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Interview with Heather Fairbairn & Sophie van der Stegen
What is the starting point of this show? Why is The Magic Flute by Mozart the inspiration?
Heather F. – I met Sophie and Ana in Munich in 2016, during an enoa-workshop on creating music theatre for young audiences. We worked together on a new children's short piece, Little Nemo and the Ice Cream Witch, and we had a lot of fun collaborating on this project. Afterward, Sophie asked me to work with her on a new show based on The Magic Flute.
Sophie v. d. S. – I wanted to create a show from The Magic Flute. It's a superb piece for children, and I have a special relationship with it, as the first opera that I saw when I was 5 years old. I had a recording on cassette that I played on a continuous loop. My sister and I had a great time replaying the parts: she was Tamino and I was Pamina. That's where I got the idea of adapting this work and making sure that children play the parts in a participative and immersive way.
This isn't really a short version of The Magic Flute but a new show. Can you tell us more about the creative process?
Heather F. – We started the creative process with an enoa LAB (experimental workshops offered to teams around a creative project) during which we worked on reducing Mozart's work to create a "Mini" Flute by retaining main characters and the composer's music. At the end of the LAB, we did a public presentation, which was very successful. In order to simplify things, we had to reduce the show without making it too simplistic. So we decided to completely rework the show, imagining new characters around a new story with new musical arrangements: it became the story of three friends who unearth an old score of The Magic Flute in an attic and decide to replay the opera as a role playing game.
What were the most difficult decisions you had to make in terms of narrative?
Sophie v. d. S – The hardest was creating a narrative framework that tells a gripping story. The result diverges from the original project, the role play concept is central to the show. This game is offered to both young viewers solicited during the show and performers who embody several characters. The narrative is richer compared to the first proposal, and musically it's richer as well because we included new compositions by Ana Seara.
Your stage concept relies on interaction with the public. How does the audience react, and what do you need to have in mind when most of the audience members are children?
Sophie v. d. S –The public assimilates the story much more when they're involved in the action. I think it's important to cross the line between stage and audience. We also heard several children declaring at the end of the show that one day they wanted to be opera singers ... especially Queens of the Night!
When I write for children, I never underestimate them. They're intelligent and understand a great deal. You only need to see their reaction when we ask questions during the show, they don't miss a thing.
Heather F.– This participatory form allows them to understand that opera is accessible. I do the staging in the same way for young audience as I do for the general public. In fact, children can have more critical sense than adults, so we have to consider the creative process with the same rigor and finesse as any other production. In my work, this means strong physical involvement by the performers. It's not easy to manage this in an immersive show because there are children sitting around the room and the physical energy of the singers requires a lot of training and preparation. The second key is creating memorable visual moments, in this show, for example, scattering rose petals, using lights on a disco ball… If we've been able to create these moments, it's easier to involve the public and get them to participate, whether they're 6 or 96 years old!
What are the themes of the Flute that you wanted to keep?
Heather F. –The themes of The Flute in the show are presented differently. For example, the initiatory journey taken by our characters doesn't lead them on a quest through water and fire, but an introduction to the joys of music through role play. There's also the theme of fraternity, which is important in the original work but is presented through the lens of friendship.