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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

E&H Faculty Member Directs Opera/Deaf Performance

Dr. Kelly Bremner, Emory & Henry faculty member and stage director
Dr. Kelly Bremner, Emory & Henry faculty member and stage director
Additional photos below »

October 03, 2010

EMORY, Va. — Opera, in its most basic form, can simply be defined as a theatrical presentation in which a dramatic performance is set to music.

It is a stage that has rarely been inviting to deaf people, but that was the challenge that was placed at the feet of current Emory & Henry faculty member and stage director Dr. Kelly Bremner while working on her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Across a Distance is a multimedia bilingual (English and American Sign Language) performance piece for soprano and deaf actors. It recently made its full stage debut on Sept. 17 at the Mitchell Theatre on the campus of the University of Wisconsin Madison.

"Working on almost every aspect of this play was hard," said Bremner, the director. "Even simply rehearsing when we had two distinct languages and cultures in the room was challenging. It was very complicated to make sure both my actors knew what the other one was saying at all times, something that would normally be quite simple."

The performance tells an allegorical tale about Man, a storyteller, and Woman, a scientist, who live on separate islands, who desire to be together. Through the assistance of their magical companions, a flock of birds who converse through song and a pair of trees who express themselves through movement, Man and Woman meet.

Though Man speaks American Sign Language and Woman speaks and sings in English, the two magically understand one another. However, once they break the rules their companions set for them, Man and Woman lose their ability to communicate.

The creative team working with Bremner on Across a Distance includes her husband, Scott Gendel, the composer. The two performers are professional opera singer Julia Faulkner and Robert Schleifer, a deaf professional actor. The piece is written by Nick Lantz.

"Across a Distance has been one of the great joys of my life," Bremner said "I have such talented collaborators, and to work together so intensely for five years with such talent was amazing."

She added, "To make a piece of theatre that unites Deaf performance and Opera, something that people would normally think had nothing in common, and to help people see that there is something to be learned from that paradox was so rewarding."

Performers Julia Faulkner and Robert Schleifer use sign language during "Across a Distance."