Behind the Curtain: Caleb S. Garner, Lighting Designer for “BEAUTIFUL”

How did you approach designing the lighting for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” to enhance the storytelling and evoke the mood of the production?

One of the bigger challenges of this show is that it’s based on real people in a very specific time period. You can go out and google “Carole King’s 1650 Office” and find tons of images about Carole King’s life. I needed to find a way to honor the history of Carole King and still be a creative collaborator within the production. We’re working with real places and real people, but it’s still theatre. We’ve still got to be creative and flexible. 

Beautiful has a big challenge of shifting from Carole and Gerry writing songs in their office to the full-blown performance by groups such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers, or Little Eva. I tried to separate these locations with color palettes and lighting angles: I keep Carole and Gerry’s office lit with vintage feeling ambers and oranges with most light coming from 45 degree angles from the front. I think it’s evocative of the lighting in the historic photos that you can find online. Below you’ll see a picture of Carole and Gerry in their office alongside a photo from the show set in the same location. 

Featured: Carole King (center) with Gerry Goffin (background) and Paul Simon (right) in a New York City studio, c. 1959. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Eliza Knode as Carole King and Dominick Ventrella as Gerry Goffin at Charleston Stage. Reese Moore Photography. 

The way the bodies are lit in the office is very similar to the way I tried to light the bodies in the production. Notice that the color palette is rich oranges and amber tints to help create a vintage feeling and compliment the warm tones of the furniture. 

In order to separate the office from the performances, I chose to use more isolation of singers and sculptural lighting. There’s a lot more light from the sides and back of the performer, making the look more stylized and concert-like. I tried to use period-specific lighting techniques that you could see in concerts from that time period, and I had to imagine how lighting designers at that time might design if they had access to today’s technology too. I wanted to be faithful to the time period, but with a few modern conveniences! A lot of the colors that I pulled for the performances came directly from the album covers of the songs when they were first released. For example, the 1961 album cover for The Drifters’ Some Kind Of Wonderful had lots of oranges and blues that I pulled directly into the lighting design: 

The Drifters – Some Kind Of Wonderful / Honey Bee (1961, Vinyl) - Discogs
Featured: The Drifters Some Kind of Wonderful Album Cover,  Atlantic Records, 1961
Featured: The Drifters (Baron Clay, Elisha Black, Clyde Moser, and Eddie Weaver) perform Some Kind Of Wonderful in Charleston Stage’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Reese Moore Photography.

It’s a balancing act of office Vs performance, and there are even times in the show when the main performance is in the office. The music will tell you how far you need to go with the lighting, and it’s my job to make sure I’m listening and respecting it. 

Can you discuss any specific collaborations or inspirations that influenced your approach to designing the lighting for “Beautiful”?

There was a lot of collaboration between all of the designers in Beautiful. We started meeting about the design several months ago to make sure we’re all coming up with a cohesive final product that all works together. I’ve worked with scenic designer Seth Howard, props designer Aline Toloto, sound designer Luke Walchuk, and costume designer Hayley O’Brien before, and we’ve developed a great rapport. We’ve gotten good at building off each other, and I really enjoy working with them. 

This show has a LOT of lighted scenery. Seth and I wanted to make sure that we had some lighting integrated into the set so we could have something transformative to get us from the offices to the performances. One of our solutions was the large columns in the set. We chose to turn them into light boxes willed with color-changing LED tape to help shift the color palette and give the audience some eye candy. Beautiful has 16 separately controlled light boxes and over 300 feet of LED tape in the production. 

Another fun collaboration with scenery was the large “1650” wall at the back of the set. We thought it would be cool to turn it into a vintage wall of lights that could flash along with the song. Seth and decided that each of the dark squares in the checkerboard pattern should have a light in it to give us an “audience blinder” look that was everywhere in the concerts of the era (and is still in use today). We worked closely with our scenic painter, Brandon Barker, to make sure the lights were totally hidden when turned off, while keeping the look of the lamp and reflector when they were on. The wall consists of 36 lights spread across six circuits and lots and lots of cable. 

Featured: The Drifters (Eddie Weaver, Clyde Moser, Elisha Black and Baron Clay) perform Up On The Roof in Charleston Stage’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Reese Moore Photography.

I am always making sure that the colors that I choose are complimentary of the scenery, but especially the costumes. I regularly go to the costume shop to feel the fabrics, look at the colors, and check them under lights. I do my best to make sure the light on the characters costumes and skin tones are flattering in several ways. I can make things more vibrant by highlighting costumes and skin with certain colors, I can help them pop out of darker backgrounds with the angle of light, and I can use textures to help give the costumes a little more depth – especially if they have sequins! One of my favorite costume moments is towards the end of the first act when The Righteous Brothers sing You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. They’re in dark suits against darkly lit scenery, so I used a string back light to highlight and separate them from the background. I also really love the blue-green color palette that goes with their deeper voices. It’s a great costume and lighting moment. 

The Righteous Brothers (Matthew Willingham and Cody Elsensohn) perform You’ve Lost That Loving Feelingin Charleston Stage’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Reese Moore Photography.

Lighting design often helps to establish the passage of time and transitions between scenes. How did you approach creating seamless transitions through the lighting?

Scene changes can absolutely kill a production if you’re not careful. You’ve lost half of the audience the minute a scene change goes over 10 seconds. The production staff works very hard to make sure that the elements can get on and offstage as fast and elegantly as possible. Director Marybeth Clark and I are really big fans of always giving the audience something interesting to look at while scenery is changing. Sometimes it’s a pulldown to one or two actors having a moment while the world shifts around them, or sometimes it’s turning out all of the lights except the columns and sky upstage. We always want it to be visually interesting, speedy, and emotionally linked to the upcoming scene. 

How did you work with the director and creative team to determine the timing and placement of lighting transitions to highlight key moments and enhance dramatic tension cues?

With musicals, I stary by listening to the music over and over. It’s playing when I’m at home cooking, in the car driving around town, it’s playing in my earbuds when I’m at the gym – it’s always playing. I try to get as familiar with the music as much as I can because it will tell you when the changes in the lights need to come. Sometimes it’s obvious, like at key changes or orchestra hits, but other times it’s much less obvious, like with character intention changes or moments of reflection. After I spend time with the music, I go straight to the script. The playwright’s intentions are typically spelled out for you: things like blackouts, lightning flashes, and scene changes are right there. I then start to listen to the script in rehearsals. The spoken word has a rhythm like music. There are always themes, mood changes, repetitions, dynamics, and rhythms. The way they play to the text can determine the speed of the lighting cues, moments to highlight, and help to establish the tone of the lighting. 

