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'Lulu' Entertains, Delivers Bold, Urgent Message

Published on January 30, 2020

'Lulu' Entertains, Delivers Bold, Urgent Message

Photo courtesy of Joel Cintron

“Lulu,” a new experimental opera performed at Eastern Connecticut State University from Jan. 24-26, offered a provocative multi-media treatment of the timeless issue of mistreatment of women. The performances, performed in the Proscenium Theatre at Eastern’s Fine Arts Instructional Center and based on Frank Wedekind’s original play “Earth Spirit,” were produced in collaboration with the New York City-based theater/opera company Ridge Theater.

"Lulu" was the first performance of Eastern’s new Artist-in-Residency initiative and was a stunning treatment of the timely social issue of sexual assault and mistreatment of women. Lulu was played by Dominican-American hip-hop artist Natalie Ann Yepez, known by her stage name of “Maluca Mala.”

The opera told the story of Lulu, a homeless child living in Vienna in the late 19th century who is raised by a predatory father figure. As a result of her childhood trauma, she grows up to become a seducer who rips through the lives of all who love her. The opera mixed vintage films that serve as a backdrop with Lulu’s outspoken, vivid rap to create an incisive and engrossing performance. New Media Studies students Jenique Blair and Aubrie Curcio helped with the programming to digitally project footage edited by Dylan Amick, one of the Ridge Theater guest artists, from hours of silent movies and old films.

'Lulu' starred Natalie Natalie Ann Yepez, known by her stage name "Maluca Mala." Photo by Joel Cintron

Kristen Morgan, associate professor of theatre and director of the New Media Studies program, arranged for the partnership with the award-winning Ridge Theater company. She said the opera totally upended most peoples’ idea of what opera is. “It was about ending cycles of violence and abuse. I also think the question, ‘What if it was your daughter?’ is extremely relevant, pointing out that stories like Lulu's are so easy to ignore when they're happening to someone else.”

“Women who have been socio-economically disenfranchised and marginalized by society are left with extremely limited and deplorable options for supporting themselves,” said Yepez in describing her work. “It is important to me to empower female characters and give them a voice to speak their truth and tell their story.”

Other “Lulu” artists included composer Joseph Budenholzer; Broadway star John Dosset, co-founder of Ridge Theater; and Jordan Golston, a new actor who has starred on stage and in film and television, including the TV series “Madam Secretary.” Eastern students and faculty participating included: Emilia Alquist (Ensemble), Hayley Ault (Chorus), J. Mason Beiter (Ensemble), Jacob-James Bellemare (Ensemble), Molly Boucher (Orchestra), Cassie Champagne (Chorus), Autumn Colburn (Chorus), Ali Fern (Ensemble), Harry Gagne (Dr. Goll), Amber House (Chorus), Emily Kelly (Chorus), Meaghan Labas (Chorus), Shaughn Maleryn (Ensemble), Alondra Martinez (Young Lulu), Taylor Molina (Chorus), Alexis Nimetz (Orchestra), Sarah Potter (Young Lulu/Chorus), Emily Jo Riggs (Lulu’s Mother), Allison Sawtelle (Orchestra), Erin Wallace (Marquis), Austin Washington (Schwartz), Alycia Bright-Holland (Lulu’s mother), S.J. Reynolds(stage manager), Zach Parisella (student lighting designer) and Anya Sokolovskaya (costume designer).

Morgan said “Lulu” will help Eastern students on their journey toward being the next generation of contemporary theater and opera creators. She said the opera is specifically designed to help students learn to combine the theatrical with the cinematic and bring the stage to life in new innovative ways, merging performance, singing, choreography, design and technical production. In addition, student/faculty collaboration with Ridge Theater will continue through the fall through independent studies in design, theater and music, which will ensure a smooth transition to the next step of the Artist-in Residence Initiative’s process.

Morgan said the partnership with Ridge Theater is the kick-off of what will be “an annual tradition of inviting professionals from around the world to share knowledge with Eastern students, use Eastern’s world-class facilities, collaborate with faculty and inspire audiences with challenging new works.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Categories: Theatre