Lightning Strikes TWICE in Scene Design!

May 26, 2016 Stephanie Roberts
Cendrillon (Cinderella) Opera UMKC - Friday 15 Nov 2013 - shots from performance (full stage width to show scene changes). Photo, copyright Mike Strong -

Cendrillon (Cinderella) Opera UMKC

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.

Alexander LaFrance headshot for blurb

Alexander LaFrance

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.

Jeff Ridenour, in his senior year at UMKC, was given the opportunity to design the opera Cendrillon for UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.  Jeff did not know who the opera director Fenlon Lamb was when he was assigned the project.  Jeff recently related how working with a visionary director like Fenlon Lamb altered the trajectory of his professional career.  “From our first meeting Fenlon and I found that we not only had a very similar understanding and vision for Cendrillon but had a common language and sense of style and aesthetics that meshed together.”  Jeff found design inspiration for the opera from the illustrator Erté’s glamorous depictions of 1920s style and modern sophistication.  Don Dagenais, writing in the KC Metropolis hailed the production as “splendid”, and described it as “the most spectacular visual production this observer has seen in over 30 years of opera.”  
Since then, Ridenour and Ms. Lamb have also worked professionally on the operas Hansel and GretelLa Bohème, and Little Women.  They will be collaborating as a creative team again on Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute, for the Conservatory of Music. Ridenour and Lamb are currently developing a production company, Papermoon Productions. The company was conceived after their innovative collaboration on La Bohème, in which the costumes and settings were made largely of paper.  The mission of the company is to develop affordable and innovative designs to promote the powerful experience of live opera.  The company will be particularly focusing on touring productions to intimate venues for smaller communities that usually cannot afford to produce opera.
Jeff Ridenour has moved to New York City, where he is serving as Assistant Designer to world-renowned scenographer George Tsypin on major projects including Manon Lescaut for the Berlin Staatsoper and the St. Petersburg Mikhailovsky Theatre.

by Amanda Davison  



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