Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Greene performs in Silent Tea, 2011We have so far to go in terms of appreciating the true value of performers who are older than 30-something, especially women. Our art is about storytelling, about making us feel, forget our limited sense of ourselves, to temporarily suspend the string of indignities that comprise our daily lives. Deep in our bones we desire to be transported to the “not here” of numinous, archetypal, mythic space. We don’t know this. We have forgotten this. We’ve forgotten that it’s the rare young person who has the biological, ancient authority to lead us there. Artists gain a certain shamanic power as they hang in there and develop their craft, allow it to cure in the bones. Gravitas is earned with age, experience, and personal strength.

Women especially yearn to hear stories that they can identify with, that tell their truth. In recent years the big film studios have started to catch on to the idea that audiences actually want to meaningful movies about women, but we’ve a long ways to go, and the industry at all levels has a lot of catching up to do.

Immediately after our debut season in Colorado a local theatre company asked me to do some design for a production, in recognition of the quality of the work we bring to the stage, and desire to support that. We were much appreciative. Until the first production meeting,  where I sat through the 40-something, tall, male director, who never bothered to call me or respond to my emails or even talk to me ONCE in the months before we went into production, going on and on about the bodies of this or that young woman (much younger than him) he was going to “use” in the show. As is typical in theatre everywhere, the assembled team just sat there meekly laughing at his jokes and hoping they would stay cool in his eyes and thus be able to keep working. Too gross for words. I withdrew from the project. My Facebook status that evening: “Today I was reminded once again that the most inappropriate and disgraceful thing a woman can do is get old and fat.” Especially a female actor.

Of course I don’t personally feel this way. I never liked even the idea of ingenue roles. Never tried out for them. I think that whole experience I had of being in national network TV commercials when I was in my 20s was so unappetizing it sealed my lack of interest in playing the innocent young thing. I am having way more fun being a woman. Embodying an adult, even an elder woman, a timeless woman, a mother.

Theatre that just tries harder and harder to compete with movies, with sexier people and flashy effects, bigger dance numbers, just kills theatre for all of us. It is SUPPOSED to be different from movies. Otherwise, why go? Theatre is less safe, and therefore can be far more exciting, than film, in its own way. The element of chance and the unexpected that happens when performers and an audience create an energy field together creates a complicity that’s lost when you’re watching moving images captured months or years before. We need to keep our eyes on what’s special: theater with imagination and heart, that takes risks, and surprises us by inviting or making us think and feel.

This is why Luminous Thread creates shows that celebrate the spectrum of female experience and a balance of older and younger performers, and we welcome contact from performers of all ages with heart and Presence. Click here to read more on performance and presence.

About Luminous Core Practice

Posted: February 14, 2014 by Mary Lin in Uncategorized

“The Luminous Core is the living body of performance. The ensemble moves and breathes as one body, one mind. Physical performers, dancers, and singers are indistinguishable from one another in their presence onstage. Here, a group breaks from a tableau of bodies to lift voices in song; others elongate from the assemblage to lift an acrobat or a dancer into the air.

“The experience for audience members is edge-of-the-seat expectation, participation in the moment, an electric sense of aliveness and connectedness. Yes, we are alive, we are here, we are living this moment as one body, one mind, one heart.” –Mary Lin, Artistic Director, Inventing Earth

Luminous Core is the ensemble core practice of Luminous Thread Productions. Performers in Luminous Thread shows comprise a living core/corps de movement and song. All performers in LT shows participate in cutting-edge ensemble practice which includes physical and vocal embodiment, body/mind awareness, and contemplative (meditative) techniques. These approaches have been proven to bring lifelong resilience and longevity to the artist and create a living richness to the performance ensemble that is rare in theatre and even more rare in opera.

The component exercises of Luminous Thread are drawn from and inspired by disciplines including yoga, Body-Mind-Centering, experiential anatomy and somatic awareness, meditation, ecstatic dance, classical, ethnic, contemporary and post-modern dance practice, butoh, Viewpoints, and dozens of other approaches from around the world and world traditions.

Luminous Core practice will begin in public form in spring 2014 in Denver / Boulder, Colo. Please contact for more information.

