Friday, August 26, 2011

“I’ll tell you a rabbit story…”

By Lauren Turner

For the first time ever, The Atlanta Opera has commissioned a children’s opera for the 2011-2012 Studio Tour! The opera is called Rabbit Tales, and is based on the whimsical Br’er Rabbit stories made famous by Joel Chandler Harris. Many of you have probably heard the news already, but we wanted to share with you a little bit about the process of commissioning, writing, and premiering Rabbit Tales, and how excited we’ve been to see this idea grow into a full-fledged operatic gem.

“It all started with an idea,” said Atlanta Opera Education Director, Emmalee Iden. “But the question was, 'How do we make this idea come to life?'”

After visiting The Wren’s Nest House Museum, the former home of Joel Chandler Harris, Ms. Iden was very impressed. She returned to The Wren’s Nest to meet with Executive Director, Lain Shakespeare, to discuss the idea, and she found that, “He was whole heartedly behind it.” Since the Br’er Rabbit stories are now in the public domain, there were so many possibilities and places the opera could go.

To begin the transformation of this idea into an opera, the next step was finding a composer and a librettist. Nicole Chamberlain had been a composer who participated in the 24-Hour Opera Project in 2010, and is active in the Atlanta music community. Nicole was enthusiastically on board to compose the musical score for the opera. Madeleine St. Romain, who was recommended by our Foundations and Grants Manager, Greg Carraway, was asked to adapt the stories of Br’er Rabbit, and add her own twists with other folklore from around the world.

Nicole and Madeleine spent hours writing, composing, and putting together words and music that adequately portrayed the stories of Br'er Rabbit and his silly adventures. “Rabbit Tales is not a literal translation or transcription of the stories that inspired it,” says Madeleine St. Romain. “I cut, added, and rearranged things to make an opera that works as a touring production performable in all sorts of venues with four singers, an accompanist, and a set that fits into a van.”

The backbone of so many great works of art is the vision that inspires the creation of the piece. When asked what her vision was while composing the music for Rabbit Tales, Nicole Chamberlain said, “I wanted to create an entertaining American opera that children, adults, and the performers could enjoy. I also wanted not only to incorporate the influences of the music of diverse cultures that make up the United States, but also use themes from the standard opera repertoire in the hopes that children may get a taste of those operas as well.”

“One of the things the Br’er Rabbit stories are about," said Madeleine St. Romain, "is what it's like to be a small person thriving among bigger, physically stronger people, by being clever and convincing. I wanted to get that feeling into the libretto.”

Librettist Madeleine St. Romain. Credit: Hollis Ellison.
Once the score and libretto had been completed, Emmalee Iden tracked down area director and puppeteer, Park Cofield, to bring the story to life. His eye for details, and experience with creating imaginary worlds for children, has been instrumental in staging the production. Cofield created storyboards that illustrate each scene of the opera. The set designs, by Atlanta Opera Production Manager, Michael Benedict, and costumes by Atlanta Opera Costume Designer Joanna Schmink are so vibrant and full of life. Characters include Br’er Rabbit, Teenchy Duck, Sister Fox, and King Lion.

“This has been by far one of the most rewarding experiences I have had writing music,” said Nicole Chamberlain. “The Atlanta Opera has been nothing but encouraging, supportive, and trusting throughout the whole process. I hope this fills a void in children's opera, gives more to the repertoire, and encourages others to write serious music for children. There's obviously a need for children's opera, and I hope this puts new music and opera in a fresher perspective for kids.”

Rabbit Tales will have its public premiere on October 29, 2011 at The Wren’s Nest on the outdoor stage in the natural grass amphitheatre. The audience will have an opportunity to meet the creative visionaries of this project, in person.

The Wren's Nest.
The production team of Rabbit Tales was recently featured on WABE's City Cafe with John Lemley. To listen to this story, please visit

To book a performance of Rabbit Tales, and to find out more information, contact Emmalee Iden at 404. 881.8883 or

Monday, August 8, 2011

BEHIND THE SCENES with Ashley Gilleland, Accounting Manager

In our last BEHIND THE SCENES feature, we speak with Ashley Gilleland, our Accounting Manager. I bet you didn't know we have one of those! We do, and she's terrific. Ashley keeps us in line and organized, and makes sure all our financial ducks are in a row and accounted for. But it's not just about crunching numbers. Ashley also helps us manage our database, and assists us with documenting pivotal financial information needed to keep us running smoothly.

These features have only provided you with a sample of the incredibly creative and hardworking staff at The Atlanta Opera. It would have been wonderful to feature all of us, but we hope you've learned a little more about how we work together behind the scenes to bring you the art that sings.

