BWW Interview: Kevin Newbury of THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS at Santa Fe Opera
Kevin Newbury is a theatre, opera and film director who has staged over sixty original productions for numerous opera companies, festivals, and symphonies. Especially committed to developing new material, he has directed more than two-dozen world premieres of operas and plays. Kevin's production of Oscar for Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia was nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2014 International Opera Awards and his 2015 production of Bel Canto for Lyric Opera of Chicago recently aired on PBS Great Performances. This summer he will direct the world premiere of Mason Bates and Mark Campbell's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at Santa Fe Opera. His future plans include directing the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz and Mohammed Hanif's Bhutto at Pittsburgh Opera in 2018.
Q: What are the first decisions you make when starting to work on the production of a world premiere?
KN: It depends on how early I become part of the process. Sometimes, the first step is finding a composer and librettist team, at other times it's hiring the cast and designers. My first question is always: Why tell this story now?
Q: Is there much difference in the decisions you make about the production of an opera and the production of a play?
KN: Whether it's a play, opera or film, I always focus on the best way to tell the story. Opera companies tend to plan much further ahead of time, but my approach is similar across all mediums.
Q: What are your considerations in selecting designers?
KN: I always choose the design team with input from the writers and the producing organization. I base my decision about all design personnel on whose aesthetic best matches the material, often considering which team would work best together on a given project. Honestly, I want to be inspired throughout the process and I am fortunate to have several designers in each area of expertise with whom I enjoy collaborating on a regular basis.
Q: How much of a restriction does their voice production put on your direction of singing actors?
KN: Very little. The best singers today are also great actors and are used to being very physical onstage. Sometimes in a big opera house I need to be conscious of placing certain singers downstage for big vocal moments, but otherwise I direct singers the same way I direct non-singing actors. Occasionally I have to teach singers to act, but overall, singers today come with a full arsenal of acting and movement skills.
Q: How do you keep repetitive arias from becoming visually boring?
KN: I look for actions for the singers to perform. What are they trying to accomplish in a given aria? Who else can be onstage to interact with them? Because much of directing is about transitions, I often shift the physical world of the space through scenery, video, and lighting to help keep the action moving.
Q: Of the following new operas that you have directed, which ones did you find most interesting? Fellow Travelers, Kansas City Choir Boy, O Columbia, The Manchurian Candidate, Doubt, Bel Canto, Oscar.
KN: That is a tough question. That's like asking a parent to name her favorite child. I enjoy directing provocative shows that ask questions and address living in the world today. All of the operas listed above have a strong resonance in the twenty-first century. Fellow Travelers is particularly close to my heart because I was involved from inception through creation, and because it addresses an often overlooked period in our history, the Lavender Scare during the McCarthy era. As a gay man, it is particularly important to me to honor the generation that came before us and share its stories with the world. Your list includes many of my favorite shows from my entire career.
Q: Is there much difference between directing an adaptation of material from another art form and an original opera libretto?
KN: Again, the goal is focused, theatrical storytelling. Sometimes adapting existing source materials provides a clear road map and at other times it can be a hindrance. It all depends on the piece.
Q: Are any of the following works due for more performances? Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce's Fellow Travelers, Todd Almond's Kansas City Choir Boy, Gregory Spears and Royce Vavrek's O Columbia, Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's The Manchurian Candidate, Douglas J. Cuomo and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, Jimmy Lopez and Nilo Cruz's Bel Canto, and Theodore Morrison and John Cox's Oscar.
KN: Fellow Travelers will have numerous performances and it has been recorded for commercial CD release. Kansas City Choir Boy has already had four productions and Oscar has had two. I hope the others will have many more. Bel Canto was recently on PBS Great Performances. I love each of these pieces and hope to do them all as often as possible.
Q: What can you tell us about your production of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?
The production The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs? will be the same in all venues after its premiere in Santa Fe this summer. As of this writing, it will also be seen in Seattle and San Francisco.
KN: Steve Jobs and Apple changed the way we think and interact with the world around us. In taking on the story of one the most iconic innovators of our time, my design team and I were inspired by Apple's revolutionary approach that combined a user-friendly interface with cutting edge technology. Never before in human history has one device contained so much information about us, yet we were never meant to look inside that device. How did the man who changed the way we see ourselves view the world? What inspired him and how did he see himself in relation to the changing world around him?