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When Laura Ambler and I wrote The Santa Diaries we thought about the Avalon stage. It’s not so big. There is some room in front of the curtains if they are pulled, but if you are in the balcony you might not see the very front of the stage. We also took into consideration that the budget for sets might be minimal so the original play was written with just a few set changes, mostly done by lighting different areas of the stage. The Avalon, however, had more ambitious plans.

We don’t know who came up with the concept, but it made a huge impact on the show. Floor to ceiling white screens were placed at an angle on the stage and set walls were projected onto the screens using rear projectors. This allowed local artists Maggii Sarfaty and Katie O’Neill Theeke to create multiple set images, adding a richness to the play that was better than we could have imagined and would not have been possible with physical set changes. When Sandy’s living room is on screen we see actually see snow falling outside the windows! The drawings were evocative, adding to the magic of the show. This YouTube video shows some of the set changes.

For the opening monologue a film was made and projected onto the two screens. The prerecorded voice over is of Sandy Hawes (David Foster) writing in his diary. Laura created a montage of Will Hawes’ life in Hollywood by photoshopping actor Casey Rauch’s face onto purchased images. In about three minutes we were able to get a huge amount of backstory into the play visually. In the dream sequence the same technology was used with incredible effect. At one point we see flames turning the theater into an inferno and Will’s dream becomes a nightmare. I don’t know how they did any of that, but the result is spectacular. We actually see a Victorian village scene being painted before our eyes by Bud, Frisbee and Woody (played by Tom Barwick, Dale Rauch, and Mark Ledford).

Using rear projection and only two blank screens meant the room on the stage was reduced to a large triangular area. This called for some creative blocking, but it all worked. It also created some behind-the-screens issues. The actors couldn’t get in the way of the projectors. During rehearsals the kids learned that they could make awesome shadow puppets by getting close to the screens. That discovery was put to good use during the dream sequence. The Avalon’s vision and the hard work to make the rear projection system function made the show spectucular in a way we could not have imagined.

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