The creative team and I always make discoveries in rehearsals where we see character placements, gestures in movement and dance, new stuff in the orchestrations, and more. The designers, director, and stage manager all sit down to have what is called a “paper tech.” This is when we all sit to discuss the design aspects of the show and how they are sequenced in the script. It helps us to make sure that all of our individual needs for the design are being met before we get into tech rehearsals. There is always time to add things as we see fit along the way. Sometimes we just need a light shift or a special light on a piece of scenery that we didn’t see until we run the show in the theatre with all of the tech elements in place. 

Carole King’s music is known for its emotional depth and intimacy. How did you use lighting to create a sense of intimacy during quieter moments and musical performances?

There are lots of intimate moments in the show, and I always want to make sure that the audience feels like it’s just them and the characters onstage. For example, there’s a beautiful ballad in the second act that Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann sing. As the music changes, I pull more and more light out of the world around them. By the end of the song, we should be totally focused on the couple as they sing “Walking in the rain, and wishing on the stars up above, and being so in love.” We go from the entire office being lit to Barry and Cynthia in spotlights at the piano through the course of the song – it’s almost like a camera zooming in. 

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actors Kyra McKillip as Cynthia Weil and Brendan Considine as Barry Mann perform Walking in the Rain in Charleston Stage’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Reese Moore Photography.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing Charleston Stage’s production of “Beautiful” and experiencing your wonderful designs on stage?

I really hope that audiences will see the through-line of Carole’s experiences and how they directly translate to her writing. I tried to make sure that the lighting was supportive of her emotions and intentions, and hopefully they’ll help the audience feel the deep sentiments and passions as Carole. It’s a really remarkable story with music that we all know and love, so it’s really great to see the stories behind each song.

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is running at the Historic Dock Street Theatre from April 10-28, 2024. Click HERE to book your seats.

CALEB S. GARNER (Lighting Designer)
Caleb is a lighting and sound designer based in Charleston, SC. A North Carolina native, Caleb received his B.A. and B.F.A. from Catawba College in Salisbury NC, and his M.F.A. from the University of Southern Mississippi. Garner’s designs, ranging from concerts to ballets to musicals to plays have earned him eight regional and national design awards. Caleb has been a featured designer from New York to Mississippi, designing in the Northeast, Midwest, East Coast and Deep South. Caleb enjoys turning large pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood (sometimes mistakenly called furniture), screaming with students (often recognized as teaching), and playing with things that spark and smoke. Caleb currently serves as the Resident Lighting Designer at the Charleston Stage Company and serves as an adjunct lecturer at the College of Charleston.

Behind the Curtain: Eliza Knode, Lead Actor in “BEAUTIFUL”

What initially drew you to the role of Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”?

From an actor perspective, Carole King is a great role to play because she gets to sing some of the most iconic songs and her scenes build well so you get to see her grow and change throughout the show. Also, I was drawn to playing someone so influential in American music history!

How do you prepare yourself to portray such an iconic figure like Carole King on stage?

What’s so great about playing a famous person is that there are a plethora of resources to draw from! I started by listening to Carole King’s discography and getting a sense for her style and sound. I also watched recorded concerts of hers to see how she transformed those songs to the stage and pick up her performing habits. Then, I watched TV interviews of her to see how she she spoke and interacted with people. Lastly, I read her autobiography “A Natural Woman” to understand her POV on how her life events shaped her. Many of the events in the book correlate with the events in the show so that gave me an accurate perspective on how to play those moments.

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Eliza Knode as Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

What aspects of Carole King’s personality do you find most intriguing or challenging to embody?

Carole King accomplished so much while she was so young. By the time she was 18 she’d already attended college, wrote a #1 Billboard hit, was married, and had her first child. I’m 24 and have ONLY graduated college. Me and Carole’s young adult experience may be different, but I think that’s the most amazing and challenging thing about playing her.

“Beautiful” covers a significant portion of Carole King’s life and career. How do you navigate portraying her evolution as an artist and as a person throughout the show?

Carole finding her voice as an artist and as a person is what this show is really about. For that reason, one of the ways I show her evolution is by changing her voice. In the beginning, I use a higher pitched speaking voice to reflect her youth and naïveté. Also, at the start she hasn’t really developed performing skills yet, so her emotions get in the way of the singing. For example, she gets shy performing in front of a lot of people and that is reflected in my voice with a quiver. Then as life happens and hurt happens, I deepen her voice. It becomes more natural and womanly. She also grows as a performer and that is reflected in singing more confidently. 

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Eliza Knode as Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Carole King’s music is beloved by many. How do you ensure you do justice to her iconic songs while still bringing your own interpretation to them?

Carole’s music is so iconic and beloved because her writing is excellent and it connects with people. As a performer, it’s a gift when you get to sing well written material because the songs do a lot the work for you! For that reason, I’m keeping things simple so that her melody and lyrics are at the forefront and I’m hoping that will allow the songs (and hopefully me) to shine. 

Carole King’s story is one of resilience and triumph. How do you convey her strength and determination through your performance?

One of the things I find so interesting about Carole King is that her strength is sort of quiet. She goes through so much, but comes out of it with grace. I think I best convey this in the final scene of the show when Gerry (Carole’s ex-husband) apologies for his bad behavior and I respond, “You know Ger, you made a lot of mistakes. But, we made two beautiful children and our songs and that’s something to be proud of.”  What I think is so beautiful about this is that she doesn’t excuse his behavior so she’s standing up for herself, but also she’s willing to look past the hardship to focus on the good. I think that’s a really hard thing to do and that’s what makes her strong. 

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actors Eliza Knode as Carole King and Dominick Ventrella as Gerry Goffin in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

What do you hope audiences take away from your portrayal of Carole King in “Beautiful”?

I hope that audiences see through Carole’s story that even though life may not always go as planned it can still turn out beautiful! 

Featured (front center): Charleston Stage Resident Actors Eliza Knode as Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is running at the Historic Dock Street Theatre from April 10-28, 2024. Click HERE to book your seats.

ELIZA KNODE (Carole King)
Eliza is excited to return to Charleston Stage as a Resident Actor for their 46th Season! Some of her previous CS credits include: The Addams Family (Morticia), JFK and Inga Binga (Inga Arvad), and The Lightning Thief (Sally Jackson). Eliza is the daughter of a diplomat and had a unique upbringing. She grew up in Malaysia, Japan, Hungary, Long Island, and Brazil. She went on to earn her B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from the University of Miami. Eliza would like to extend love and gratitude to her family, friends, and teachers around the globe who support her. Website: Instagram: @eliza.knode

Behind The Curtain, Hayley O’Brien, Costume Designer for “BEAUTIFUL”

How did you approach designing costumes for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” to reflect the fashion trends and styles of Carole King’s era?

