Jeffrey Buchman the Artistic Director of LiveArts, is known for his formidable talent as an opera director of critically acclaimed productions across the globe. In this Q&A, Jeffrey provides an inside look at the creation of this performing arts event combining the talents of the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Ballet, Opera Grand Rapids and Broadway Grand Rapids and over 1,200 youth performers. The one-night only performance will be held at the Van Andel Arena on Friday, April 24.
GRS: How did this project come across your desk, if you will, and
why did you say yes?
Jeffrey Buchman: The
short answer for why I said yes to this project is easy. Working closely
with David Lockington, Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, to craft a production
on this scale that really celebrates a spirit of collaboration and that honors
our youth is an incredible opportunity and a director's dream. This
project came to my attention through conversations that Roger Nelson had with
my agent. As I understand it, Roger was explaining the event and my agent
told him she had the perfect director for it. This is a special kind of
production, and in my opinion it really asks for a specific type of director
and storyteller. On
the one hand, you need to be able to handle the incredible size and scope of
it. There are so many moving parts that it has the potential to be
overwhelming, so you definitely want someone who is comfortable dealing with
the sheer enormity of what is being created. At
the same time though, it is my feeling that an event like what I have
envisioned for LiveArts needs to have intimacy in its storytelling, in spite of
the size of the arena and the more than 1,500 performers. I think that
knowing I had the skill-set and the sensibility for this type of undertaking is
what led to my name coming up for consideration.
GRS: 3D motion graphics are a huge part of this production and
will projected onto the “Grand Wave.” Can you explain why this type of visual is integral to this production?
I was first tasked with figuring out how to take a mix of musical and dance
selections and to make something out of this mix that does not feel like a
mishmash or potpourri of selections, I immediately knew that part of what I
wanted to do was to visually interpret the music in a way that would serve a
greater arch of storytelling. In a
space as big as the Van Andel Arena, we have the space and height to create
something like a centerpiece, or a sculpture over the stage that we could
project onto. I had previously collaborated with projection designer
Alain Lores, and was excited about what he and I would be able to create
together for LiveArts. Our
initial conceptual discussions included the idea of flying over the Grand
River, so when we were thinking about what influences we should use in
designing the shape of our projection "sculpture," flight and water
stayed with us. After a series of initial draft drawings, we finally came to
the design of what we are now referring to as the Grand Wave. The shape
has a wonderful feeling of flight to it, as well as the feeling of the flow of
water, and it gives us incredible versatility in how we are able to use it for
GRS: This is a very community-oriented production, with the
collaboration between the Symphony, Opera, Ballet and Broadway, in addition to
the choirs, local bands and hundreds of youth performers. Can you speak to the
importance of this element in LiveArts?
one of the things that is central to LiveArts is collaboration, specifically
between these four pillar arts organizations in Grand Rapids. I am
intrigued by crafting something that celebrates a city through its arts
organizations in a way that says "we are all here to serve the community
together." And we are reaching deep into the community to involve
idea of doing a LiveArts event was the brainchild of Roger Nelson of the Grand
Rapids Symphony, and the participants that he has brought to the table really
accomplish this feeling of honoring the Grand Rapids community in what we are
GRS: There are some very powerful musical works on this program.
Why were these specific works chosen? Was it because most of them are
recognizable pieces? Is there a common theme that unites them? Was their
ability to lend themselves to accompanying visual considered?
not all of the music was selected before I was brought on board, much of it
was. It certainly was chosen with attention to popular, powerful works
that would lend themselves well to the kind of atmosphere of an arena event. They are widely recognizable, they are powerful, and while it was never
the idea before I became part of LiveArts to actually visualize the production
through motion graphic, these pieces do have an almost inherent visual quality
to them. I
did have the opportunity to weigh in on some repertoire choices, and have
enjoyed the conversations that have ultimately led us to the final repertoire
for the show. There is not an inherent common theme that all of the pieces
share. That really was my challenge, and one that I enjoy very much - to
craft a narrative of the thread that runs through the production to make it
feel as though this wide variety of works were actually meant to be performed
together, and in a moving, exciting way.
GRS: This production is very conceptual, much like an Olympics
opening ceremony or a Cirque du Soleil performance. If there is a character in
this production, how would you describe them?
are correct, this production is very conceptual, and that was the very first
thing I decided it needed to be. Through its journey, LiveArts will at
times hit the audience hard with the sheer size, scope and power of what is
happening in the arena, and at other times will pull down so intimately so that
the experience for the audience is multi-layered, emotional and visceral. My
hope is that they never know where we are going next. Surprise is
definitely on my mind as we take each turn throughout the evening. I
can see why Cirque de Soleil might come to mind. I have crafted the arch
of the story to focus on a child's dreams, on his desire to make music, to
create, to express, and this personal journey will serve to carry us through
the evening in a magical way. What I love so much about the mention of Cirque
de Soleil when talking about LiveArts is that it brings to mind a sense of
wonder and imagination - things I would hope people experience during LiveArts.
GRS: How does this
production compare to your work with your past projects? Any particular
triumphs or challenges that set LiveArts apart?
sheer vastness of the logistical details of a production of this size could get
in the way of the artistic priorities and goals that they are serving, and that
is the true challenge of LiveArts. It is appropriate that this is a
celebration of the spirit of collaboration, because it really does take a
village to make something like this take shape in the way I have envisioned it. On a
personal level, it is the yin and yang of creating this that is both so
exhilarating for me, and so challenging. It has to be at the same time
intimate and huge, subtle and explosive. Not an easy task.