Nov 19, 2009

Holly Anne Rawls - Lighting Goddess: When Santa Asked Me To Sit On His Lap, I Wet Myself!


Bah, humbug!

I have always been a bit of a Grinch about Christmas. With my first name being Holly, it was all the years of fellow classmates singing, “Deck the halls with boughs of YOU! Ha ha ha.” Or maybe it was all the relatives who told me, “Here is your Christmas and birthday present.” (A note of explanation: my birthday is on December 29th, so I often received double- duty gifts. Kind of a cop out, I think. I pity the poor bastards who had the misfortune to be born on the 25th.)

I was not always so Scroogey. I can remember a time in my early childhood when Christmas was a time of magic and fun. When I was three or four my godmother’s boyfriend snuck out of our Christmas party, dressed up as Santa, and appeared in the front yard with a sack of gifts. Of course, when he came inside and asked me to come sit on his lap, I promptly wet myself (and him) with excitement. I can remember setting out milk and cookies before bed and trying to catch Santa in the act. I always loved snuggling with my mother or grandmother in front of the lit Christmas tree and reading my favorite story, Santa Mouse.

But at some point (perhaps around age eight, my cynicism matured early) I began to dislike the holidays. The business of preparing for Christmas seemed to sully the event itself. So many cookies to bake, gifts to wrap, lights to string, parties to make appetizers for… All these activities moving towards the end result of a brief orgy of feasting and unwrapping. And then you gotta clean up all those dishes and mounds of discarded wrapping paper. A little depressing, really.
And then there is the over commercialization of Christmas. I know I am preaching on a well- worn topic, but if I were a foreigner looking at American holiday culture (as dictated by the media and shopping malls everywhere) I might think Americans were a misguided, gluttonous group of materialists who just might benefit from being bombed back to the Stone Age. For example, look at Hallmark’s tear- jerking commercials about 4”x6” rectangles of paper magically reuniting estranged mothers and daughters- I mean really! Or how about The Gap running politically correct holiday advertisements for garish sweaters by the first of November- P.S. No family is that ethnically diverse or skinny. Then there are our local Hobby Lobbys who set out trees, ornaments and other Taiwanese- made doodads in September- I was really close to burning that mother down when I saw Halloween decorations being moved aside for reindeer doorstops before the leaves had finished falling. When I am Queen of the Universe, there will be no advertisements, buying anything Christmasy, or playing of holiday related music before Thanksgiving. The Grinch has spoken.
At this point you may be asking yourself how in Yahweh’s name did this crank get to be the lighting designer for a holiday spectacular such as A Christmas Survival Guide? And, as addendum to previous question, what kind of hellish and scary things is she going to do to this lovely holiday show?
To answer the first question, because my boss asked me to. And I always do what he says.
The answer to the second question is a bit more complex. I had my doubts when I was handed the Survival Guide script. But my first meeting with director Michael Gold assuaged my fears. He acknowledged that Christmas could be a stress filled time of empty clich├ęs, but he wanted this show to communicate the true joy of the holidays to our audience. His infectious and obviously heartfelt affection for everything Christmas made my heart grow two sizes that day. Survival Guide makes no attempt to hide the crass commercialization and often dismal depressions of the holidays; rather it gives them a gentle, laughing poke and moves on to what is really important about Christmas- family, togetherness, love and compassion. This show has so much heart. I am terribly impressed with the way Michael and the performers have made moments within the show that make the cynic in me smile. Set designer Chris Sheley and Props Mistress Jessica Rose have created an environment which feels so cheery and comfortable I kinda want to go a wassailing in it.

So, I have climbed aboard the Polar Express and developed a lighting concept that enhances the warmth and familiarity of the scenes as well as showcases the playfulness of the costumes (lovingly designed by Leslie Aldridge).

A Christmas Survival Guide does a fantastic job of spreading holiday cheer and love without leaving the viewer feeling sticky with false sentiment.
A big thank you to the production team for easing me out of my Grinchiness. I suppose we can listen to Christmas music in the shop, even though it is not yet Thanksgiving. And yes Chris, you can wear your Santa hat to work. Maybe we’ll even decorate the tree early this year.

A Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
-Holly

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