For the past year, I’ve been working alongside a group of talented senior drama students in Julie Salverson’s applied theatre class.
This is a course in “devising.” Instead of working from a pre-defined script, we began by researching some pressing world issue, with the goal of translating what we learned into theatre capable of provoking questions, connections, change.
Tomorrow night, One Child, the five minute chamber opera that I wrote with the amazing Ethan Rotenberg premieres at the Rotunda Theatre, Queen’s University.
“One Child” is the story of a six-year old girl’s search for identity. Adopted as a baby from China by white parents, she wants to know why her birth mother abandoned her. This fragment catches her at the moment when she is just beginning to wonder who she is and where she belongs.
Ethan was wonderful to work with. He took on this project, sight unseen, with no previous connection to the topic, and in a remarkably short time-frame, composed unforgettable music that goes right to the heart of this character’s anxieties and longing. “I don’t know if I can catch the emotion,” he said at the start. But he did.
Thanks also to Tara Wink and Nina Ricciarelli, whose voices bring Hu Li and One Child so beautifully and dramatically to life. With little or no training and background in opera, they approached their roles with professional dedication, determination, and a big dose of humour. Every day on the set was fun and exciting. Brava!
Purim Lee took on a multitude of tasks. Not only does she perform the dual role of Chinese One Child and First Mother, but she also worked behind the scenes on costumes and staging. Throughout the process, her gently probing questions helped us continually improve script and performances, even up to the final hours before the show.
It was Alison Jensen Tsui’s idea to split One Child’s mask—a brilliant piece of costuming that visually expresses the character’s dilemma, and does so without breaking our shoestring budget. Her artistic talents guided most of our design decisions, including those behind this scrapbook, a project organized and planned largely by Nina.
Finally, I would like to thank our musicians, Maddy Ewing, Olivia Keever, and Danielle Kyl Muir, whose performances add so much texture to Ethan’s music.
Thanks finally to Julie Salverson. She could have held me to the expected grad school thing and made me do a traditional reading course. Instead, she took an enormous chance, allowing me to try to write libretto despite the fact that I had no experience in theatre (let alone opera) and helping me revise, revise, and revise the original script until it could be performed within our timeframe. For the extra time and effort this cost, I am grateful, but for the gift of faith, thanks are not enough.
The writing life is mostly solitary. For twenty years or more I have been tapping away at the keys on my own, hoping to bring worlds to life. How different it has been to collaborate with a group as talented, big-hearted, and hardworking as this one. Ethan, Tara, Nina, Purim, Alison, Julie, and all the generous members of DRAM400 — you have made my theatre début a joyful one. To you, I bow.
And finally, thanks to Sophie Sahara Photography for the great head shot!