I did a lot of primary research, especially since a majority of the characters are real people in music history! I mainly approached it by researching these specific people while also looking at how fashion was evolving from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. I looked at certain trends and fashion movements that were happening at the time. Styles, makeup, and hair were changing more rapidly at this time so magazines, advertisements, TV shows, and music performances were very important in shaping my
concept for the costumes!

Featured (left to right): Baron Clay, Elisha Black, Clyde Moser and Eddie Weaver as the Drifters in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Can you discuss any specific research you conducted to gain insight into the fashion of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, which are pivotal periods in Carole King’s life?

A lot of my research consists of photographs I can find from each decade along with fashion magazines, advertisements and clothing patterns with fashion plates. Even looking at old family photos can be helpful to get a sense of what people wore! Luckily, there are a lot of photographs of Carole King with Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann during the time periods the musical takes place. This was extremely helpful in shaping the silhouettes and styles of each character along with their hair and makeup.

Carole King’s personal style evolves throughout the musical. How did you reflect this evolution through her costumes?

During my research process, I realized that most people have a certain image of Carole King when they first think of her. We all generally think of her in the 1970s with her wild, curly hair and relaxed bohemian style. However, a majority of the musical takes place before 1970. When you look back at when she first started writing and producing music she dressed very of the times of the 1950s and 1960s. From what I
gathered, Carole typically dressed fairly subtle and simplistic, feminine but never very flashy or overly trendy. The musical starts off with at 16-year-old and ends with her at the age of 29, so we definitely see her mature throughout the show. So at the beginning we see her dressed very youthful and almost school girlish since she is so young even though she’s in college. She then gets married, has children, and a career at a very young age so I wanted to dress her as someone that has to mature into an adult quickly. I referenced a lot of photos of the time when she was wearing simple day dresses and as time goes on and her music progresses we see her move from dresses to pants and then when she fully discovers her confidence as a musician and comes into her own we see more of the iconic 1970s look she is well remembered by.

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actors Dominick Ventrella as Gerry Goffin and Eliza Knode as Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

The musical features various iconic figures from the music industry. How did you approach designing costumes for characters such as Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann to capture their personalities and styles?

I first looked at photos of them taken in the 1960s. From these photos, rather than trying to recreate certain outfits I took them as inspiration for each of their personalities and styles. For the stage, I also heightened the contrast between each of them. For example, Carole dressed a little more simplistically and Cynthia was a little more trendy. Even in the script, they always reference how nicely dressed and chic Cynthia was. So I wanted to create a visual contrast with Cynthia being dressed in sharper more form fitting silhouettes, bright colors, and different textures. As the show goes on, I also wanted to embrace Cynthia’s mod 1960s styles with Carole’s more 1970s bohemian style. Gerry Goffin was very serious about writing music but also went through some tumultuous struggles and overthinking things in head throughout the show. So we see him dressed a little more straight laced but also see him in complex patterns and very cool tones. Barry Mann is the more light-hearted, charismatic character of the group so I had him dress in more playful silhouettes and patterns that were fun fashion moments for men in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Featured (left to right): Charleston Stage Resident Actors Brendan Considine as Barry Mann, Kyra McKillip as Cynthia Weil, Eliza Knode as Carole King, and Dominick Ventrella as Gerry Goffin, and Acting Ensemble Member Colin Waters as Don Kirshner in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Can you discuss any specific details or embellishments in the costumes that hold particular significance or symbolism in the context of the musical?

There is symbolism in the colors of certain costumes that I’m not sure the audience will pick up on but if they do I think it would make certain scenes carry an extra meaning. Throughout the show, Gerry wears purple and blue tones. There is a scene in Act 2 when Carole is recording “Natural Woman” and has difficulty recording it because it reminds her of Gerry. She performs the song beautifully while wearing a
purple blouse, to signify her love for Gerry and even though she is not with him any more, he is still a pivotal part of her history. In the finale, she wears her iconic blue dress right after talking to Gerry and he tells her she’s “going all the way” with her music as she becomes her own solo act and shines on her own.

The musical includes performances of Carole King’s iconic outfits – how did you recreate these looks while also infusing them with a theatrical flair?

In the musical, we really only see Carole King perform at Carnegie Hall. For people who have already seen “Beautiful” or know of “Beautiful”, they typically remember the blue dress she wears in the finale. I wanted to keep this iconic color but put it in a different textile to give it a different visual interest. I also wanted to reference a dress she wore in a BBC filmed performance in 1971 to fully embody her. However, there are a lot of performances by musical groups that perform the songs she wrote. For The Drifters and The Shirelles, we recreated their iconic looks of the 1960s. We actually built the dresses for the Shirelles and based the silhouette on a real performance photo of them. To make them theatrical we added certain design elements such as sequins and a romantic shade of pink fabrics to make them more dynamic and pop against the set!

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Eliza Knode as Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Hair and makeup play integral roles in transforming actors into characters. How did you collaborate with the wig designer and team to ensure that the overall look for each character in “Beautiful” was cohesive and authentic to the time period?

Hair plays a major role in “Beautiful”! Since the show moves through almost three different decades, the wigs help show the progression of time and fashion. This show has the most amount of wigs we have ever done in a show at Charleston Stage. The wig designer, Abbie Jones, and I looked at a lot of research images for all the characters that are based on real people. We discussed how to interpret certain hairstyles and adapt them for the stage and for the characters. For the ensemble, Abbie Jones did some more research of the time period and found creative ways to style everyone slightly differently and accurately for the time periods!

Featured (left to right): Kayla Green, Brietta Goodman and Ariana Snowden as the Shirelles in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

What do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing Charleston Stage’s production of “Beautiful” and experiencing your wonderful designs on stage?

I really hope people feel like they have been transported back in time, especially to a time when music and design was really evolving. I had so much fun designing this show and being inspired by the 1960s (one of my favorite decades of fashion), especially since it is a decade I have gotten to design in! The show is so vibrant and fun while also evoking the joys and heartbreaks we all experience while growing up and becoming the people we want to be. And of course, I hope people leave wanting to listen to more Carole King’s music and experience the beauty of it!

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is running at the Historic Dock Street Theatre from April 10-28, 2024. Click HERE to book your seats.

HAYLEY O’BRIEN (Costume Designer)
Originally from South Florida, Hayley graduated from Florida State University with a Master of Fine Arts in Costume Design and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. Her recent credits at Charleston Stage include The Trip to Bountiful, Clue and The Addams Family- A New Musical. Other credits include Kinky Boots, JFK and Inga Binga, Native Gardens and Blithe Spirit. She looks forward to future productions ahead at Charleston Stage and is thankful to be involved in the TheatreWings program. Hayley would like to thank her family and friends for all their love and support!

