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TV Showdown Showcases Talent for Tiny

From the December 4 Issue of The Rivertowns Enterprise, Westchester County, NY

Darren T. Scala of Yonkers and May Burnett of Dobbs Ferry are about to prove that miniatures are ready for the big time. Tonight (Dec. 4) at 9 p.m., the pair will be pitted against two other teams on a new four-part HGTV series, "Biggest Little Christmas Showdown.” Their challenge is to create a miniature structure, furnished with tiny objects, based on the theme "A Charles Dickens Christmas."

“Biggest Little Christmas Showdown" is hosted by James Monroe Iglehart, known for his appearances onstage in "Hamilton" and as the genie in "Aladdin." The judges, including HGTV design­er Genevieve Gorder, Hollywood prop maker Dave Asling, and “miniaturist to the stars” June Clinkscales, score the contestants' efforts on creativity, realism, and quality of execution.

If Scala and Burnett win tonight's episode, they will go on to appear in the Dec. 18 finale, competing against the winning teams from the other two episodes for a grand prize of $50,000. In an interview on Nov. 30, Scala explained that the taping was completed in August, after the pandemic caused the cancellation of two earlier production dates. The contestants were required to quarantine before the taping and to test negative for the coronavirus. The contestants will be shown without masks, but with the teams spaced apart for extra protection.

Under the terms of their contract with HGTV, Scala and Burnett were forbidden to divulge the competition results before the show airs. They were equally reticent about revealing how they interpreted the Dickens-themed challenge. But creating miniature environments with a Victorian setting is familiar territory, since they collaborated in recent years on both the Christmas and the Halloween decorations for "Nybelwyck Hall," the Victorian dollhouse in the Glenview Mansion at the Hudson River Museum.

At the Mamaroneck Avenue School, Burnett is teaching elementary school-age children, and in the summer, she runs the art program at Long Lake Camp for the Arts in the Adirondacks. In an interview on Nov. 30, she said she agreed when Scala first asked her to team up with him, but when they were accepted for the show, she realized how challenging it would be. I had a lot of experience making small things, but never had to work under the discipline of it being a particular scale,” she explained. She is particularly fond of creating miniature baked food and pottery, which she makes on a miniature pottery wheel. The objects are baked in a kiln, just like full­ sized pottery. "Teapots are my favorite," she said. For the HGTV project, she had to branch out from kitchenware, making furniture, paintings, and other objects. "It was full of tiny treasures," she said."

The world of miniatures is an arcane one. There are those who collect fine and antique miniatures - the typical customer for Scala - and fine artists who use miniature scale models to create tiny rooms, houses, or dioramas, which may be displayed in galleries or muse­ums. Then there are the show-business miniaturists, who recreate the real world in small scale for sets in movies or TV shows. But competitive miniature art has never been fodder for network television. "This is the first time miniatures have been presented in a commercial way on TV," Scala said. "This is a first for the miniatures world."

The contestants were allowed to do 50 percent of the work in advance, and then complete it in the studio on West 34th Street in Manhattan, where tools and materials were provided. They were required to build the structure and contents at 1/12 scale, the typical scale used in dollhouse design, and every object in the structure had to be built from scratch, with the exception of lights.

“May and I got into a room and we spent a day or two ideating, and we got to work," Scala said. "We sketched it out; we had a vision board." Scala estimated they spent about 240 hours working on the structure and its contents in his home studio in the 30 days they had to prepare their project before the taping. It was essential for them to strategize how they would assemble everything under the strict time limits they would face in the studio.

Scala said that to capture the judges' imagination, their design had to have a unique concept - not the typical "Ebenezer Scrooge's office" that the producers' prompt might suggest. "We wanted it to be whimsical and magical," he said. "So, we did a fair amount of research on Dickens himself, his writing, his whole gestalt, creating a fictional story that was our own and that aligned with the theme.”

The Biggest Little Christmas Showdown is a fun, quirky, reality-based four-part series premiering on Friday, November 27th at 9pm ET/PT on #HGTV. Each week only one team will wow the spirited panel of judges which includes HGTV designer Genevieve Gorder, Dave Asling, best known for his work on Welcome to Marwen, and our own darling of the mini world June Clinkscales! Winning teams advance to the next round of this cheerful competition and in the final round, the top contenders craft their most extravagant mini holiday houses ever for a chance at the ultimate victory: a grand prize worth $50,000 and the surprise of a lifetime when their winning miniature is replicated into a full sized magical vacation home decked out for the season.


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