with the feathers and the train and the wig. . . . It’s an unbelievably detailed and precise process.”
 
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