And now, last but not least, Ashley....

1. What is your role with The Atlanta Opera?
I am the Accounting Manager at The Atlanta Opera. I am responsible for daily accounting functions, such as receiving income and preparing bank deposits, recording invoices from all the departments, and processing those invoices for payment. I assist with month-end reporting, as well as with the annual audit. I also manage transactions and reporting in our Tessitura database.

2. Why is it important to have an Accounting Manager?
The Accounting Manager position is important because I act as a liaison for the staff and the Finance department. I aim to answer questions, research, and assist with reports for staff, so they may use their time and efforts towards reaching their budget goals.

3. What skills are necessary to be a good Accounting Manager?
I believe organization, time management, attention to detail, and patience are necessary skills for an Accounting Manager.

4. What is your background and experience, and what led you here?
I graduated from Auburn University with a BFA in Production Management. I started my career in the arts as a stage manager, and then worked in the box office for two performing arts organizations. My first box office job introduced me to the Tessitura database that we currently use at the Opera. I have been fortunate to have been using and learning the database for the last 6 years. Before working at the Opera, I worked at the High Museum of Art in the membership department. The High had just converted to Tessitura, so I was happy to have already been familiar with the system. I began working with the accounting staff at the High and found I really enjoyed the finance side of the arts. I came to the Opera last June, after I was thrilled to see the job posting for an accounting manager. I am a self-proclaimed opera geek and fan, so it was a dream come true to accept this job!

5. Why do you do what you do?
I have a passion for performing arts, especially opera! I love that I get to be a part of the amazing work that The Atlanta Opera presents every season.
I enjoy being a part of the behind-the-scenes operations of arts administration, and work with a fabulous team of talented people every day.

Monday, August 1, 2011

BEHIND THE SCENES with Michael Benedict, Production Manager

Sets, lights, props, and stagehands do not just magically appear. In the newest blog post, Atlanta Opera Production Manager, Michael Benedict, sheds some light on the role he plays in making spellbinding opera happen.

1. What is a Production Manager? What do you do?

A production manager is primarily responsible for managing budgets, schedules, and personnel. I organize and manage all of the pieces that make up the physical side of the production: scenery, electrics, sound, costumes, props, wigs & makeup, and wardrobe. As for what I do - lots of emails, telephone calls, spreadsheets, CAD drawings, research, sourcing equipment, arranging logistics, etc. The people working on a particular production only tend to come to me when there is a problem that needs a solution or a decision. If the production is moving along on schedule and on course, then the personnel just do their jobs. Basically, I am a facilitator. I help the crews and designers get what they need to stay on track.

2.What is your background and experience, and what led you here?

I have a BFA in Fine Arts from Auburn University. I got involved in technical theatre a few years after moving to Atlanta in 1991. I have worked for a number of theatres in the Atlanta area, with the majority of my time spent with the Alliance Theatre. I have also been a project manager for commercial scenery shops. Most of my background is in scenic construction, sculpting, and painting. I have also designed and built a number of unique mechanical projects as a Props Master. I was working as a Project Manager for a commercial scene shop, and was not satisfied with my day to day work environment, so I began looking for alternatives, and I also missed working in the arts. Production facilities can be a grueling, mind-numbing place to work, and I needed to experience the creative collaboration that came with all of the theatre work I have done over the years. A friend told me about the opening here at The Atlanta Opera, and I came in to interview with Eric Mitchko, who is the Opera’s former director of artistic administration. The rest is history.

3. What skills are necessary to be a good Production Manager?

Patience, diplomacy, ability to multi-task, and organization. I think it helps to come from a technical production background, because it gives me an understanding of how to schedule and the expenses involved in many production problems. I think it also helps to know how to get the right people into position to ensure that the details don’t get overlooked.

4. What productions did you find especially challenging to manage?

I’d have to say The Magic Flute and Porgy and Bess were the most difficult to manage. One was because of the sheer volume of scenery, and the other because of conflicting personalities.

5. What is your favorite Atlanta Opera production? Why?

It is between Orfeo & Euridice and La bohème. I really enjoyed the music and singing in both of those productions, but I also think that Lillian Groag staged a beautiful production of Orfeo. And for La bohème, I loved the music and how well the principal cast brought the music to life. They had a true synergy that is not always easy to maintain on the stage.

6. Why do you do what you do?

I love the collaboration that is involved in live theatre and opera. I get to work with a number of truly creative individuals, and it is a pleasure to see a production come to life, and know that I was a part of that. To be able to see the effect that this work has on our patrons is a true gift.