Leave it to Nashville Repertory Theatre to take a story we all know and love and turn it on its head.
This isn’t your parents’ Christmas Carol. The avant-garde, minimalistic take on this holiday classic — running through Dec. 22 — brings Charles Dickens’ most beloved characters to life using five actors, imaginative props and mesmerizing design by Gary C. Hoff.
“The faux stonework evokes some mythic medieval, vaguely Celtic nature that feels almost elemental to this early Victorian Englishness.” -William Shutes, Out & About Nashville
Hoff has shaped the Rep’s artistic presence as the company’s resident scenic designer since 1999 (when it was still called the Tennessee Repertory Theatre). As Hoff explains, being a resident scenic designer for a local theater company is quite a rare breed.
“It’s an unusual position in the way most resident theater companies’ function,” Hoff says. “Most hire-in or use freelance designers.”
As the Rep’s head of design for two decades, the 54-year-old coordinates major design elements within individual shows as well as across the entire season. According to Hoff, this gives the Rep’s productions a unified and cohesive aesthetic, in addition to helping the company conserve its limited resources.
“The benefit of that is we can look at an entire season and make sure each production has enough variance to give each show a distinct quality to best tell each story,” he explains, “while still controlling budget and best utilizing what we have to work with.”
Before coming to the Rep in 1999, Hoff earned a BFA in technical theatre from Central Michigan University and worked for two seasons with the Kalamazoo Civic Players. He then spent five years with the Chattanooga Little Theatre before receiving a master’s degree in scenic design from Purdue University and making his way to Music City.
His tenure with the Rep has been underscored by awards and acclaim for a body of work that runs the gamut from lavish period pieces to conceptual Shakespeare. With Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Hoff was able to flex his creative muscle and make something new.
“I find doing the same thing over and over amazingly and mind-numbingly boring,” he says. “The fact that we’re doing something so different aesthetically is something the audience will not expect. It’s a completely different look and feel.”
Hoff’s world is inhabited by five actors, four of which (Shawn Knight, Mallory Mundy, Joy Pointe and Jonah Jackson) play the 24 other classic Dickens characters featured throughout the play (Bob & Martha Cratchit, Jacob Marley, Fezziwig, Tiny Tim and the ghosts to name a few). Only Brian Russell plays the same character the entire time as Ebenezer Scrooge.
“There’re not many actors, so creating ways for Patrick’s adaptation to happen was a fun challenge,” Hoff explains. “We had to basically build an entire proscenium theater to encompass all the pieces we needed to happen.”
It may sound like there’s a lot going on (because there is), but it won’t seem that way thanks a tastefully minimalistic design approach by Hoff and director Beki Baker.
“It was about creating the very minimum to create the maximum effect,” Hoff says. “We tore down anything wasn’t essential for the story; it’s very simplistic and minimalistic to highlight this version’s quick, cinematic-like movement.”
But with two-and-a-half decades in the industry under his belt, Hoff reminds us why this story continues to resonate — no matter how it’s told.
“It’s been done for hundreds of years because it’s always a story that needs to be told; and if we can find a new way to tell it, or if it impacts an audience in a new way, I think that’s what theater’s all about.”
Patrick Barlow’s A Christmas Carol by Nashville Repertory Theatre runs in TPAC’s Johnson Theater through Dec. 22. For ticket information, call the Box Office at 615-782-4040 or visit tpac.org.
Photos by Michael Scott Evans.
Reach Michael Aldrich on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @michaelwaldrich.