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Rock, Paper, Scissors = Opera

West Edge Opera sat down to talk 'shop' with Coraline co-producing company Papermoon Opera Productions. Led by Fenlon Lamb, Artistic and Executive Director of Papermoon, along with founding partners Jefferson Ridenour, set designer, and Kris Kirkwood, projection designer, and other extraordinary designers, Papermoon brings a striking vision to every one of their opera productions. Read on to learn why this team jumped at the chance of Turnage's Coraline, and what a world 'made of paper' really means.

WEO: We are so thrilled that we are FINALLY collaborating with Papermoon Opera Productions. You all have been on our radar for years as an innovative company bringing bold design and new concepts to beloved operas but some of our audiences might not not know anything about you at all. So where to begin: how about what was the impetus of the company forming? What were your first productions like?

Fenlon Lamb: We’re excited to finally be in production with West Edge and working on this perfect fit of an opera-Coraline. Papermoon strives to collaborate with like-minded companies to elevate the art form into a more ecologically sound, truly playful and fun process.

We started from a place of necessity, pinching pennies and using paper as the cheapest means possible to create new productions. Our first production was La Bohème which was just a series of charcoal drawings on 5 large panels of paper (typically used for proms) including the Paris skyline, the loft stove and the painting Marcello was working on. Back painting provided Cafe Momus with light shining through the translucent paper. Jefferson finished off the entire proscenium with a frame of recycled paper scraps we’d all been hoarding for months.

Since then, we continually look for materials that have a different texture and movement than traditional hard sets like rolls of Tyvek, for instance…you know, that insulation paper for houses and super durable USPS mailer bags. As the company has evolved we’ve started to use more alternative mediums with an eye for eco-friendly, recycled and found materials. Plus, our shipping footprint is much smaller than traditional sets that arrive in 2 or 3 tractor trailers. Our entire Carmen set can be rolled up and fits in a Honda Fit for transport!

(Above, L-R): The Juliet Letters at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Hansel und Gretel at the UMKC Conservatory.

Photos: Cory Weaver

WEO: Explain operas 'made from paper'. What does that mean? How does it technically work?

Lamb: The idea is to find alternative and recycled materials that function as large canvases for set painting and building with the familiar size and scale of traditional sets… but with a lighter feel and unexpected textures that push our creative imaginings. After years of using bulky, traditional, rented sets that had made the rounds in company after company, we wanted to explore and imagine operas in a more tactile, familiar and truly child-like way.

L'enfant et les Sortilèges, UMKC Conservatory, Papermoon Productions
The cup and tea pot from L'enfant et les Sortilèges at UMKC Conservatory. Photo: Cory Weaver

Technically, scenic designer Jeff Ridenour has found different tools that allow him to build the sets primarily out of large rolls of heavy stock paper or butcher paper…such as grommeting, Velcro. Meanwhile, projection designer Kris Kirkwood can use projections to create atmosphere and play with light and movement on these different textures to great effect.

WEO: Where does Papermoon Opera Productions look for inspiration? (internationally/design/non-opera inspirations?)

Jefferson Ridenour: we’re heavily inspired by contemporary art installations and performance art that uses paper, cardboard, plastics, textiles and recyclables in immersive environments such as the artwork of Chiharu Shiota, Anish Kapoor, Christian Boltanski, Louise Nevelson, Sam Jaffe, Karen Jerzyk, Isabel Yellin and Marta Carrasco.

In addition to fine art, we take inspiration from experimental and avant-garde fashion designers such as Jeremy Scott, Edda Gimnes, Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo, Gareth Pugh and Thom Browne to name a few.

At the core, Papermoon is connected to creating environments for performance that express child-like wonder, imagination and play. In this vein, we are inspired by the drawings of children, blanket forts and toy theaters!

(Above) A rendering of Act 2, "The Other World" from Coraline. Image provided by Jefferson Ridenour

WEO: What is it about Mark Anthony Turnage's Coraline that speaks to Papermoon Opera Productions now in 2022?

Ridenour: Coraline is the perfect story for Papermoon to help tell visually due to its child-like imagination. With Director Tara Branham’s vision, we’re telling the story of a Coraline that feels unsettled by the transitions in her life - scared of the changes happening all around her. This is expressed through the transitional environment of their new home (under renovation and moving-in) by using the materials Papermoon implements frequently for the creative process, such as canvas drop cloths, painters’ plastic and cardboard boxes as the thread throughout the Coraline design.

Turnage’s Coraline also speaks to feelings of not fitting in and that the dangers and wrongs of the world can be scary to overcome. Many of us can relate to that!

WEO: Is there anything about Coraline that you all still haven't figured out yet? A nut that you're looking to crack in the rehearsal/tech process?

Ridenour: In this production we are interested in making the very important and iconic “Door” to the Other World a character and force of its own within the story. Through staging, lighting and projections we will be exploring methods and paths to make this occur and give a new take on the presence of the “Door"…

Click here to read Coraline Staging Director Tara Branham’s vision for Coraline’

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