Its In The Genes: A Father and Son Collaboration

Evan and Mark Streshinsky

Evan and Mark Streshinsky

Sitting at his computer, high school senior Evan Streshinsky spoke a sequence of words that the room full of professors on the other end of they Skype video call had never heard from a seventeen year old prospective student before: “Das Rhinegold was my favorite opera as a kid.”

But Evan wasn’t just a regular kid. As the son of West Edge Opera General Director Mark Streshinsky and opera singer Marie Plette, he had spent his life with opera, both in the audience and behind the scenes. His experience in the Bay Area theater world, which included studies at the Oakland School of the Arts and internships at Berkeley Rep, West Edge Opera, and Shotgun Players, led him to pursue a degree in the arts. And now he was explaining to the University of Michigan Design and Production department why Das Rhinegold was the subject of a major design project in his portfolio. They were impressed. Impressed enough for them to enlist opera colleagues of Mark to help with their efforts to convince Evan to attend U of M.

This fall Evan will start his Junior year in the program at Ann Arbor, but not before racking up some real life experience working with his father to co-design West Edge Opera’s production of Breaking the Waves. “It’s more like I describe the big ideas and he works on how to realize those ideas” says Mark. “The big idea is this church with no bells. It dominates the opera, it’s always on stage.” The challenge will be to incorporate this big structure while also delineating the other locations that are featured in the opera.

A previsualization of the set for West Edge Opera’s production of Breaking the Waves

A previsualization of the set for West Edge Opera’s production of Breaking the Waves

“I prefer stripped down productions. Sometimes my teachers have to push me to make things more complex.” Evan explains. He remembers being amazed by small companies that could make theater magic out of almost nothing, like the West Edge production of Don Giovanni that used mirrors on the floor to create an island for Giovanni’s narcissism and Shotgun Players creating a cyclops with three actors standing on each others shoulders and a work light in The Salt Plays.

For Breaking the Waves, the church will be created with a simple two walled scrim that, when lit from behind, will reveal action happening inside. It will also serve as other interior spaces, such as the hospital where Jan is being treated. The large steeple in front will have an industrial feel, referencing the oil rig that features heavily in the plot.

One big challenge in the Bridge Yard space is the abundant light with no way of controlling it. This meant that projections, a staple of much modern set design, weren’t feasible: too much light pollution. To solve this, Evan and Mark will be creating rear lit thirty foot wide cutouts of scenic elements, basically static shadow puppets cast on a rear cyclorama.

The design is still very much in progress, but work is coming along with nary a hitch. When asked if there were any problems or challenges collaborating with his father, Evan sidled up to his collaborator and with a deadpan delivery decreed “There are absolutely no flaws working with this perfect man.” (We can’t be completely sure, but there’s an ever-so-slight chance that Evan was saying this ironically. Then again… who can tell with millennials?) With such an improbably smooth working relationship spanning a generation, the future of opera seems to be in good shape.

Brian Rosenbreaking