WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/16/2020) On Jan. 24-26, the Performing Arts Department at Eastern Connecticut State University, in collaboration with the New York City-based theater/opera company Ridge Theater, will present “Lulu,” a multi-media, experimental opera based on Frank Wedekind’s original play “Earth Spirit.”
The presentation takes place on Jan. 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. and on Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. in the Proscenium Theater in Eastern’s Fine Arts Instructional Center (FAIC). Tickets for adults are $20, $25 and $30, and free for Windham Public Schools students. The University will hold a public reception with the cast and crew on Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. in the Art Gallery of the FAIC.
“Lulu” is the first performance of Eastern’s new Artist-in-Residency initiative. Ridge Theater actors and actresses have been on Eastern’s campus since Jan. 6, rehearsing for the production, which stars Dominican-American hip-hop artist and activist Natalie Ann Yepez, known by her stage name of “Maluca Mala.” Yepez, who is based in Bronx, NY, writes and performs in Spanish and English.
The opera tells the story of Lulu, a homeless child living in Vienna in the late 19th century who is raised by a predatory father figure. As a result of her childhood trauma, she grows up to become a seducer who rips through the lives of all who love her.
Kristen Morgan, associate professor of theatre and director of the New Media Studies program at Eastern, arranged for the partnership with the award-winning Ridge Theater company. She said the production is an example of the University’s commitment to bringing diverse voices to the stage at Eastern, featuring artists and performers who have traditionally been underrepresented.
“What better way to begin 2020 than with ‘Lulu,’ featuring Latinx hip-hop artist Maluca Mala, who has been tearing up the music scene for many years with her outspoken, politically charged rap,” said Morgan. “This performance is going to blow peoples’ minds because it’s an opera, one that totally upends most peoples’ idea of what opera is.”
Director and Ridge Theater Artistic Director Bob McGrath said stories similar to Lulu’s – child sex abuse, human trafficking and the opioid epidemic – are too frequent in today’s news cycle.
“Lulu’s story is like a perfect storm of despair and death,” said McGrath. “In the wake of her childhood trauma, she learns to take back power in the only way that is available to her: to invert the very power system that entraps her and turn it on the abusers. This production illustrates the double-bind faced by women in the pervasive male authoritarian power structure of Wedekind’s time. We chose to do our adaptation because this same distorted power dynamic remains one of the most prevalent contemporary social issues of our time.”
“Women who have been socio-economically disenfranchised and marginalized by society are left with extremely limited and deplorable options for supporting themselves,” said Yepez. “I feel a strong sense of urgency in discussing abuse. It is important to me to empower female characters and give them a voice to speak their truth and tell their story.”
Other “Lulu” artists include composer Joseph Budenholzer; Broadway star John Dosset, co-founder of Ridge Theater; and Jordan Golston, a new actor who has starred on stage and in film and television, including the TV series “Madam Secretary.”
“Stories like Lulu need to be told now more than ever,” said McGrath, who has directed theatre, opera and ballet all over the world-Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, among other places, and who has taught at Eastern for the past two years as well.
Morgan believes “Lulu” will help Eastern students on their journey toward being the next generation of contemporary theater and opera creators. She said the opera is specifically designed to help students learn to combine the theatrical with the cinematic and bring the stage to life in new innovative ways, merging performance, singing, choreography, design and technical production. In addition, student/faculty collaboration with Ridge Theater will continue through the fall through independent studies in design, theater and music, which will ensure a smooth transition to the next step of the initiative’s process.
“After its run at Eastern, the production will continue to be refined by Ridge Theater back in New York and be presented at a professional venue such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music,” said Morgan. “Student performers and designers from Eastern may have a chance to participate in a New York run of the show, and the design of Eastern faculty and students will be featured on a New York stage. It doesn’t get any better than that for our students and faculty!”
Morgan said the partnership with Ridge Theater is the kick-off of what “will be an annual tradition of inviting professionals from around the world to share knowledge with Eastern students, use Eastern’s world-class facilities, collaborate with faculty and inspire audiences with challenging new works.”
Written by Dwight Bachman