From Sketchbook to Stage: A Comic Book Opera and the New School of the Arts
The School of the Arts is undergoing a metamorphosis. Converse had a sneak peek at the transformation in 2014 with the world premier of the multimedia opera-oratorio Troiades, composed by faculty member Dr. David Berry, performed by Converse students, alumni, and friends, and directed by a Converse alumna. The production used a variety of technologies, from digital orchestration to contemporary lighting techniques to the burgeoning art of projection mapping. “These are fairly new and somewhat controversial concepts in the world of opera, but these technologies open up new possibilities for use of space and selection of venue,” said Dr. Berry, who teaches composition and musicology at Converse. “In many ways, Troiades is like a laboratory for Converse to explore some approaches that are not being done elsewhere in our state or region.”
Troiades tells the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women who lived through it. Dr. Berry, and Ronald Boudreaux, former director of Converse Opera Theatre, combined classical Greek and Roman literature into the lyrics of this dramatic opera-oratorio. Nearly 10 years in the making, this full-length dramatic piece was based on Eurpides and Quintus of Smyrna stories around the fall of Troy. When Converse received a grant for a Bose sound system, software and projector to do projection mapping, Dr. Berry knew he would finally be able to bring his vision to fruition.
By combining Bronze Age history with the graphic novel design and a contemporary narrator (local newscaster Pamela Graham appeared onscreen to summarize the action between acts), Berry endeavored to mirror the past with the present. “Everything that is happening to the Trojans in this story is happening in our world right now – it is mirrored by today’s news headlines,” said Dr. Berry. “That is why the mix between the Bronze Age and 21st century was an important focus for me.”
The graphic novel twist of the production required complex and colorful sets. Students in the Interior Design and Studio Art program collaborated to research and portray Bronze Age interiors. Projection mapping allowed for multiple sets and action scenes. Projection mapping, also known as video mapping, is the process of digitally converting a real-world object and projecting onto it, without any distortion. “Daniel Recital Hall is an intimate setting for an opera, and that would not be possible without the use of these technologies,” said Berry. “This is about exploring new ways to make art and impact the experience of our audiences.”
Troiades is just the beginning of the new School of the Arts initiative, Creativity That Works. This cross-departmental collaboration will prepare SOA students for productive careers in the arts. By encouraging student and faculty collaborations across disciplines, students will hone their craft as well as gaining skills in marketing for the arts, portfolio development and career management. Dr. Chris Vaneman, Head of the Petrie School of Music, said “Students today need a comprehensive understanding of how the arts work together in order to be effective advocates for their programs and their art, both within their institutions and in their communities at large.” Blending their craft with these inter-disciplinary skills will give grads an edge when applying for jobs in the art world.
A key element to this initiative is the experiential learning requirement. All SOA students will gain professional experience through their choice of internship, faculty-mentored research projects in the field of arts, or other opportunities. Many programs, including art education, interior design and music therapy, currently have strong internship opportunities in place. The experiential learning requirement will open up this experience to all SOA students. Dr. Susanne Floyd Gunter, Chair of the Department of Art & Design said, “After seeing the incredible benefits [of internship programs], we are expanding these opportunities to all of our students to provide real world experiences toward chosen career paths.”
The technological inclusions debuted in Troiades were the perfect opportunity for SOA students from various departments to work together on a project. Interior design students designed the sets and studio arts major Hannah Stewart adapted them for the stage. This cross-divisional teamwork allowed SOA students first-hand production experience that can’t be taught within the walls of the classroom. “It provides students with a broader range of experiences as they prepare to explore career paths and make their mark as artists,” said Berry.