A line formed at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater down Kirkwood Avenue on Saturday for “Small Box,” an opera set in a death row waiting room.
And although the line delayed the curtain call of the production, the cast and crew said they were happy to accommodate the wait.
“I really like the crowd,” said Herman Whitfield III. composer, conductor and IU alumnus. “It showed that there was some interest which I have not seen before, so I really think in the future we could bring new opera to Bloomington.”
As the performance began, an intense red light revealed eight chairs, backs turned toward the audience, in which the eight singers sat. The orange jumpsuits of the inmates provided the only other color against the simple black set.
The one act opera tells the true stories of several inmates on death row, as well as the officers of the prison. The day-to-day details depicted the similarities of life on both sides of the bars, emphasizing underlying human emotions.
A new inmate, Willie, played by graduate student Brennan Hall sang, “I’m still getting used to this place, I’ll try to fit in” as if he is the new kid in school, hoping
to make friends.
Other facets of life appear when a wife visits her husband for the last time.
“You’ve got to tell our son a short cut is the longest way,” he begged her before their final embrace.
A third prisoner discussed the alternatives presented to him during his life on the street – he applied to the army, but they wouldn’t take him because he couldn’t read.
Sophomore Erin Mills was in the audience to see her friends in the production.
“It was ridiculously awesome,” she said.
Mills commented that the physical mannerisms of the characters were not the typical erect opera stance and added a sincere and emotional element to the characters.
“I wish it was longer so we could get to know them better,” Mills said. “The fact that Willie was willing to sacrifice so the other man can live was really enlightening.”
After the show, which was performed one night only, the cast and creative team behind the production stuck around to mingle with individual audience members about the performance.
“Although the premiere has ended, it is still able to be nurtured by whoever is involved either directly or indirectly,” Whitfield said. “It was satisfying because when you introduce something to the world it starts to take on it’s own hue – it starts to grow and mature in and of itself.”
“Small Box” marks the first opera for Whitfield, who was chosen by librettist Bruce Pearson to score and conduct the production.
“This was so phenomenal. I can’t wait to see what you do next,” one audience member told him during the talk back session.
“Me too,” Herman said.