Diving into the Past: M.F.A. Actor Lily Narbonne's Carol Experience

By Taylor Steinbeck

Beautiful and haunting, the Ghost of Christmas Past's sweeping entrance across the Geary stage is one of the most memorable moments in A.C.T.'s time-honored classic, A Christmas Carol. The actor who plays the ghost each year is tasked with the unique challenge of being strapped into a swing and hoisted above the audience, all the while maintaining an air of elegance. Third-year Master of Fine Arts Program actor, and self-proclaimed daredevil Lily Narbonne was undaunted by this though. We sat down with Narbonne to chat about defying gravity, embracing the past, and scaring Scrooge.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Lily Narbonne) in
A.C.T.'s 2017 production of A Christmas Carol.
What can you tell me about Christmas Past’s costume?

She has an ethereal, otherworldly nature about her and the costume reflects that. In Charles Dickens’s original text, he describes her like a light, so in our production, she is supposed to be the embodiment of a flame. What’s amazing about the costume is that it’s one of costume designer Beaver Bauer’s original creations from the first production of Carol. And you can kind of tell because it has some wear to it, but it really works since it’s Past’s costume.

There’s also a lot of secrets with the costume. Underneath the dress I have these biker shorts and the harness for the swing over them. So that’s kind of brilliant, I didn’t realize that it would be as compact as it is, so it can easily go onto the costume.

How has the swing been? Are you comfortable in it?

It’s great! I love heights actually. I like cliff jumping—I haven’t done it in a while, but I used to dive into quarries in Massachusetts. So yeah, being in the swing is exhilarating. It’s like 25 feet or so up in the air. But that’s not the challenge. The hard thing for me is landing the graceful dismount in a way that isn’t noticeable.

What has it been like performing on the Geary stage for the first time?

Amazing! I’ve been on the Geary stage a couple of times for readings and classes, but it’s a completely different story when you’ve got awesome actors like Jim Carpenter (Scrooge) to work with and a whole intense costume and a wig.

Draper Keely Weiman and M.F.A. Program actor Lily Narbonne during her costume fitting.
Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
This is the first year that Christmas Past doesn’t sing her song. Is there a reason for that?

Every ghost used to have a song, but over the years, they’ve gradually been cut, so Christmas Past's was the only one that still had one. For this year’s production, our director Domenique (Lozano) wanted her presence to be more terrifying, and the song just made her seem too friendly and warm, which doesn’t really make sense given that Jacob Marley tells Scrooge, “You will be haunted by three ghosts.” Scrooge can’t be so willing right away to follow her into the past. And that’s just not our world right now. It’s not easy to sway people who are emotionally blocked or are money-hungry. It’s takes work.

What has been your favorite part of this experience so far?

It’s been wonderful to work with the Young Conservatory actors. They have so much energy—it’s contagious. And then the adult company has performed Carol so many times that they do it with such ease. They’re also so open-hearted to us. So it’s been a really amazing transition from my third year of the M.F.A. Program into this professional opportunity.

Come celebrate the holidays with us! A.C.T.'s production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.

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