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Kim Witman

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iPads and Panniers

Posted: 06/25/2012 6:00 pm

It's probably unnatural that I look forward to checking my email at about 11:00 p.m. each night. But during this Don Giovanni rehearsal period, that's when our stage manager's daily rehearsal notes pop into my inbox.

I started my opera life as a pianist, and the rehearsal room is the place that still makes the most sense to me. I love its rhythms, its peculiar social dynamics, and its quirky subculture. These days I'm too often stuck at my desk, and I miss being where the magic is made. The 11pm missive is like a letter from home, and I adore it.

The props portion of the Giovanni notes is a curious thing, as this show sports elements from both the 18th and 21st centuries. Panniers coexist with iPads, and old-school flower bouquets mix with videocameras. It feels like the right mix of honoring history and celebrating the future - the same way that our 1790-vintage Barn only feels right when it's inhabited by a talented and energetic cast of millennials.

Our characters live fully in the 21st century, but the presence of modern artifacts in this production isn't taken lightly. The juxtaposition of two aesthetics is a delicate dance. The minute the show becomes about the iPhone instead of the character using it, well, we've crossed over into gratuitous technology. (Kind of like gratuitous violence, only shinier.)

It's natural for these characters to use gadgets, and the manipulation of them comes effortlessly to a cast of 20- and 30-somethings. Leporello uses an iPad to send an evite for Giovanni's big party. He carries around a HD videocamera to document his boss's assignations. And the demographics of Giovanni's previous 2,065 female conquests is presented in an infographic of which Flowing Data would be proud.

As tempting as it might be to believe that directors and designers throw things like these onstage just to have shiny toys to play with, it's actually the opposite. Every single one of these elements is vetted for gratuitousness. Is it unjustified, or would real people in this situation use it? Does it steal focus from the real event, or does it add effortlessly to the story being played out?

We finished our first onstage technical rehearsal about ten minutes ago, and we're working through our 11:00 p.m. production meeting. One of the notes: The fancy iPad magnetic cover keeps falling off. Art imitates life.

 

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