Song of Our Homelands

Posted: June 11, 2013 by Ben Sargent in Uncategorized

The Song of Our Homelands is the mutiny scene that ends Act One of Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders. The prostitutes, street vendors, peasant girls, and scullery maids held captive on HMS Annelid, a scientific research vessel that doubles as a floating reformatory for wayward women, declare mutiny and take over the ship. This video is a single camera angle and features three songs by (in order) Ruth Brand as Nina, Corinne Denney as Molly, and Jacinda Espinosa as Margeurite. Dance solos by Elizabeth Van Noy (Irish step dance) and Neena Massey (South Indian bharatanatyam). Susan Rahmsdorff plays Olga, Zil Ricker plays Half-fast Stage Manager. Music Direction and piano by Daniel Mullens. Recorded at Su Teatro in Denver on May 5th- 2013.

Having decided to take over the ship, the women reminisce of their homelands and tell their stories of how they came to be on board HMS Annelid and what they will do when they make it home. When the Captain and Lady Henrietta come on deck to see what the ruckus is about, the pirate lasses take them prisoner. The scene ends with a dance honoring Ganesh, a god of peace known as the Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Beginnings, a patron of the arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom. The dancer is accompanied by Laurissa Vibhuti, a keeper of the Devadasi Sadir tradition.

Music of the Queen Victoria Steampunk Opera

Posted: April 30, 2013 by Ben Sargent in Uncategorized

People are asking, so here is the low-down on the music for “Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders.” As we’ve written previously on this blog, we could have written in a contemporary genre, extending the Western Tradition. We chose to use a more familiar idiom for this opera.

Finale page from Queen Victoria score

Finale page from Queen Victoria score

  • The music is meant to be easy to learn and sing, but also easy to listen to. It’s comedy.
  • For comedy to work, the audience should not have to struggle through the music to appreciate the text.
  • The idea was not to write “new opera” in this case, just to write “a” new opera.
  • The music builds on tropes set loose by Mozart (and in some cases, others), ricocheting off Gilbert & Sullivan like bullets in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
  • In the steampunk genre, there’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia. We dollop it on by using folkish elements, including Celtic moments. But this quickly breaks past simple nostalgia into thrilling contemporary world traditions as soon as authentic dancers and drummers appear on the scene. The backwards bending of the bow.
  • We cast the opera nearly a year ago, and did not finish composing the music until a few weeks ago. About half the music in the show was written specifically for the person singing it. I love that. The role of First Mate was not even in the libretto until we met Tony Domenick in November.
  • The Queen’s aria was written for Marlena Hooker Moore, who sang a Handel aria at her audition with us last August. We loved her. We wrote the role for her.
  • The music of Atalantea, the Mermaid Queen, is in contrast to the general Mozarti-ness of the rest. For this we started with a Philip Glass riff, which is then spun out into improvisation by the singers and accompanist.
  • Improvisation is not generally known or accepted in operatic circles. We like it. We selected Daniel Mullens as the music director for this production in large part due to his enthusiasm for (and competence with) improvisational techniques. He added (and continues to experiment with) the incidental music and accompaniments. He encouraged the singers to ornament, embellish, and develop the music. What you hear in the current production is already well “ahead” of the score. In several cases, what seem like polished arias are in fact nowhere to be found in the score. They were created by collaborations between the singer and the music director. Exciting? I think so!
  • The recitative and arias – with exceptions as noted above – were composed by Mary Lin and myself in various combinations. Some by me, some by her, but most written collaboratively in some nebulous fashion that evades description. Much like the libretto.

What is most interesting to me, as a co-creator but not the main force behind this particular work (Mary was that), is how the shaping of the music in this production largely reflects the insights and instincts of the music director and the cast. It’s a huge risk to take, in creating a show. But in the end, taking that risk creates excitement, freshness, innovation, energy – that otherwise would not be so viscerally felt by the audience seated in the theater. It takes a lot of fortitude, as a producer, to run these risks. But that’s what makes great theater. And what is opera, in the end, if it’s not great theater? That’s what we strive for.