Behind the Curtain: Marybeth Clark, Director of “BEAUTIFUL”

How did you balance honoring her original compositions while also infusing them with a fresh theatrical energy?

In some ways it is challenging to produce a piece based on real people, but it also gives you so much material to draw from. Even though the songs may be familiar to many, seeing them in historical order and realizing how many popular songs and musical groups were influenced by Carole King as a composer is surprising and then aligning it with what she was experiencing as a woman in that time period gives the audience lots to consider and enjoy.

Featured (left to right): Colin Waters as Don Kirshner, and Charleston Stage Resident Actors Eliza Knode as Carole King, Brendan Considine as Barry Mann and Kyra McKillip as Cynthia Weil in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Can you discuss the creative process behind translating her story into a visual spectacle?

One of the biggest challenges to what is basically a Jukebox Musical (A jukebox musical is a stage musical or musical film in which a majority of the songs are well-known popular music songs, rather than original music.) is that in many ways it is more a series of concerts. The Broadway set had a very specific look and many regional productions did something similar. I know this is a show that many of our patrons may have seen on Broadway or on a national tour so I wanted our production to look different from the moment the curtain rises. Our Guest Scenic Designer Seth Howard ( had designed the show for another company earlier in the year and was excited to take a new approach. We played with multiple looks but settled on “Mad Men” inspired office building as the main image. The show flips from writer rooms at 1650 Broadway to full TV performances or live concerts with no time between. Our Resident Lighting Designer Caleb S. Garner  ( was quick to help find many ways for lighting design to take us in and out of the book scenes to musical performances.

Featured (left to right): Brietta Goodman as Janelle Woods, and Ariana Snowden, Jhonika Wright and Kayla Green as the One Fine Day Backup Singers in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

What do you think it is about Carole King’s story that transcends generations and cultures?

I think familiarity is a theme that audiences always relate to. If you have never heard a single song Carole King sang or wrote, I would be very surprised BUT who can’t relate to a young person trying to follow their dream or someone struggling in love, marriage or parenthood. Her story includes strong friendships, family and career. We are reminded of various parts of our own life.

What qualities were you looking for in the actor portraying Carole King to ensure that she could capture the essence of her real-life counterpart?

Like any musical you need a well trained actor and with a beautiful voice. Portraying a real person is not about doing an impersonation but about looking for your shared truths with the character. Eliza Knode has been with Charleston Stage for two years as a Resident Actor.  I knew her first year with us she would be a great Carole and she is one of the reasons we added the show for her second season. She has read plenty about Carole King and watched interviews and performances, but ultimately she created a character that is a joy to watch and hear.

Featured: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Eliza Knode as Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

What aspects of the show resonated with you personally or artistically?

I love a moment in the opening scene when Carole is talking to the audience at Carnegie Hall about her career:

“And you know what’s so funny about life? Sometimes it goes the way you want and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes when it doesn’t, you find something beautiful”

I find that to be true of life and being an Artistic Director.

Featured: The cast of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

How did you work with the cast and creative team to ensure that the musical performances captured the essence of her music?

Charleston Stage has committed to giving many artists full-time salaried positions with us. This includes Music Director Sam Henderson. Sam has built wonderful relationships with many of Charleston’s best musicians and so our live orchestra is something many theaters do not have. He also works tirelessly with the cast to not just teach the music but the styles and finesse that make each group stand out.

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is running at the Historic Dock Street Theatre from April 10-28, 2024. Click HERE to book your seats.

MARYBETH CLARK (Artistic Director and Director of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)

Marybeth is in her twenty-fifth season with Charleston Stage. She was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and grew up in Tolland, CT. Marybeth has a degree in theatre/performance from the University of South Florida and was cast in her first show at an Equity theatre at 18 years of age in Tampa. She worked as an actor in professional theatres throughout the Southeast for ten years before settling in Charleston in 1994 with her husband, actor Victor Clark. She was a member of the theatre faculty at Charleston County’s School of the Arts for middle and high school students. Though she moved to Charleston planning on ‘retiring’ from theatre and starting a family, she taught and directed for Charleston Stage part-time beginning in 1997, before joining the company full-time the following year.

She and Vic are the proud parents of 2 daughters, Lila and Prentice. Lila recently graduated from Drew University and is preparing for the Doctorate program at MUSC and Prentice teaches special needs students at the Washington Center in Greenville, SC. Marybeth and Vic do not have an empty nest but share their home with Marybeth’s mother and many adopted dogs and cats.

In her time at Charleston Stage she has directed over 70 shows, favorites include: Kinky Boots, Of Mice and Men, Mamma Mia! and Elf The Musical. She began the Resident Professional Acting program her second year with the company and continues to hire, train, and supervise our young professional actors.

As an actor for Charleston Stage, Marybeth has appeared in Shakespeare in Love, Helium, You Can’t Take It With You, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Steel Magnolias, A Christmas Carol and most recently as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit.

Behind The Curtain: Seth Howard, Guest Scenic Designer for “BEAUTIFUL”

How did you approach designing the set for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” to capture the essence of Carole King’s era and life?

This is my second time designing this show in the past year so I am very familiar with the material. For this version, I really wanted to focus on creating an overall environment that Carole and the other characters would have felt comfortable in. The stage at The Dock Street Theatre is small, with little wing space. So creating an environment that can quickly transform really drove the design more than anything else.

What research did you conduct to ensure the set design accurately reflects the time period and locations depicted in the musical?

I started with tons of visual research. Looking through design books to nail down the period and then moving to online research. I pulled imagery that sort of supported the visuals I saw in my head and started to build out the world from there. Luckily, the mid century modern period is an easy one to research, as it is still a common style used today. 

Featured (front center): Charleston Stage Resident Actor Gracie Brantley as Marilyn Wald in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Carole King’s story involves various iconic locations, from recording studios to concert halls. How did you recreate these spaces on stage while maintaining a cohesive visual style?

This is a big show for this venue! We go to many locations throughout and in rapid succession. So my job as a designer is always to make sure it all flows seamlessly from one scene to another. After I knew all the locations, I started to think and plan through all the scenic elements that are needed for each scene. I then took all of that information and started to play around with how it all works within the scenic framework that I established prior. For this design, lighting plays a very crucial role in helping us establish shifts in locations. There are columns, lined with LED’s that can help us shift the color of the set quickly. Along with a few additional set piece transitions, we could move into different locations with ease. Of course it all has to be “choreographed” in a way. And that is the stuff that we worked out during tech! This design also features a lot of flying scenery and signs that help us denote location.

Featured (front center): Ariana Snowden as Little Eva in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

Can you discuss any specific challenges you faced in designing the set for “Beautiful” and how you overcame them?

