Combining intricately choreographed movement with film projection and live theatrical elements, Reid Farrington retells classic tales in unique, entertaining ways. In Gin & “It,” he deconstructed and reconstructed Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 thriller, Rope, with actors playing characters in the movie as well as behind-the-scenes personnel who change the set and capture parts of the film on translucent screens. In The Passion Project, Laura K. Nicoll gave a dazzling performance as the tortured protagonist of Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1928 silent epic, The Passion of Joan of Arc, moving within a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square and reaching for various wood-framed screens that pick up scenes from the film.
The New York City-based Farrington has turned to a holiday favorite for his current project, A Christmas Carol, in which Nicoll, Christopher Loar, John Forkner, Jennifer L. Reed, and Sandrine Hudi re-create the seasonal ghost story using images from thirty-five different cinematic versions of Charles Dickens’s classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, and the Cratchit family. As he prepared for the opening of the multimedia production, which runs Thursdays through Sundays at the Abrons Arts Center through December 18, Farrington answered a few questions for twi-ny about A Christmas Carol, his unusual staging technique, and who might get the Farrington treatment next.
twi-ny: In September, you gave a sneak-peek preview of A Christmas Carol and advised us to come to an early performance in case the production got shut down for copyright violation. Is that a legitimate fear you have?
Reid Farrington: That fear sort of waxes and wanes in me on a day-to-day basis. There are a lot of ways that I’ve historically gotten around this — there are of course fair use and parody laws, which, if it came to it, I’d be falling under. But if I were in violation, there’s nothing like the threat of being shut down to sell tickets.
twi-ny: The show features clips from dozens of versions of A Christmas Carol. Were there any you were unable to get?
Reid Farrington: I had initially intended to use all seventy film versions of A Christmas Carol for this piece — there are in fact seventy I uncovered. But this started to become impossible because some of the versions are, of course, adaptations with dialogue so far removed from the original that it would be unrecognizable to the viewer if I only used a clip. For example, I found a disturbing little [VH1 original movie] called A Diva’s Christmas with Vanessa Williams — which would just gum up the works (on so many levels). So I had to place a loose restriction on myself of using only Christmas Carols that dance around Dickens’s original text. My piece uses about thirty-five films total.
twi-ny: Do you have a particular favorite?
Reid Farrington: My favorite version is hands down Scrooged with Bill Murray. It manages to weave original text around modern adaptation perfectly.
twi-ny: How did you originally come up with your unique staging technique, which involves actors capturing projections on framed canvases?
Reid Farrington: I have always been obsessed with the idea of actually walking into a movie. There’s that image from so many movies (or maybe just one?) of a little kid putting his hand through a screen — I forget what it’s from, but that’s it. I think that’s the spark that led to this obsession of having live actors interact with screen images. That flexible reality is so exciting to me.
I also love the sparseness of a projection surface. It makes the work look easier than it is. There are no wires in a projection surface, no gears, no visible computer, nothing. It’s a simple dance of light. The wires, gears, computer, and tech are hidden somewhere above our heads — very like an old movie house. The staging and actors’ movement then comes naturally out of that dance of light. It’s hard to prep how the staging will look until the actors are engaged with that light in rehearsal. This I find really exciting too.
twi-ny: You've now taken on Hitchcock, Dreyer, and Dickens; who will get the Farrington treatment next?
Reid Farrington: I have been dreaming of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight footage and really dancing and exploding those images. I also have an idea that my wife, playwright Sara Farrington, and I have been banging around for a while involving the big film noir movies of the 1940s. Sara is obsessed with Double Indemnity, and I think it would be a great movie to explode too.