Wings, Sails and Rudders

Posted: April 21, 2013 by Mary Lin in Uncategorized

If on viewing photos of the set you’re left wondering if we’re intentionally referencing the flying machine schematics or by DaVinci, or bat wing anatomy, you’d be correct on both counts. Da Vinci rightly pointed out that all engineering problems are solved via the examination of nature, and as such, he borrowed liberally from our fellow creatures with his inventions. Just so, the “sail-wings” of the Annelid are actually functional and are mechanically flapped by the performers in the show.

Wheels Rails and Rudders

“Wheels, rails and rudders, propellers, tails / Drive gears and crank shafts and billowy sails”

They also bring to mind the sails of Chinese junques, and the cross-cultural steampunkery of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. If the entire world is unified under one queen, wouldn’t technology and design from all parts of the Empire make their appearance?

This type of mechanical functionality is true to the original spirit of steampunk but is at times lost the Steampunk “let’s put gratuitious gears on stuff” aesthetic. In our design of the show we tried to make stuff as plausibly functional as possible. Hence, the Personal Energy Encapsulation Device, the methane collector, is situated appropriately on the anatomy; ear horns are plausible in design, and optical equipment, including the goggles are made with actual optical lenses, most of them from American Optical, the mill where two generations of my family worked in the small riverside mill town of Southbridge, Massachusetts, where I was born.

In the next post I’ll talk a bit more about the choices in our portrayal of the mer-women and our obsessions with our mysterious past.

One of my favorite blogs, Planetsave, shared a story  about the effects of air pollution on coral growth.

Coral reefs are home to up to 25 percent of species in the oceans, and as any recreational ocean diver can tell you, the site of breathtaking beauty. However, ocean acidification from climate change gasses is taking its toll, slowing the growth rates of coral and endangering species.

We gave coral a voice as one of the sculptured sea-creature “puppets”, and I like him so much I’m looking forward to finding other stories for him and for all the sea-creatures in shows beyond Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders. (Or perhaps the sequel. Ssssh. I didn’t say that.)

It turns out that all the super-saturated colors and patterns of the inhabitants of coral reefs serve a variety of purposes, from camouflage to sexual display to warning. Check out this National Geographic article and photos:

Coral reefs are the  most colorful places on earth.

Coral reefs are the most colorful places on earth.

It’s been fun finding a merry balance between the colors of the denizens of the deep and of the land/air people. Did we go overboard with the Kraken? You’ll have to come see for yourself. We still have tickets in Boulder, especially at the Pine Street Church, which is one of the coolest, steampunkiest venues ever for doing an opera (we’re in love with the acoustics, the wood carvings, and Holy Moses, what a pipe organ!) Just a few  dozen tickets left to the Denver show –

It’s hard to decide which was more fun in creating Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders; writing the play, the music, or designing the show.  Truth be told, I have a special place in my heart for the stuff-making. I grew up in a house filled with all kinds of bizarre Victorian oddities, from cracked pottery and rusty kitchen tools to butter clabberers and wringer washing machines (at one point we nicknamed my mom The Collector of  Priceless Antiquities.)

Here’s a few tidbits on just a few of our choices for props in the show:

-The Physiognomy Chart and anatomy lesson reference Victorian attempts at sociobiology, using measurement of physical features  as justifications and confirmation of bigoted stereotypes of class, race and sex. We’re poking at Galton’s  misapplication of Darwin’s ideas in the emergence of social Darwinism, ladies’ social  reformation societies, etc. We’re commenting on the confluence of Empire (colonialism via etiquette) and Empirical method – a main point/trope of the show.

Ye Olde Pharte Collector

Every man can be self-sufficient with this marvelous “Personal Energy Encapsulation Device”

-the Pharte Collector – as steampunk grows in popularity it’s losing its steam – literally.  We’re putting the steam back into steampunk. This personal methane collector demonstrates our own take on “steam power” and comments on alternative energy  and the art of inventioneering. Science is messy. It may not always be pretty but it’s a necessary part of moving us forward into the future.