Yes, this is a big show for the Dock Street stage. And we don’t have the luxuries of stage automation, which is something the Broadway design relied on and used heavily. The biggest challenge was how to make everything fit, while maintaining enough space backstage for all the set pieces to live. It was basically a very large puzzle. I spent many hours sitting and working with the ground plan, just moving and resizing items until everything we needed fit. It was a challenge, but we made it all work!

Carole King’s music has a deeply personal quality. How did you incorporate elements of her personality and journey into the set design?

The set focuses on the place where Carole got her start in the industry, 1650 Broadway. My hope is that we could further amplify her mood and love for music through the use of color. There are moments where her songs are full of joy, and the lighting is bright and fun. On the other hand, there are moments where her songs are more heartfelt and we can pull back the saturation and intensity of the lighting to match.

Featured: The cast of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. Photo by Reese Moore Photography

The set often serves as a backdrop for the musical performances. How did you ensure that the set design complemented and enhanced the musical numbers?

For these moments, there are additional set pieces that fly in to help us create those visuals. Certain parts of the set are always in use but they have little tricks and things hidden within that allow us to transform those pieces and add a little razzle dazzle for the scenes that call for it. 

What do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing Charleston Stage’s production of “Beautiful” and experiencing your wonderful designs on stage?

I hope that audiences walk away feeling all the joy, love, and passion that Carole had for music and storytelling through song!  As with any design, my main objective was simply to support the story. If the audiences walk away with a smile and humming their favorite tune, then I consider that a job well done!

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is running at the Historic Dock Street Theatre from April 10-28, 2024. Click HERE to book your seats.

SETH HOWARD (Guest Scenic Designer)
Seth is a freelance scenic designer based out of St. Louis, MO. He has designed many regional productions and themed experiences across the country. Some of his design credits include School of Rock and Ragtime (Columbus Children’s Theatre); The Mountaintop and Deathtrap (Constellation Stage & Screen); Jersey Boys and Come From Away (Theatre Aspen); Once on This Island (Charleston Stage); Cinderella and The Wiz Jr. (The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati); Topdog/Underdog (Palm Beach Dramaworks); The Addams Family and Beautiful:The Carole King Musical (Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre). Check out @sethhowarddesigns on social media.

My Little Toy Tractor

A Childhood Memory Hidden on the Set of The Trip to Bountiful
By Julian Wiles, Director and Co-scenic Designer

Directing The Trip to Bountiful brought back many memories for me. Like the 87-year-old Mrs. Watts, the central character in the play, I come from a long line of farmers myself. My grandparents were farmers, and like Mrs. Watt’s childhood home, their home fell into disrepair and eventually into ruin when Grandma and Granddaddy moved into a brand-new house my parents built for them when they were in their 80’s. It was just down the road from the two-bedroom wooden house where they had raised five children including my Mom. They did so in the midst of the great depression and though they lived in humble circumstances, my mother said they never were in want. As farmers they had fresh milk from their cows, vegetables from their massive garden and the warmth and love of each other to sustain them.
My mother and father were farmers too. They bought their farm and 1913 farm house in rural Calhoun County where I grew up on the day they brought me home from the hospital. As a farm boy, one of my first toys was a bright yellow and green cast iron riding John Deere tractor that my father bought for me. I plowed a lot of imaginary acres with this little tractor and remember taking my pet dogs and cats in rides around the barnyards, in the little wagon I pulled behind my tractor.
When Adam Jehle and I began working on the sets for The Trip to Bountiful, particularly, Mrs. Watt’s homeplace, I was looking for a way to jar the memory of Mrs. Watt’s son Ludie and to remind him of his long-ago childhood playing outside his grandparent’s old farmhouse. And so, when I visited our family farm some weeks ago, I came across my toy John Deere tractor. I found it dusty and abandoned in an old shed and I thought the memories it brings back to me might well be similar to those Ludie would feel if he came across his own childhood toy. I brought my little tractor back to the Dock Street and placed it on stage in the final scene. While this special token of my own childhood is only one small element of the overall set design, it represents the kind of special magical elements scene designers seek out to help tell a story and to give it special meaning. You can catch sight of my tractor in the final scene of The Trip To Bountiful. Like Mrs. Watts and her son Ludie, my little tractor has found its way home.

Performances of The Trip to Bountiful continue running March 7th – March 17th at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. For tickets, visit

Photo by @aleecesophia

Playwright, director, designer and educator, Julian Wiles, founded Charleston Stage in 1978 and led the company for 45 seasons until his retirement in 2023.
Wiles grew up on a farm in Fort Motte, SC, and studied history and theatre at the College of Charleston (B.A. 1974). He moved to North Carolina to pursue graduate work in theatre design receiving an M.F.A. in Dramatic Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1976. He returned to Charleston and in 1978 founded Charleston Stage, the resident company of the Historic Dock Street Theatre, America’s first theatre. Under Wiles’s leadership, Charleston Stage has become one of the region’s largest and most respected performing arts institutions, producing over 120 professional performances annually and including an extensive education program reaching over 25,000 young people each year.
During his 45 year tenure as Founder and Producing Artistic Director, Wiles designed, directed and produced over 300 plays and musicals for Charleston Stage. He has written 34 original plays, musicals, and stage adaptations, eight of which are published by The Dramatic Publishing Company. Many of his original works, such as The Seat of Justice, Gershwin at Folly, Beneath the Sweetgrass Moon, Denmark Vesey, Insurrectionand JFK & Inga Binga celebrate the Lowcountry’s rich cultural heritage and history. More than 100 productions of Wiles’s published works have been performed across the United States and internationally.
Wiles received the National Youth Theatre Director’s Award in 1988, Charleston’s NAACP Special Recognition Award in 2004, The South Carolina Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2010, and was inducted into the SC Theatre Association’s Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2021, he was awarded the University of North Carolina’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
In April 2024, Wiles will be inducted as a member of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. The investiture of new members is under the auspices of the Education Department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C. Membership in the College of Fellows of the American Theatre is one of the highest honors bestowed on educators and professionals of America’s educational and theatre community.
For more information on his original works visit

Founder’s Favorite: A Gem of a Show

Photo by @aleecesophia

Dear Friends,

I am excited to be back at Charleton Stage as a guest director for The Trip to Bountiful, one of my very favorite plays. While I think everyone knows such well known and moving dramas as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Miracle Worker, and The Sound of Music, the American Theatre is full of hidden gems, amazing plays whose titles are not as well known. The Trip to Bountiful is certainly one of these wonderful hidden gems— despite having won numerous Tony, Emmy and Academy Awards over the years. The Trip to Bountiful is certainly a show not to be missed.

