The Tale of Lady Thị Kính Production Countdown

© Anvi Hoàng

—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —– 

I would feel dreaded at the thought of having to drag myself out of the house at 20 degree weather to go to the shops at the MAC.

But I was glad I did, every time.

I would never know what kind of stories I was going to find there, be it about strings, foam, metal, clay, wood or bamboo.

There is something almost irresistible about the people there working around the common everyday materials.

Perhaps many of us have forgotten the pure pleasure of getting one’s hands dirty in the process of literally creating something.

There, at the shops of IU Opera Theater, exists goodness. There is purity. There is creativity. There are simplicity, earnestness, and sensibility.

I only knew that every time I walked out of the shops, my spirit was high.

It did not fail even once.

Everyday materials:


Foam and steel.


The floor

Alissia Lauer (or Alissia Garabrant), Technical Director, divided the huge floor into pieces of platforms to build, in the drawing. Andrew Hastings, Scenic Carpenter in the Wood Shop, built forty (40) rectangular platforms of the same size like these:


And Ken D’Eliso, Scenic Carpenter in the Wood Shop, built some irregular others. In the picture is a small part of the irregular platforms:


Then ALL those platforms were painted white, then a second layer of grey paint:


Then texture is created on the surface of ALL platforms. In the picture, Lynne Glyck (chemistry major) is working to create texture for the floor:


In close-up:


Finally, another layer of color paint is brushed and/or sprayed on to create the finished look:


Can you believe this is what it takes to create the floor!

The walls

Ken D’Eliso built dozens of pieces of the huge wall. They are ten feet high. Again, to break the wall into pieces is to make it easy to transport and store:



The front of the curving wall:


Then, the wall is transferred to the Paint and Props Shop. There, pieces of foam in different shapes and sizes are cut and laid on the surface:


Brendon Marsh (masters student in voice) is creating texture on the foam:


Once the desired texture is made (upper), a layer of thin muslin fabric is glued to the foam (lower):


Then layers of paint are put on top of the surface to create texture (upper), then more paint is brushed and sprayed over to achieve the desired look (lower):


The finished look of the wall:


This is a special picture. I happened to be at the shop at the moment to capture it. What do you see?


It is the finished wall in pieces being transported downstairs to the stage. They are at least double the height of the students. They are all inside a huge space which is the elevator, one that is specially built to move gigantic objects and goes very slowly, three times slower than a regular one.

And THAT is the wall!

The nirvana drop

What is the hand for? It is Andrew Hastings’s and how he demonstrates (left) that he has to clean the steel bar before he saws it (right):


He then polishes the cut:


The cut before and after:


Andrew has to solder bars of steels together to make a frame, then clamps them like this to straighten them up:


The frame is then attached to a wooden board. See how big the board is: pay attention to how tiny the yellow tape measure is and how small Andrew is at the end of the board:


Then the inside of the board is taken out to leave an empty frame like this, otherwise it is too heavy:


In total, five frames of different shapes and sizes are made, then combined to make one big one to hold this big oddly-shaped yellow drop (50 feet wide). In the picture, Don Geyra is painting the drop:


The frame has to be broken down because of storage space consideration. The fabric drop can be rolled. Can you really see how big the drop is? Here is a second look:


The textured drop

A bundle of coarse material (jute) is bought for its desired texture and colors:

texture-1 texture-1b

Lynne Glyck (chemistry major) and Gwen Law (Scenic Painting and Properties Assistant) who is in charge of creating this drop are painstakingly separating and pulling the threads:


Almost there…


One thread at a time. The bundle of separate threads is ready for use:


This drop has a lot of texture created by gluing the threads onto the fabric in certain patterns:

texture-5 texture-5b

Gigantic at 60 feet wide. From the drawing board to… the floor:


Are you sure you can imagine how big the drop is? See how tiny Gwen and Ken are at the foot of the drop. Also in the picture, one textured drop is finished and hung up, ready to roll; another one on the floor is being created:


The statues

Brendon Marsh (masters student in voice) and Eva Mahan-Taylor (part-time employee) are painting the bases of the statues:

statue-1 statue-2

Guess what the material of the statue is? – Foam:


And plywood core:

statue-4 statue-5

To create the faces of the statues, Mark Smith, Director of Paint and Props Shop who is also in charge of creating these statues, sculpted the face from clay first. Then he made a mold of it that he could use to cast three faces for the statues:


The sitting statues are taller than three feet:

After being brushed with joint compound, the statues were painted. Do you see the reflection of the gold paint that makes the statues come to life:


‘Fascinating’ is all I can say.


Overall, I skipped some of the stages, but you get an idea! There are many of the hundreds of processes like these going on at the Wood Shop and Paint and Props Shop that I documented but simply cannot describe here. I have to stop somewhere. Just keep in mind that every single detail you see on stage is thought of, calculated, built, created, or taken care of by one artist or another, right here at IU Opera. And the beautiful set is designed by Scenic Designer Erhard Rom.

Enjoy the show! But wait, before we leave, I have some bonus drops for you. They are the ‘green’ drop and the ‘finale’ drop.

Picture of the ‘green’ drop by scenic designer Erhard Rom:


Drop being painted at IU Opera Theater Shop in Bloomington, Indiana:


Picture of the ‘finale’ drop by scenic designer Erhard Rom:


Drop being painted at IU Opera Theater Shop in Bloomington, Indiana:


Note that IU Opera is the only institution in the country that produces six (6) operas a year, with full-scale production like this. Many professional opera companies in the country only do three (3) operas a year and their production cannot compare to that of IU Opera. I cannot say enough about this fact.

Now go buy your tickets for the show before it is sold out!!

© Anvi Hoàng

The Vietnamese version of this article has been printed and published online by the Viễn Đông Daily News. Read my online Vietnamese version.

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