Q&A with Jeffrey Buchman, LiveArts Artistic Director

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?  

JB: When 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 our projections.   

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?       

JB: Certainly 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 them. The 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 doing.   

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?   

JB: While 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?   

JB: You 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?   

JB: The 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.  

Posted by Sam Napolitan at 4:56 PM

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