And the feisty lead character of 80 something year old, Mrs. Carrie Watts is one of the great roles in the American Theatre. Award-winning actors such as Geraldine Page and Cecily Tyson won acclaim for this role and here at Charleston Stage we have the wonderful 84-year-old veteran actress, Samille Basler, in this lead role. You will remember Samille from such memorable roles in my plays Helium and Gershwin at Folly, bringing side-splitting laughter to memorable comedies such as You Can’t Take it With You and Blithe Spirit, and moving audiences with her powerful performancesin The Glass Menagerie and To Kill A Mockingbird. Samille’s performance of Mrs. Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful is one not to be missed.

I urge you to get your tickets today to this marvelous play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Horton Foote, best known for his Oscar winning screenplays for To Kill A Mockingbird and Tender Mercies.

It is a joy to return to my director’s chair once more, joining Samille and her terrific casemates as they bring this award-winning hidden gem to the Dock Street Theatre stage for the first time.

Get those tickets today!

Hope to see you at the theatre!

Julian Wiles, Founder and Director Emeritus

Direction by JULIAN WILES 

Associate Sponsors:
Hewitt Family Fund of Coastal Community Foundation of SC
Dr. Del and Linda Schutte

Follow 80-year-old Mama Watts as she sets off on the adventure of a lifetime, determined to run away from her son’s cramped city apartment and controlling daughter-in-law and return to her home town of Bountiful, TX one last time. But what will she do when she’s stuck at a train station in the middle of the night, finding out the last resident of Bountiful, TX died two days ago? Watch as Mrs. Watts leans on new friends, fond memories and her steadfast faith to sing and dance her way through troubling times. This heartfelt Tony award-winning classic by Horton Foote, author of the award-winning screenplay To Kill a Mockingbird, asks the age-old questions; what is home, and can you ever really go home again?

Performances run February 28th – March 17th. For tickets, visit

Charleston Stage puts youth arts education in the spotlight

By Heather Rose Artushin • Lowcountry Parent

Charleston Stage prides itself on offering community-based educational programming to children in the Lowcountry. KATE THORNTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Walking by the historic Dock Street Theatre downtown Charleston, it’s no secret that the 215-year-old walls hold memories of sold-out performances of years past, many by Charleston Stage’s own resident actors.

But what the theater can’t hold is the community-based educational programming that Charleston Stage prides itself on offering to children in the Lowcountry.

Marybeth Clark, Artistic Director of Charleston Stage, began her work with the organization 25 years ago as the Director of Education. “I came in really to build the education program,” she said. “I think the biggest impact I had is what is now our resident actor program.”

Charleston Stage hires young actors ages 22-28 who have degrees in theater from universities all over the country. The 10 selected residents spend one year living in Charleston and working with Charleston Stage full-time, performing and teaching local youth. Residents undergo teacher training and are provided with structured lesson plans to offer the very best educational opportunities for children in the community.

Charleston Stage hires actors in their mid-20s to spend one year working full-time teaching arts education and theater classes to local children. KATE THORNTON PHOTOGRAPHY

“Especially during the school year, we are very process-oriented,” said Clark. “We focus more on the skills in the spring, and there’s a day when everybody performs. If you’re taking classes with us, we do have upper-level classes called troupe, and those are the kids we allow to audition for shows when it’s appropriate. They have to function like an adult in a show.”

Not every child is an aspiring actor, and no matter where life takes them, the skills they learn from their experience with Charleston Stage are invaluable

“It’s about children having a safe space where they can learn to share their thoughts, their emotions, and their stories,” shared Clark. “They also learn to receive another person’s thoughts, emotions, and stories, even if they are different from them. And that’s what art is – communicating ideas and feelings, and being able to receive them.”

Interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and organizational skills top the list of life lessons students have learned from Charleston Stage’s educational programs.

Charleston Stage’s summer class registration opens up in February, and is sure to fill up fast. “I have over 200 kids a week in classes here during the regular school year,” Clark explained. “We have a beautiful facility in West Ashley, the same studio where we rehearse our main stage shows, where we hold the classes.”

The students get to spend the last two days of the week-long camp experiencing onstage rehearsal and a final performance at the Pearl, a 130-seat theater in West Ashley.

During the pandemic, Clark and her team took the opportunity to reflect upon their educational programming, and how to reach more kids in the community.

“We’ve always had scholarships so that finances wouldn’t be an obstacle,” she said. “That was somewhat privileged on my part. The obstacle is time, transportation, and family commitment. They might not even have a car, and they can’t leave work to take their child to a 4 o’clock class, even if it is free.”

Charleston Stage, a professional theater organization that has been performing at the Dock Street Theatre since 1978, offers a host of education programs and classes to local children and schools. KATE THORNTON PHOTOGRAPHY

So, Charleston Stage began placing teachers in some of Charleston County School District’s Title I schools to offer the same classes during after-school programs that already exist. When some of the kids expressed curiosity about the studio in West Ashley, Charleston Stage got together funds to provide a bus to bring kids to weekend classes at the studio and back again to a central location.

Clark said in certain situations, teachers and parents are given tickets to take the bus to the theater to see a production and their children perform on stage.

The local theater group is intentional about making sure they bring on a diverse cast of resident actors to represent all the children in the audience, and the classroom.

“When we cast, I’m very mindful of finding actors that will reflect some of the children they’ll teach,” Clark said. “One of our male teachers went in to a school, and he’s African American, and one boy said, ‘Our hair matches!’ They didn’t know what theater was all about, but they started working together and fell in love with it.”

When you see the Dock Street Theatre on your next stroll through downtown, don’t forget that it is more than a historic building – it houses an organization committed to uplifting Charleston’s children through the arts.

“Our founder, who retired last year, started the company as a theater for youth, about education, and we have never let that mission go,” concluded Clark.

Visit to learn more about Charleston Stage’s educational programs.

To view article on Lowcountry Parent, CLICK HERE.

Behind the Curtain: Aline Toloto, Properties Designer of “A Christmas Carol”

Delighted to reconnect with Aline Toloto, the creative genius behind the enchanting props in our production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Her exceptional skills shine once more at the Dock Street Theatre, offering you an exclusive peek into the artistry behind the props for this timeless Dickens’ classic.

1) What inspired you to work on the props design for A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and how do you personally connect with the themes and atmosphere of this classic story?

The colorful and rich design of the set and costumes was a significant inspiration for the world of props. I love A CHRISTMAS CAROL! My first encounter with the story was through the movie when I was a kid. The reminder that life is too short, and, at the end of the day, what really matters is the people and the relationships you were able to cultivate through life is a message that will never get old.

2)  Props are essential in creating a believable world on stage. How did you approach research and gather inspiration to ensure the props in A CHRISTMAS CAROL were authentic to the time period and setting?