-swords and parasols — parasols, fans, gloves, and  hats contrast with swords, shivs, knives, other hand tools in the utility garters and belts of the women aboard.  In the Victorian era, women were delicate flowers, the flower maiden archetype … but then again, they were also  dangerous if left without supervision, not only to themselves but to others. HMS Annelid is from another view the Victorian drawing room, itself the updated gynaeceum of the Middle Ages, where women were locked away to protect the men from their wiles, their plans, and their murderous schemes and poison.

On the other hand, perhaps the men are dangerous and the women are simply arming themselves in any way they can to protect themselves, be it via feminine wiles or the quick thrust of a blade. Audiences can decide for yourselves.

Our Take on Steampunk Costume and Garb

Posted: April 6, 2013 by Mary Lin in Uncategorized

Part II of a series on Costuming our Steampunk Opera

Since we’re all pretty familiar with the costuming clichés of steampunk, I thought I’d just offer a quick rundown on how we’ve riffed on each:

-Goggles – as steampunk goggles get bigger and more ornate and ridiculous, we went smaller and more refined, and made them from humble household objects. I guess it’s my (Mary)’s private joke that I used tea strainers, considering I’m a lifelong tea and teapot lover, tea parties being a minor trope of steampunk.

Admiral's Costume for QVII Opera

The Admiral’s costume (in progress, early stages)


-Utility belts – we went for minimal and used handcrafted Western belts for a unique look. (Long live Firefly).

-Boots– Some of the boots are actual historic handcrafted boots with a Western/Victorian feel.

-Hats – rather than tiny tophats, we went for oversized Edwardian silhouettes and incorporated some festive plumbing/tubing. Apparently Edwardian ladies figured out that a giant hat would make one’s corseted waist appear even smaller. We agree.

-Clocks – as is typical in steampunk, clocks and dials are used in over the top fashion but cleverly  so, we hope. We could say we used the clocks with some restraint – used in focal points on hats and control panels, but the absurdist in me won, and the Admiral’s hat incorporates the face of an Admiral’s hat clock.

-Corsets – the corsets are simple, with focal  point on the “control panel” rather than super complex edifices with hooks, snaps, pockets, grommets. The control panel emphasizes corsets as control of women and nature/biology.

-Bustles– We did go a little overboard with bustles, but with an emphasis on their utility. For example, Lady “Hen”rietta, the mother hen of the show, carries eggs in her basket.

-Costume materials – made with all natural materials as much as humanly possible, and never ironed, for that rumpled “ I live on a ship” effect. Quite a few actual Edwardian and Victorian petticoats, etc are incorporated into the show.

-Atlantean merwomen – the mishmash of styles/cultures references (Greek, ancient Egyptian, modern tribal) references the way visual and cultural references are collected and reassembled into fears/projections onto “others” as well as our fear of the unknown and  dreams of the future. (more on this in a later post)

-Sailor Costumes – The “seamen” wear swabby pants and tops, but the costume is more like children’s navy suits- pants are cropped to knickers, striped stockings. It’s  as if the sailors are playing at being sailors. I guess it’s my personal desire to see all military reduced to vestigial, ceremonial roles. It’s hardly necessary to have a military when there are no nations to fight one another.

In our next blog post we’re look at how some of the props reference our love of science and the gadgetry of science.

Steampunk’s Beloved Clichés

Posted: April 4, 2013 by Mary Lin in Uncategorized

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.)

Design by Mary Lin

Queen Victoria Steampunk Opera Scene

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.

GreenePunk Style

The Historical Edwardian Look in Steampunk

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.

Zil on the hurdy gurdy

Posted: March 24, 2013 by Mary Lin in Uncategorized

This is Not Your Grandfather’s Opera

I grew up listening to opera. It was unavoidable: my parents were always playing their favorite performances on videocassette on TVs in various rooms in the house. Many visitors to our home were greeted with the indelible image of my mother humming along to a La Boheme on the rollaway cart in the kitchen as she spread pizza dough with her big wooden rolling pin, up to a dozen pies spread about ready for the oven.

Thus  it seems natural to us to have the stuff of opera – costumes, props, and musical instruments – spread about the house as we’re preparing to debut a new show. Check out these behind-the-scenes images of Zil jamming on the hurdy-gurdy during a costume fitting for the character she’s playing in Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders. zilgurdy5 zilgurdy4