A Christmas Carol - Clocking In

I have always considered the bizarre-looking mantle clock in Scrooge’s bedchamber an important element of the setting, time being so integral to the storyline. But what do you do when that clock must display six different times within the course of a two hour and fifteen minute show and you can’t manually change the hands?
That was the dilemma we faced when A Christmas Carol was refurbished in 2006. Since the original production opened in 1976, a volunteer stage hand had moved the hands to the appropriate time from behind the mantle wall. It was a simple, good old-fashioned, and most often, reliable way of doing it. With the 2006 re-design of the show, the Scrooge bedchamber wall was reconfigured to thunderously crack open for Jacob Marley’s haunting appearance. Not only did the wall part down the middle, but it also “flew” to a height of 35 feet above the stage, an elevation no one could possibly reach to change the clock times between bedchamber scenes.
Since the re-design, we have had difficulty getting the clock to display the correct time for each segment in the story. To solve the problem, we called on former OCP technician, Bob Dewey, who specializes in computerized automation and has assisted us with motion control systems for moving scenery (and actors) on the Mainstage and in the Howard Drew Theatre. Dewey was asked to design and create an electronically generated mechanical module that would give us total remote control of the mantle clock. Criteria included: compact size to fit inside the existing clock, DMX (digital multiplex) controllable allowing us to program the clock in any direction and with variable speed, wireless preferred, affordable, and reliable without question.
Four weeks after Dewey began the project; he returned with the prototype and after several trial setups, where electronic and mechanical bugs were worked out with our staff, we were presented with the solution to the clock dilemma. Using our console that controls all of the show’s lighting cues, we are now able to pre-program cues assigning the hands to read the exact time the scene requires. So through the magic of DMX we are able to set the clock for ten minutes to twelve, midnight for Marley, 1:00 am for Christmas Past, 2:00 am for Christmas Present, 3:00 am for Christmas Future and 6:25 am for Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas morning.
This is probably not the most exciting thing we have accomplished recently, but sometimes I think it’s the little things that count.
Next project: to re-design the clock face so it projects an eerie, ghostly glow as midnight strikes.

Jim Othuse
Scenic and Lighting Designer

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