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Friday, March 2, 2012

Creating Rusalka, Opera-To-Go's Production Opens Sat

I wrote this about my most recent set design for Dvorak's Rusalka.  The show opens this Saturday and runs for two weekends.  Find out more info about tickets and such at operatogo.net and please come out and see the show!!

Rusalka's scale model was created using chipboard, foamcore, fabric and wire.
“So it’s a Czech fairy tale, with a lake onstage, three acts, two scene changes, oh, also there will be puppets.”
And with those words from William Todd Hunt, artistic director of Opera To Go, I was signed up for the set design of their latest operatic feat, “Rusalka,” which opens this Saturday evening at Thunder Mountain High School.
Dvorak’s “Rusalka” toys with the same plotline as Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid,” so immediately my mind fluttered to dancing crab puppets, sparkly tridents in pools of water onstage and nasty purple witches leaking ink everywhere. Whoops, too many cartoons as research for me. But just like every craft project I tackle, when creating this set design I had a few basic tricks up my sleeve to keep me steered in the right direction (and away from dancing crabs).

Begin with a Concept
Besides a forest and lake onstage visually, the score for “Rusalka” resonates with magic and mournful moments of lost love and love forsaken. How do you make a lake mournful or trees forsaken? Well if you are director Emily Smith, you breathe life directly into them through otherworldy puppets. Puppets in an opera? Well, you know what comes with great risk . . . so, (spoiler alert) there are puppets in our production to create a world where trees dance (I knew something would dance!) and water is alive, literally. But still, how to make that lake onstage?

Research (aka beg and borrow, just don’t steal)
With any new craft it never hurts to peek at others’ work. Heck, thumbing through the Artists Gallery or Public Market can often get my creative juices rolling enough to strike gold. But gold would not be found in “The Little Mermaid” (as I do not have a budget for gold tridents), nor in real water onstage (Perseverance Theatre already rocked that), so instead we took to the Czech roots of Dvorak’s story to give both the costumes and scenery rich visual research to sift through like intricate fabrics, slatted wood huts, witches and nymphs. But still, what about that lake?

Create a prototype
As crafters, we know how to make a pattern for a hat or scarf -- first you start with a process of guesses and trial and error. But how many times can you fill a pool with water onstage and chalk it up to “trial and error” if it goes wrong. Not a good plan. So instead we take a page from our architect friends by creating a miniature model to exact scale (just like they do for a new building). Except of course we use cardboard, foamcore, illustration board, metal, wood and whatever is lying about the craft room. This is the stage when playing really begins. Like, what about a vertical lake made of fabric? Risky perhaps, or maybe just the right kind of risky for an opera with puppets?

Click here for the jump . . .