I gave two presentations at AnomalyCon, the mostly-steampunk annual local convention in Denver, on producing and costuming an opera in the steampunk genre. (Great con, by the way – I hope everyone who attended comes to the opera in costume. The audience will be as interesting as what’s happening on stage.)
Since there were multiple tracks offered at the same time and some folks could not attend the steampunk opera workshops, I thought I’d share some notes on the thoughts behind our design choices. The next half-dozen blog posts over the next four weeks will delve into more detail as to why we chose to create the specific themes and pieces in the costumes, props, sets, and stuff of Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders.
As natives of Massachusetts, where both of our fathers were scientists (Ben’s at MIT and mine at Bell Labs), we grew up from an early age immersed in both history and science. By the time we started writing the opera, Steampunk was already cliché in some respects, but the cliché’s were largely the stuff of our familiar Victorian surroundings – Victorian clothing with its hats and bustles and corsets and frippery, carved wood, the ancient phone and intercom of metal and wood still set into the walls of my parent’s 1890s Victorian home — two towns over from Bradford, upon which H.P. Lovecraft reportedly based his proto-steampunk urb known as Arkham.
Even the ever-present goggles were familiar to me, in 60s and 70s versions that my dad used in the electronics labs and courses that he taught. Living this as we grew up, we have a sense of immediacy in the details. As a result, Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders presents a universe with a strong aesthetic of its own that clearly riffs on but doesn’t bow down to overblown Steampunk tropes. In addition, there’s a great deal of meaning in the visual choices – social/historical references and love letters – to Victorian England and New England, Jules Verne, etc.
In addition, both Ben and I grew up in homes where people made things. Our mothers and fathers grew gardens, made pies and sauce, gathered berries to make jam. Both our fathers were always building houses or tinkering on cars or inventions. My mom knitted amazing detailed afghans, sewed aprons and window curtains, and refinished furniture. Thus my aesthetic is very much focused on demonstrating the beauty and functionality of actual handcrafted things- which was originally part of the Steampunk aesthetic but is being buried under commercialization as the movement grows in popularity.
What we hear over and over is that audiences LOVE our aesthetic. We hope that you’ll find that we’ve come up with ways to make it even better!
In the next blog post I’ll get into more details about the choices made in costuming the show.