BWW Interview: Director Jenna Tamisiea Elser of THE EARTH HAS MUSIC at GLOW Lyric Theatre
Since 2016, Glow Lyric Theatre's Raising Voices Series has created original performances around a relevant topic, helping to spark community dialogue.
This year's first Raising Voices production, THE EARTH HAS MUSIC, celebrates the beauty of our planet while also focusing on global and local climate change
and environmental deterioration. The show is described as a pastiche of dance, poetry, and folk music, along with original operatic compositions , combined into mosaics of music, movement and spoken word.
We asked director Jenna Tamisiea Elser to tell us more.
What was the inspiration for this year's Raising Voices show?
THE EARTH HAS MUSIC is the first in our Raising Voices Series, and it was really brought about by a nagging feeling that I had after Greta Thunberg emerged as an activist. I really followed her and listened to what she was saying. I recognized the truth in her speeches- that as an adult, I wasn't always concerned daily about the state of the environment, because the effects of climate change weren't bearing down on me in any immediate way. When I heard her pleas as a young person, I realized that while the Earth will last (hopefully) through my lifetime, I wasn't really doing my part in setting up future generations for environmental security. I started thinking about my future children (my husband, Christian, and I are adopting), and had an epiphany. I am treating this show not only as a way to encourage others to find ways of protecting our earth, but as a personal research task for me to learn about the facts surrounding climate change, and how I can create positive change.
What's the format of the show?
Like most of our Raising Voices Series, the show is artist driven, meaning that I pull inspiration from the artists involved, combine it with my research and ideas, and create a musical piece from scratch. I would describe THE EARTH HAS MUSIC as a mosaic or a collage of poetry, dance, and differing music styles (from pop to folk to opera to hymns) all brought together by the theme of climate change and the celebration of the earth. It's a collection of ideas, opinions, testimonies, musings and histories on climate change and degradation, as well as the wonders and delights of our earth. It's only about an hour long, and we really set it up the night like an event, with a free reception beforehand, the performance, and a talk back after. It gives a well rounded feel to the event, so that there is fellowship with the reception, thought processing and heart opening during the performance, and then a connection to activism and call to action with the talk back.
Who are the key performers/contributors?
Vaughn Newman, Founder of Vaughn Newman Dance, will be our dance element, operatic soprano Danielle Knox, pop singer Jerius Duncan and poet Kimberly Simms from Wits End Poetry will partake. Hailey Hunter will serve as our fearless music director. Jon Grier will be accompanying the singers on his compositions. Oh, and I also roped by husband, baritone Christian Elser, into singing for this project! (A real treat for Glow fans- he doesn't do this often!) I'm inspired by the artists who will be a part of this show....one thing that really brings all of us together as humans is that we inhabit this earth together. It's such a beautiful collaboration to work with artists through all these different mediums- dance, folk music, pop music, opera, poetry....is there anything better than celebrating our earth through art?
Tell us about the original music and poetry being created for this show. How did these collaborations come about?
Jon Grier (the composer) and Keller Cushing Freeman (the poet who wrote the lyrics) have been working together for years, with Jon setting her amazing poetry to music. They have collaborated on several pieces, many of which have themes on environmentalism, preservation of animals and the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are graciously letting us utilize musical pieces from their past collaborations for THE EARTH HAS MUSIC, because they are a perfect fit!
Each show in your Raising Voices series has a unique partner. Who is owrking with you for this show?
Our community partner is the Bartram Sierra Club. Their work is focused on getting people to advocate for the environment, whether that be through events, clean ups, panels, or performances, like they are doing with us. The leaders of this Sierra Club chapter, Kathleen Kempe and Ron Sobczak, have been instrumental in connecting me to examples of how South Carolina specifically has a contentious relationship with climate preservation. They have provided me with resources, points of research, and a lot of passionate thoughts that I'm including in this performance, like the Santee nuclear scandal, the effect of coal ash on our local neighborhoods, and the state of solar power here. It excites me to have this local connection, and I've been learning a tremendous amount about our Environmental Policies in South Carolina.
The whole point of the Raising Voices series is to spark community dialogue. What do you hope audiences will take away from THE EARTH HAS MUSIC?
The goal for the Raising Voices Series is always to find a way to connect the larger issues of our country with our local community. My hope for this project is that audiences can come away inspired to take steps forward in protecting our planet. After all, it doesn't take millions of people doing perfect work to save the planet, it takes millions of people doing small things to save the planet.
Glow Lyric Theatre's The Earth Has Music, a one act original piece
featuring opera, dance and spoken word.
The Fine Arts Center
102 Pine Knoll Dr
Greenville, SC 29609
March 13, 7:30pm
March 14, 7:30pm
7:00pm Pre-Show Reception
8:30pm Post-Show Talk Back with The Sierra Club
By Phone: (864) 558-4569
Tickets are $25
Seating is limited