Fortunately, nowadays, research is much more accessible than before, which helps with the occasional time crunch we encounter while producing many productions simultaneously in the shop. My research process involves three steps. Initially, I delve into historical research, typically spanning not just the target year but also decades preceding it. My second step involves examining movie props and props from other productions. I find this valuable as it enables the audience to connect with the story on a different level, drawing on experiences they may have had before. The final step is to employ my design intuition to strike a balance between historical accuracy and what will aesthetically complement the overall production.

Watch A CHRISTMAS CAROL’s show trailer below!

3) Collaboration is key in the production process. Can you share insights into how you collaborated with the director and other members of the creative team to ensure that the props align with the overall vision for the production?

Absolutely, collaboration is the key to a successful theater production. I had a great collaboration with the set designer, for instance, to enhance the connection between Scrooge’s bedroom backdrop and the furniture that would occupy that space—the bed and the armchair. We discussed the color palette, selected fabric samples, and engaged in numerous back-and-forths, incorporating costumes and lighting into the discussion to ensure that every design element would be cohesive.

4) Given that A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a holiday classic, did you incorporate any holiday-themed props to enhance the festive atmosphere of the production? Can you provide examples?

In our approach to the production, we infused holiday magic into various furniture pieces and hand props. While not strictly historical, these details aimed to capture the essence of Christmas that resonates with audiences. We took every opportunity to adorn spaces with festive elements—whether it was adding a touch of red and gold bows or incorporating Christmas lights. Every available corner was utilized to infuse a holiday theme throughout the production.  

5) Attention to detail is crucial in prop design. Were there specific props in A CHRISTMAS CAROL that required extra attention to detail to ensure historical accuracy or thematic significance?

Absolutely! One notable example is the armchair used in Scrooge’s bedroom. The prop demanded extensive dedication from the team, requiring days of adjustments to ensure it functioned seamlessly. While I don’t want to give away too much to preserve the magic, I can assure you that once the audience sees it, they will understand the special significance of this prop. It underscores the belief that dedicating time and attention to even the briefest on-stage moments is always worthwhile.

6) Do you have any favorite prop creations in A CHRISTMAS CAROL that you are particularly proud of or that stand out as memorable?

My favorite prop has to be the dappled horse that accompanies the toy cart. The creation process was quite challenging, and I collaborated closely with the Prop Artisan, 
Hailee Selby. The end result was incredibly rewarding—having a beautiful and timeless dappled horse that truly stands out.

Get your tickets to see A CHRISTMAS CAROL, running December 14th – December 22nd, at

Originally from Brazil, Aline holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre and Technology with emphasis in Scenic Design from the University of Southern Mississippi. With extensive experience as a Prop Master, Scenic Designer, and Set Decorator, Aline’s career highlights include her role as Properties Supervisor for Charleston Stage’s 45th Season, overseeing eight captivating shows including The Addams Family, A Christmas Carol, and Once On This Island. She is thrilled to continue with the company for the next year.

Behind the Curtain: Caleb S. Garner, Lighting Designer for “A CHRISTMAS CAROL”

In an exclusive interview, we caught up with Caleb S. Garner, the mastermind behind the captivating lighting design at Dock Street Theatre for our latest rendition of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Explore the intricacies of his artistic approach as he illuminates the magic of this timeless holiday classic!

1) What attracted you to work on the lighting design for A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and how do you personally connect with the themes and atmosphere of this classic story?

A CHRISTMAS CAROL has been a part of my life for as long as I remember. It was a Christmas tradition for my family, like it is for so many others. My favorite movie adaptation is actually the 1984 version George C. Scott as Scrooge. I love how that adaptation uses light to swap from the natural and supernatural and past, present, and future. Christmas Past had a hazy, dreamlike quality. Christmas Present was at times bright and cheerful, and at times stark and serious. Christmas Future was dark and smoky.  I am still enthralled with the ability of that adaptation to tell a great story through light, and I’m very excited to put my own spin on that great storytelling. 

As a church musician, I have spent a lot of time with texts about the Advent and Christmas season. A lesson that always stood out to me is that this season is not only about birth, but also redemption. It’s easy to forget that A CHRISTMAS CAROL isn’t just “cranky old man is frightened by ghosts and now loves Christmas.” Scrooge is a complex character. I think our production does a great job showing how he adapted through the course of his life, and how reconnecting with his past allows him to reclaim his future. The story reminds me of a poem by American theologian and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman, called “The Work of Christmas.” His idea of the “work” of Christmas are the lessons that Scrooge re-learns in order to open his heart and love again.

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins:

      To find the lost,

      To heal the broken,

      To feed the hungry,

      To release the prisoner,

      To rebuild the nations,

      To bring peace among the people,

      To make music in the heart.

That’s this production of A CHRISTMAS CAROLmaking music in the heart. I am very excited to share this Christmas gift with you all. 

2)  Lighting plays a crucial role in setting the mood for a production. How did you approach creating a lighting design that complements the narrative and enhances the emotional impact of a CHRISTMAS CAROL?

When we first met in 2022 to discuss this major reimagining of the production, playwright Julian Wiles talked about the need for vibrancy, color, and fun. We didn’t want to have a production that said, “this is Scrooge’s world, and everything is sad, dark, and empty.” We wanted a production that showed the audience all of the joy, compassion, and love that Scrooge was missing. 

It’s very easy to focus on Scrooge and the Ghosts and make a production that is dark and scary.  And I do use dark lighting with heavy blues and deep shadows to make the ghosts intense and impactful, but I also try to keep the colorful spirit of the production by using turquoises, deep magentas, and lavenders to give the ghosts a sense of mystery without it being bleak and depressing. I really loved this painting called “Purple Energies” by Swiss painter Fabien Bruttin as an inspiration for the ghosts – particularly Marley and Christmas Future.

“Purple Energies” by Fabien Bruttin

It was also important to keep the feeling of celebration throughout the play. I didn’t want every scene to feel like “London at night.” I wanted some variety and some more vibrant colors, so I chose pink-lavenders, light blues, oranges, and greens to make the world feel festive and new. It was important to Julian, Sam, and I that we avoided making the production look like a Victorian Christmas card. While they do have lots of colors, they were often faded, red-heavy, and a little too old-fashioned. We wanted whimsy and a wide array of color. I took inspiration from this picture of Covent Garden. See if you can spot some of these colors coming from the lights while watching! 

Covent Garden, London

3) Collaboration is key in the production process. Can you share insights into how you collaborated with the director and other members of the creative team to ensure that the lighting design aligns with the overall vision for the production?

