When Laura Kaminsky started creating the opera As One, she knew she wanted to involve filmmaker Kimberly Reed.
As One, which tells the story of a transgender character and the transition she makes from Hannah Before to Hannah After, is based on experiences from Reed’s own life. Since Reed is a filmmaker, Kaminsky wanted to incorporate that medium into the opera’s set.
Combining the two mediums was a way to make the opera easily reproducible and to set the scenes.
“Keeping the production manageable was one of the key challenges, and I think that we were able to accomplish it with this (film),” Reed said.
Instead of using sets for As One, which will be staged at 4 p.m. Tuesday, August 7, in Norton Hall, the film is projected across five screens to place Hannah in certain spaces. Every scene in the opera takes on a different look. Sometimes the film style is realistic, Reed said, and other times it is more abstract.
The selection “Norway” is meant to place people in the country, whereas “Cursive” displays a more abstract concept through animation.
“It’s ultimately about gender and how one expresses gender through these unconscious expressions, like one’s handwriting,” Reed said.
Each scene presented different challenges, and they all operate in their own spaces, Reed said. The selection “Sex ed” uses “cheeky representation” of sex-ed films from the ’50s, which are “kind of hilarious,” Reed said.
It was important to Reed to illustrate the scenes without overpowering the music and libretto.
“I had to be careful that it didn’t become this monolithic projection that would just dominate the proceeding,” Reed said. “I think film has a tendency to do that. We’re so used to looking at this big central movie screen that is somewhat transfixing, and I wanted to make sure that’s not what happened.”
The fractured screens are meant to bring a cubist style to the opera, Reed said. During the production, the images will be displayed on certain screens so as not to distract from the action on stage.
“The idea is that the video would just play a supporting role in this production and not become what video sometimes is, which is this entrancing, distracting force in the middle of the production,” Reed said.
Chautauqua School of Art student Hannah Mc- Broom created a film to go along with the As One open rehearsals that took place most Mondays. She said the experience allowed her to think narratively.
The section she most enjoyed creating was “Out of nowhere,” when the character Hannah gets attacked. McBroom researched transgender violence to convey the seriousness of that issue.
As a transgender woman herself, McBroom said there are not enough stories in media that feature trans characters.
“There’s very few trans narratives just starting to come out, but in the past, the transgender characters have been portrayed by men in dresses as a comedy bit,” McBroom said. “These films, these operas, (are) overriding that type of stigma. It’s giving a viewpoint that would not normally have been given.”
Telling those stories is crucial to young people, but also to the people in power who can fix the problems, McBroom said.
“These narratives are changing that dialogue,” McBroom said, “saying that we’re important and that there’s a place for us.”