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Cleveland Music And Film Students Stage Fright For Halloween

CIM's Brianna Nemback as the evil stepmother in "Juniper Tree"  [Cleveland Institute of Art Digital Cinema II Class]

Something dark and scary is brewing at the Cleveland Institute of Music for Halloween. 

In order to augment some of the scarier scenes of the school's latest opera, students from the Cleveland Institute of Art stepped in to help.

CIM's Brianna Nemback and CIA's Ben Chapman on set at Hale Farm's Goldsmith House [Jacob Koestler]

"The Juniper Tree" by Philip Glass and Robert Moran is based on a gory tale by the Brothers Grimm where an evil step-mother murders her stepson.

The production is led by Dean Southern, CIM's director of opera.

CIM's Dean Southern leads rehearsal for The Juniper Tree in Mixon Hall [ideastream]

"She eventually lures her stepson to an apple bin and decapitates him with the lid. Really gruesome, but it gets worse," Southern said.

It gets a lot worse. After chopping off the head, she returns it to the stepson's body, tying the head back on with a ribbon.

That's not an easy trick to perform onstage, so Southern imagined a silent film projection to accompany the action.

CIM's Emma Nossem and Polina Davydov on set at Hale Farm's Goldsmith House [Jacob Koestler]

"What I was envisioning was far beyond what I could do on my iPhone," Southern said. 

So, he called over to the Cleveland Institute of Art and spoke with film instructor Jacob Koestler.

CIM's Dean Southern and CIA's Jacob Koestler on set at Hale Farm's Goldsmith House [Robert Muller]

Southern asked his CIA counterpart if his film students would collaborate on the project and Koestler saw a chance for his students to have a distinct experience in a different setting.

"Right off the bat, it was taking this operatic language and trying to translate that in our classroom to a filmmaking vocabulary," Koestler said.

Koestler and his students traveled to an 1831 home in Bath, Ohio, the Goldsmith House, now an educational site for Hale Farm and Village.

CIM's Christophe Kennedy and Polina Davydov on set at Hale Farm's Goldsmith House [Robert Muller]

"We settled on two days that we could really work at Hale Farm. That ended up being 26 hours of production in a single Monday and Tuesday," Koestler said.

The Goldsmith House with its 19th century architecture and spooky basement was a perfect location in terms of the opera's setting.

CIM's Kaylee Norris with CIA's Elena Beitzel and Ben Chapman filming scene on set at Hale Farm's Goldsmith House [Robert Muller]

For CIA student Maeve McNamara it was also convenient for filming.

"We were like, 'yeah we can shoot this here, we can shoot this here.' It kinda had everything we needed, so that we didn't have to spend so much time with different locations. I think that really streamlined the process as well. It really fit the vibe we were going for with the aesthetics of the visuals and just in general the story," McNamara said.

CIA's Taylor St. Andrassy and Maeve McNamara at Hale Farm film "The Juniper Tree" [Robert Muller]

Starring as the evil stepmother is CIM student soprano Brianna Nemback.  

Cleveland Institute of Music students Brianna Nemback and Jean Furman rehearse "The Juniper Tree" [ideastream]

"I had never done any film acting. I had no idea what to expect. As opera singers we thrive on preparation. We have rehearsals and we work through things a million and one times. There you have a couple takes and there's fluidity and things change on a dime," Nemback said.

One of the scenes the film depicts is when the stepmother disposes of the stepson's body by feeding it to her husband.

CIA's Ben Chapman and Elena Beitzel set up a shot with CIM's Christophe Kennedy on set at Hale Farm's Goldsmith House [Jacob Koestler]

"There's a scene done in shadow where it's the silhouette of the stepmom chopping up the son's body with a cleaver. I had to hold it up above my head and really show the cleaver in the shadow work," Nemback said.

CIM's Brianna Nemback as the evil stepmother in "Juniper Tree" cleaver scene [Cleveland Institute of Art Digital Cinema II Class]

As Southern and his opera students rehearse for their Halloween debut, Koestler's film students are working on a tight deadline.

"The students have arrived on time, they've been working every additional hour that they can on the project. My hopes are is that this really gives some real life experience of what a video production might actually be," Koestler said.

CIM's Brianna Nemback and Jean Furman rehearse "The Juniper Tree" at Mixon Hall

The collaboration has been a learning process for both Koestler and Southern. For instance, as Southern explains, making sure the recorded film keeps time with the live opera production.

CIM's Dean Southern and Brianna Nemback [ideastream]

"Rather than having one film that runs through, we have several markers throughout the opera and at the end of each section will be a little extra time in case the tempo is slightly different. We thought it would be too much to try to time an entire opera with the film," Southern said.

Koestler anticipates this film and opera project is the start of an ongoing relationship between the two schools.

CIA's Maeve McNamara and Jacob Koestler [ideastream]

"I think when they see the finished product it's really going to open up doors into future collaborations, which I'd be really excited about," Koestler said.

But they won't know until Halloween when the audience sits down in Mixon Hall for an evening of opera, film and a nasty fright.

The Juniper Tree is onstage at the Cleveland Institute of Music October 31st, November 2nd and 3rd at 7:30 p.m.





Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.