The entire design team meets months in advance to establish and refine our world of the play so the audience gets a unified final product. We spend lots of time talking, researching, drawing, and sharing so we’re all on the same page about the vision for the production. We did do A Christmas Carol last season, but it was not as simple as unpacking it out of a box and putting it back onstage. Season 45’s production was fantastic, but each design area had several things we could improve. This included things like the placement of the backdrops, new furniture and props, new costume elements, and new magic tricks.

A new season also gives Charleston Stage new actors, which means that people with different body types, builds, and skin tones needed alterations for the existing costumes and new lighting colors that best enhanced their skin. While many things are similar this year, many things are also quite different. My lighting mentor, Craig Dettman, would say “same song, different verse.”

This production has lots of “tricks” that are associated with the Ghosts and their magic, and they all require careful coordination with the other design elements and direction to be done correctly. Scrooge’s tombstone in the graveyard sequence is one of my favorite examples. When scrooge first arrives in the graveyard, he does not realize that he is standing on his own grave; the tombstone before him is blank. Careful coordination between direction, scenery, and lights was able for us to magically reveal the word “SCROOGE” on the stone. Added sounds, fog, and gorgeous costume color-coordination help to create the incredibly powerful image of Scrooge realizing his fate. 

Now that I’ve been at Charleston Stage for several years, I’ve developed a great rapport and a kind of shorthand language with the the other staff. We’re regularly on the same page, and I really enjoy our discussions and collaborations. 

4) A CHRISTMAS CAROL has moments of both darkness and light. How did you balance the use of light and shadow to convey the various moods and themes throughout the production?

I always make sure that the lighting is fulfilling several different factors in each scene: Visibility, Mood, Revelation of Form, Punctuation, and Storytelling. 

Visibility is simply putting light where you want it, and removing light where you don’t need it. Mood is how light uses colors, angle, and textures to display emotions or atmosphere. There is always a fine balancing act of Mood and visibility, because often too much of one can harm the other. If the light is too dark, the audience struggles to understand the action onstage, but if the audience can see every single thing onstage, the atmosphere of the scene is compromised.

Revelation of form is how we light figures and objects onstage, giving us dimensionality. The way we reveal figures onstage also helps us to establish visibility and mood. For example, I light the ensemble singing “Joy To The World” in a totally different way than I light the Ghost of Christmas Future. 

Every sentence has some form of punctuation. The way that we light the end of a phrase onstage is just as important as the way the sentence ends on paper. When Marley is leaving Scrooge, the last line of the scene ends with an exclamation point – the lighting should absolutely do the same thing.  We don’t want a slow fade to black here; we want a zero-count blackout to end the scene with a bang!  

Storytelling is advancing the narrative, through use of the properties of light that we can control. These properties are intensity, distribution, angle, color, change, and movement. 

Careful consideration and combinations of these elements help us to create individual “looks” to give distinction to the various moments in the show. A lot of the balancing comes from experience and intuition. And a great relationship with the production team!

5) Were there specific scenes or moments in A CHRISTMAS CAROL where you intentionally used lighting to highlight key elements or emotions? Can you share examples of how lighting enhances the storytelling?

One of my favorite moments in the show is when we visit the song “A New Day Dawns.” This happens twice within the show, and each one is a major point in Scrooge’s life. 

The first time we experience the song, a young Scrooge is seeing his future fiancée, Belle, for the first time. I wanted the rest of the world to melt away so we can see Scrooge instantly fall in love. The lights pull down to young Scrooge and Belle as she sings the song. The presence of the other party guests is still felt because they are in a darker colored light, with a strong highlight around their silhouettes. This shows the general figures, but limits visibility on faces so the audience can focus on the love at first sight moment happening downstage. Old Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past are still dimly lit, so the audience can also see Scrooge being re-acquainted with his humanity. 

This happens a second time in the last portion of the second act. Scrooge goes to his nephew Fred’s house to make amends, and meets Fred’s wife, Caroline. Caroline is singing “A New Day Dawns,” and is in the same position as Belle. Scrooge and Caroline recreate the moment when young Scrooge and Belle first meet. The lighting has a lovely pull-down in the same manner as before. It’s a really touching moment that shows Scrooge letting himself love again. 

I hope that the lighting shows the deeply personal moments with young Scrooge and Belle, and then Caroline and Scrooge with the tight pulldowns. The lights then open up to reveal the other characters, showing that they were there to see Scrooge’s character arc. 

6) The story of A CHRISTMAS CAROL spans different settings, from Scrooge’s office to the Cratchit household. How did you adapt the lighting design to create distinct atmospheres for each location?

Each set of characters have their own special color palettes. Scenic designer Susan Crabtree and I worked closely with costume designer Janine McCabe to make sure that each location had their own special color identity in the costumes, scenery, and lighting design. 

A great example can be seen in the Cratchit family and their home. We chose a purple/lavender color scheme to give the Cratchit’s their own identifiable traits as a family unit. The scenery has elements of the colors in the backdrop, and every character has their colors in the costumes. I light the scene with blues and lavenders so I can help to make the colors in the costumes and scenery really pop.

Be on the lookout for the different color schemes in the show! Each location and family has their own special collection of colors!

7) Do you have any favorite lighting effects or techniques used in A CHRISTMAS CAROL that you are particularly proud of or that stand out as memorable?

Each year I try and incorporate a few new elements into the production to make it even more interesting. This year makes the debut of two brand new fog machines. You will never see them, but you will absolutely see the fog! These are called Ultrasonic Mist foggers, and they get the same effect as dry ice fog without the need for dry ice and 350 pounds of water. These foggers use an ultrasonic membrane that vibrates rapidly at high speeds in a tank of water.  The water is agitated apart into individual droplets with the size of approximately 3 – 5 microns, vaporizing into the air to form a thick fog. It’s very scientific, and it’s very cool. Chances are you already have this technology in your house. If you have a “cool mist humidifier,” you have the same ultrasonic technology in a smaller scale!

Get your tickets to see A CHRISTMAS CAROL, running December 7th – December 22nd, at

Caleb S. Garner is a lighting and sound designer based in Charleston, SC. A North Carolina native, Caleb received his B.A. and B.F.A. from Catawba College in Salisbury NC, and his M.F.A. from the University of Southern Mississippi. Garner’s designs, ranging from concerts to ballets to musicals to plays have earned him eight regional and national design awards. Caleb has been a featured designer from New York to Mississippi, designing in the Northeast, Midwest, East Coast and Deep South. Caleb enjoys turning large pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood (sometimes mistakenly called furniture), screaming with students (often recognized as teaching), and playing with things that spark and smoke. Caleb currently serves as the Resident Lighting Designer at the Charleston Stage Company and serves as an adjunct lecturer at the College of Charleston.