Two scenic design graduate students found artistic inspiration and real-world alliances through professional mentorship opportunities at the UMKC Department of Theatre. “When this happens,” says Gene Friedman, assistant professor of scenic design, “We call it ‘lightning striking’; it is that astonishing chemistry that happens on rare occasion between a designer and a director.” Jeff Ridenour (MFA Scene Design 2014) and Alexander LaFrance (MFA Scene Design 2015) forged strong professional relationships while they were still graduate students at UMKC. They created scene design magic when they were given opportunities to work with professional directors, artistic directors and choreographers.
Alexander LaFrance and The Silver Shoes Alexander LaFrance’s theatre background encompasses everything from acting to directing to stage management. Victoria Morgan, the artistic director and CEO of the Cincinnati Ballet, was brought to the Department of Theatre to conduct a charrette with Professors Ezell and Friedman. This gave students across theatre disciplines access to collaboration with working professionals. A charrette, a collaborative session during which students work with professionals on real projects, provides students the chance to shine, hone skills, and potentially have their work seen in a professional production.
LaFrance found inspiration in Ms. Morgan and her aesthetic, as well as in the topic of the 2014 charrette: a new ballet based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. What most interested LaFrance were the parallels between the ballerina’s psychological journey and that of Dorothy’s. “I presented my ideas,” he said, “at the risk of them being rejected, only to find them embraced and encouraged by Victoria.” That risky spark of creativity, ultimately, led to LaFrance being hired as concept creator, librettist, and designer of sets, costumes, and projections for the concept that he and Ms. Morgan developed in the charrette: The Silver Shoes: The Ballerina in Oz.
An original score will be composed for the debut at the Cincinnati Ballet and none other than Victoria Morgan herself will choreograph the ballet. The ballet, for which LaFrance is receiving full professional credit for scenic design, will be produced in the spring of 2017. In addition to the ballet, Alex is also designing The Ghosts of Lote Bravo, a world premiere being produced at Cynthia Levin’s Unicorn Theater — another professional relationship that Alex forged while studying at UMKC. Jeff Ridenour and Cendrillon.
by Amanda Davison