Last night I went to the premier of Sjökor och stekare (seacows and cool guys), the blog opera created from 100 word blog entries by 400 students in Umeå. It was fabulous! A really wonderful and professional production! The story line was one of teen-age angst, love and snow mobile racing. And while the story was simple, and the singing occasionally flat, the scenography was fantastic! There were multiple layers of storytelling explored through dance, light, simple props and digital screens. Below I have attached a series of clips from the premier. The clips were taken with a digital camera, and fairly far back in the crowd. The point of the clips, however, is to show the different ways in which they used the scene space. The use of light and simple props was VERY effective – not least in the way the simple props were juxtaposed with multiple screens highlighting the technological origins (the blog + computers in the classroom) of the opera.
Some of my favorite scenes really mixed the use of light, rhythm and technology well. During the scenes in which the students were seated and working, screens highlighted their faces and transparent keyboards with students seen typing above them were projected onto three large screens which encased the action. The rhythm of the students typing helped framed the stress, boredom and anticipation sung about in the libretto. Light was used effectively in these scenes to push the chorus into the background, but also very effectively in scenes with no props by defining boundaries in the otherwise traditional blackbox.
There was one part that, even though the idea was great, really did not work so well. There was a small bit of audience participation in the middle of the opera where the audience sent in sms’s to the four main characters. It was during a bit in the opera in which the characters were expressing a lot of anger and chaos anyway. It was a cute idea, and fun to see your suggestions projected onto a big screen and then acted out, but the overall effect was distracting to the storyline. I love improv, and try to use it often as a teaching tool, but in this particular case, I just don’t think it worked well.
As wonderful as the finished product was – and it was! – the idea behind the opera is just as inspiring. ‘Let the kids tell the professionals how it should be done‘. Well, professionals. I hope you were taking notes. The house was packed. The crowd excited. And the ovation, standing. it was a great production!