Luminous Thread Productions brings dreampunk theater to Denver
Mixing steampunk with the surreal and combining opera, theater, dance and circus arts, Luminous Thread Productions wants to give Denver a kind of show that the city has never seen before. That's what Mary Lin and Ben Sargent had in mind when they began dreaming up their unique production company four years ago. Now their dream is becoming tangible, with the first season of what they've named dreampunk, which will open October 28. And in the meantime, they're reaching out to arts lovers for donations to their Kickstarter campaign.
The foundation of their plan is an organization that will help support art, science and culture projects: Inventing Earth. The idea is to have Inventing Earth partner with other companies, including their own Luminous Thread, to help fund the projects. "We are developing a new method for creating artwork. It's very expensive to create large-scale performance works and original theater. So what we're doing is trying to develop a new method for doing that with a collaboration between for-profit and non-profit," Sargent explains. "This year we're doing it with ourselves, basically as an experiment, and in the future, Inventing Earth expects to be able to work with other small theater and opera companies to also help them produce shows."
Luminous Thread isn't just a way to test the Inventing Earth model, though; it's also a chance for Lin and Sargent to put on the shows of their dreams. "Mary and I have a lot of shows that we want to bring into the world, so it makes sense to have a production company to manage those shows once they're developed. So we do expect Luminous Thread to have its own life beyond this season, somewhat separate from Inventing Earth," Sargent says.
Lin and Sargent met in college decades ago. Lin, who is the artistic director for Luminous Thread, received an MFA in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College and a masters in education from Northern Arizona University; she also studied visual art and experimental theater at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and dance and molecular biology at Marlboro College. Sargent, who works as an adviser for the company, studied music theory and composition in Marlboro College. They've since moved to Denver, where they met Andrew Adams, founder of the Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir, who is the music director for Luminous Thread.
As a recitalist, Lin was never very interested in performing the well-known operas that are constantly reproduced -- but unfortunately, new operas are sparse. "I found that the old stories, a lot of them were just reinforcing stereotypes about women and about power relationships," she says. "And even when they were poking fun at them, now the messages in those stories are so established that they help to reinforce the old stereotypes." So when she began writing plays seven years ago, she realized she should just produce her own shows.
Her first experience with producing original works was in 24-hour play festivals, where her pieces were produced within a day. She wrote music and dance into her shows, and watched her creations come alive. Many of the principles she developed during those festivals have now found their way into Luminous Thread. "My approach is: find people who are interesting, take a story, shape it a little bit or a lot to them, make sure that there's lots of different art forms represented so people can show other great talents. And that's what we're doing," Lin says.
The idea of dreampunk, which is a mix of steampunk with the surreal, started to form when Lin was learning to fire-dance for a fire opera and thought it might be interesting to combine her opera friends with her circus friends.
But there have been some missteps along the way. When they first arrived in Denver, Lin and Sargent set up workshops with a Gregorian chant master. "We're very much interested in the history of Western music and when it split from what we now think of as Mideastern music -- because they used to sound very much the same -- and how the church was involved in that," Lin explains. But that topic was not as well-received as they thought it would be.
Steampunk, on the other hand, has been generating lots of interest with locals. "When we were talking with people in Denver about the shows, there were certain shows that really sparked with them," Sargent says. "And so, in a sense, dreampunk is a response to the audience and the people here in Denver and what their interests are."
The initial dreampunk season has three shows: Nuptials for the Dead, End Times at Le Chat Noir and Queen Victoria's Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders.
Sargent says they've found plenty of performers interested in their productions; the bigger challenge has been finding business and arts administration professionals to help them start the company. They've turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for the season and are offering various perks for contributors, hoping to come up with $5,000 by October 9. "We're new to the area, and we're really holding our breath that we raise that money. If we do, the season is set; we're able to totally go ahead with it," Lin says.