Beowulf: a surgical theatre experience

julia_noulin-merat-178x270As I sit here alone in the audience, waiting for the rest of my colleagues to come, I wonder about the things that brought us to creating Beowulf.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of designing and producing twelve operas with Guerilla Opera and I feel very privileged to get to work in a field for which I am immensely passionate and to also be able to share this love with you. Opera, to be sure, is a thrill on all levels and it is important to note that we must never take the audience’s experience for granted. I relentlessly try to find new ways to draw you into the show I am designing.

So what got us here? Hannah Lash wrote and composed a piece that resonated with all of us through an incredibly relatable story, and with a visceral score to boot. There was no contest, I was immediately hooked! To my utter delight, a frequent collaborator of mine, Andrew Eggert, was up for the challenge of putting this project together. He was also willing to take certain staging risks with Guerilla Opera, making for an all the more challenging and stimulating project.

It felt like a very logical step to create a “psychological space” from which to watch the show for the audience. The surgical theatre format lent itself beautifully with the audience members being close to the action (never further than seven feet). The size of stage was a challenge in itself being the smallest we have ever worked with (nine by ten feet). This is an unusual space to work with in opera, a space that is bound to bring about a feeling of “closeness” to the story with our audience due to their proximity to the action at hand. This production and the use of this space has infused the work with a feeling of intimacy, making it voyeuristic and immediate in its exposure.

I am grateful as well to have a cast and group of instrumentalists that are so generous in their performance and that draw us in from the start. I cannot imagine how challenging for them it must be to provide such emotion, such depth, to this intricate story, with audience members practically breathing down their necks.

Too often, in immersive shows tend to trivialize all the work that went into creating a specific experience for the spectators. Rest assured that this set up was carefully crafted and methodically thought out.

We could have had multiple realistic-looking sets depicting the hospital, the home, the driveway, etc. but there would be nothing different or intriguing in that. After all, we do not go to the theatre to experience a Lifetime movie, but for the live performance and the communal aspect. The set is therefore just as much a part of the seating area as the surgical curtain dividing the space, as the lights that create a star canopy above the audience.

I am thrilled by how the process has been going so far, our director keeps calling us the “Dream Team” and I think it has been just that – the realization of a dream!


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