top of page

A Christmas Carol

The Guthrie Theater - Wurtele Thrust

Director: Joseph Haj

Scene Design: Matt Saunders

Lighting Design: Yi Zhao

Costume Design: Tony-Leslie James
Technical Director: Jim Gangl
Associate Technical Director: Thomas Fagerholm


 Photo: Jenny Graham

The Guthrie Theater presents A Christmas Carol each holiday season. Approximately every 10 years, they reimagine the production with a new script and entirely new designs. As a re-start after the COVID-19 pandemic, it was decided to re-imagine the production. The build was schedule for 16 weeks and started with a scenic materials budget of $100,000 dollars and $150,000 for automation equipment. These budgets were quickly expanded due to the detail of the finalized scenic design, the rising costs of materials, and supply line issues.


In this image we can see the cobblestone textured floor and the silhouette of the four automated tracking walls, each of which 14 to 16 feet in width and 26 feet tall. Since the show is presented each season, we engineered the entire set to pack up and fit into 53-foot semi trailers. Each tracking wall upstage broke into four units. 

    A video clip can be found HERE.

ACC Bid.png
Bid Overview

Above is the summary page from Pass 6 of the budget. The process for bidding a theatrical production can take a number of iterations in order to get a design within the scope of the project. Time and money are the biggest factors to consider. I generated a detailed comparison for the Artistic Director, Joe Haj, as well as the rest of the artistic team to not only see the numbers but also a visual representation. I have found the pie chart visuals can assist in a discussion regarding where resources are being expended.

Tracking Walls Itemization.png

To the left we see a detailed estimation of one unit or scenic piece for the set of A Christmas Carol. The detail needed for an accurate (within 5% to 8%) bid requires a lot of work. Here the technical director, Jim Gangl, and I collaborated by taking on different units in the show. This page shows my estimate for the four tracking walls.


 Photo: Jenny Graham

The Scrooge & Marley Sign was cut out on our 5x10 CNC from several layers of Plywood and MDF. The Lettering was all engraved with the CNC. The sign itself flew over the thrust stage utilizing an automated pneumatic cylinder with a 3 to 1 mechanical advantage. The cylinder had several safety redundancies such as impact cushions and self-locking brakes in case of loss of pressure or failure. 


 Photo: Jenny Graham

The four tracking walls parted open upstage with Scrooge's house filling the center gap. This house unit was two stories and was finished on all four sides. In this image we see the exterior side which was covered with faux textured brick.

Scrooge's Houe

 Photo: Jenny Graham

SCR H Front.png
SCR H Side.png

Design Drafting by Matt Saunders

Seen on the second floor is Scrooge in the first act of the play. This two-story house measured 14 feet 6 inches wide, 11 feet 6 inches deep, and 20 feet 6 inches tall. This unit was engineered to be strong enough to hold 6 people on the second floor while also being light enough to be moved by just 4 stagehands.

ACC Drafting
ACH 440D.png

Drafting by John Stillwell

An example of construction and engineering drawings produced by the technical direction team for implementation by the IATSE shop staff.

Technical Drawings were created with AutoCAD.

ACC SCH 440J Newel Posts.PNG

Drafting by John Stillwell

Another example of the detail that was needed to construct elements of this set. These are construction notes for just one of the Newel Posts on the Scrooge house staircase. There were hundreds of drafting plates such as this and the previous created by the technical direction and drafting team. I both supervised the engineering and assisted in the creation of drawings.

501 - Tracking Walls Truss Structure-504 (updated).png

The above is a sample of my drafting and engineering for the tracking wall motor mounts and tracking assembly. The image is linked to a PDF of more drawings. Please click to see more!

ACC SCR house build.JPEG

Process Photos

ACC SCR stair 3.JPEG

 Photo: Jenny Graham


 Photo: Jenny Graham

Spectacle is an important element in a family holiday show. Here we see the Ghost of Christmas Past flying down to stage from the grid area above. This flying effect was engineered by the Technical Direction staff and lead rigger.


 Photo: Jenny Graham

Jacob Marley just after emerging through the center of Scrooge's bed. For the actor to do so, we engineered a latching trap door in the bed with spandex sheets stretched and split over the hole. That way the hole was hidden when the door was opened for the actor to crawl out through.


To make the trap door in the bed easy and quick to operate, found a pair of locking vertical hold-down clamps from Destaco. We then had our shop staff weld together the handles and locks so they could easily be operated single handedly. 


 Photo: Jenny Graham

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey through his memories. The tiny houses, built by the properties department, rotated around the schoolhouse, built by the scene shop, as Scrooge witnesses his past unfold.

One of the more complex elements to this production was creating a 28-foot turntable (rotating disc) in the center of the stage with a second rotating donut 4-feet wide on the outside of the turntable. Beyond the basic engineering challenges of making these two units work, the turntable, donut, and stage floor all needed to be modular in order to load-out into a storage truck for the next year.


Above are images of the turntable as it was installed. Since the floor was not perfectly level, we had 3/8-inch plate steel sweeps laser cut for the casters/wheels to ride on. This made leveling the rotating turntable much easier than with alternative materials such as plywood. In the second photo is the center pivot for the turntable. This utilized a 3-foot crane bearing otherwise known as a slew ring.

Donut Installation: We learned a few lessons during the installation and testing of the donut around the turntable. First, we needed more alignment casters around the outer circumference to better distribute the side load from the friction drive motor. The first set were designed into the outer ring of the caster sweeps. We added additional alignment casters with angle iron and plywood blocks.


Secondly, a pinch tensioner at the friction drive wheel would have both reduced overall sideload to the donut, relieved stress on the alignment casters, and would have increased friction at the drive motor/wheel. It was intended to implement these lessons in the 2nd run of the production in 2022.



 Photo: Jenny Graham

bottom of page