The Teseo Project: On Stage and on the Internet
As Stage Director for a new production of Teseo by George Frederick Handel for the Goettingen Handel Festival in Germany this June, I have incorporated the popular social networks Facebook and Twitter in the staging. In addition, I am using Facebook and a blog as educational tools for middle school and high school students.
This groundbreaking use of social networks, to my knowledge, has not been done before, and I am very excited to be taking opera in this innovative direction.
The Story Exists on Two Levels
First Level: The opera will be experienced by the audience on two levels. The first is as a period opera on a period stage set that exists within the bare theater. By being smaller than the actual stage and having its inner workings exposed to the audience, this set creates a “play within a play”. Dancers will alternate changing the scenes of the opera as the “crew” and performing their customary roles within the opera proper. On this period set the story of Teseo will be told by employing Baroque costume, movement and choreography, as well as period stage machinery such as trap doors and flying machines.
Second Level: The second level involves the “behind the scenes” story of the performers (fictitious and authored by me), which will be told simultaneously by projecting live and recorded video sequences on a screen over the center of the proscenium. During long instrumental passages in the arias, the audience will catch an affair between the singer playing Medea and a Patron, see dancers running from the dressing room to the stage and read Facebook entries and tweets from some of the performers – revealing the “drama” behind the drama. These live and filmed sequences are carefully woven into the emotional development of the opera. When the opera comes to a conclusion…so does the “behind the scenes” story. The goal in my stage direction is to offer a period production with sidebars: the audience will experience the conventional opera while at the same time be able to see and read into the experiences of the performers as they are playing the characters.
Facebook and the Educational Component
One of the main characters in the opera, the young princess Agilea, will have a Facebook page. She lives in Athens, Greece during the 5th century B.C. and is in love with Teseo. Her page goes up on the first day of our rehearsal, a month before the premiere of the opera in Goettingen. The FB account is more a platform for Agilea to tell about herself and about her life in a creative way. The account will be restricted to the students of the participating schools.
Through her status updates, Agilea will reveal aspects of life in Ancient Greece and express the yearning and concern for the safety of her secret lover–the hero Teseo. Her FB entries will be short and clever, but will also include an embedded link to an educational site on various subjects such as the mythology surrounding Medea or weapons used in battle in ancient Greece (or the ancient world). The purpose of the FB page for Agilea is to teach the students in an informal way all the research that goes into imagining a character in order to portray and embody emotions of this character in a performance. Through this experience I hope to stimulate a deeper relationship to Baroque opera, to history and to our shared cultural past. I also hope to cultivate the younger generation of concert-goers.
Amy Freston, the singer performing the role of Agilea, will meet with the students in person to discuss her process of preparing a role. In this way, the students will have a real experience of the artist and then, through the FB page, a deeper understanding of how historical knowledge can form the interpretation of a character.
There will also be the possibility of exchanging comments with Agilea. However, I suspect that a blog format may be easier for the students to chat and comment amongst themselves.
After much discussion with the festival office and my assistant, Sarah Edgar, we have concluded that it would be beneficial to set up a special blog linked with the Goettingen Festival website and with Facebook. The blog will be a great opportunity for an interactive exchange between the opera and the students. Currently we are working on the details of connecting four different pages (two FB accounts, the festival website and the blog) and making decisions about who is supposed to be participating on which page. The question of privacy is very important when involving students and schools, and it is our priority to function in a safe environment. We also hope to make this blog visible to the ticket subscribers and members of the Goettingen Handel Festival.
A student intern from the festival will be managing the blog. Three to four times a week the student will come to rehearsals in order to keep the blog up to date with anecdotes, impressions of the rehearsal process, photos and short video clips. We will also encourage musicians and singers to post some of their insights on the production.
Once the production leaves the studio and goes to rehearsal on the stage (May 23), one of the stage crew will be sending tweets from his perspective. The nuts and bolts of getting the opera ready for the premiere will be told from a craftsman/worker view. During the performances he will also be sending a few tweets, keeping fans actively informed.
Our final goal is to create a more inclusive arena for Baroque opera through Facebook, blogging and Twitter. Through our backstage crew member on Twitter, we hope to demystify the “elitism” of opera and give it a human face on a human scale. Through using technology and social networks, we hope to encourage the next generation to engage in conversations, sharing their experiences of opera and becoming involved in the performing arts. By using elements of Facebook and Twitter as well as live and recorded camera feed in the opera production, we hope to create a theatrical experience which is more in keeping with the way today’s audience processes live performance.
I am grateful to the festival for supporting my vision and developing a structure. I also appreciate the efforts of my assistant, Sarah Edgar. Under my supervision she is creating the storyline and entries for the Agilea Facebook page.
Below is a listing of the artists involved with this production:
Catherine Turocy Stage Director/Choreographer Scott Blake Stage Design Pierre Dupouey Lighting Bonnie Kruger Costume Susanne Rydén Soprano — Teseo Amy Freston Soprano — Agilea Dominique Labelle Soprano — Medea Drew Minter Countertenor — Egeo Céline Ricci Soprano — Clizia Robin Blaze Countertenor — Arcane FestspielOrchester Göttingen Nicholas McGegan Conductor Members of The New York Baroque Dance Company: Rachel List, Alexis Silver, Justin Coates, Junichi Fukuda, Alan Jones and Gregory Youdan Sarah Edgar Assistant to the Stage Director