After 34 years of staging A Christmas Carol, Alliance Theatre’s production department has the show down to a science. “It’s like the train that we always know where it’s going,” says Laury Conley, director of costumes and wardrobe. “If it ever goes off the tracks, we know how to get right back.”
This Tiny Tim costume was crafted for eight-year-old Emberlynn Wood, reprising the iconic role for the second year. Designed by Mariann Verheyen and built from scratch by a talented team of stitchers, craftspeople, and prop artisans, it’s one of dozens of costumes perfected throughout the year to bring Charles Dickens’s timeless classic to life onstage.
Three years ago, the Alliance completely reimagined the production, with a new script, set design, and costumes. Tiny Tim’s costume reflects the softer sensibility of Verheyen’s new designs, explains Conley. “It’s a little closer to the ‘common man,’” she says. “Less heavy velvets and brocades, more cottons and simple palettes.” To execute Verheyen’s vision, Conley and her team visited countless fabric shops in New York and Atlanta, poring over swatches to find the perfect ensemble.
Costume fittings begin once casting is complete, generally in August. Most of the cast returns year after year, but new actors join from time to time. Children—there are four in this production—have an insistent habit of growing. Conley’s team will often leave extra hem that can be taken out as young actors mature.
Stitchers sew the costume to the actor’s measurements, while the crafts master, Diana Thomas, carefully distresses the shoes so they look old but still hold up for weeks of shows. One of Tiny Tim’s boots gets a hole drilled through the heel, to secure the tiny brace. Meanwhile, the props department fashions a crutch that’s just the right size. “We have about six in stock,” says Kimberly Townsend, prop artisan and buyer. “Depending on their height, either we’ll chop one down or we’ll make a new one.” A second version of the costume is built for Tiny Tim’s understudy: Conley’s team makes up to three versions of each costume in the show. “With A Christmas Carol, we have to think about longevity,” she says. “We buy massive amounts of buttons for this show because we know we’ll have to replace them—and because Scrooge pops his off all the time.”
Rehearsals begin in October, with set, props, and costumes introduced in early November. A Christmas Carol opened this year on November 11, launching actors into an intense six-week run, with up to eight performances a week. Separate crews manage the show’s many elements throughout, from laundering costumes and washing wigs to replacing busted lightbulbs and replenishing stacks of meticulously aged paper. After the show closes, costumes are laundered, repaired, and organized by actor; props are assembled into large road boxes, separated by stage right or stage left to simplify next year’s load-in.
A Christmas Carol is such a well-run machine that backstage departments are already working on next season by the time this year’s production opens. Conley and her crew keep an eye out throughout the year for good fabrics or costume accessories, she says: “In my position, I don’t ever really stop working on A Christmas Carol.”
This article appears in our December 2023 issue.