Conceived by Hai-Ting Chinn; Directed by Lisa Rothe
Off Off Broadway, Experimental Opera
Runs through 4.24.16
HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue
by Shoshana Roberts on 4.15.16
Erica Switzer and Hai-Ting Chinn in Science Fair. Photo by Kate Milford.
BOTTOM LINE: Conceived and performed by Hai-Ting Chinn, this mezzo-soprano sings science lessons as she performs experiments to educate the audience.
Hai-Ting Chinn has spent three years in the HERE Artist Residency Program (HARP) developing Science Fair. HARP stresses creating works that combine multiple disciplines, which has resulted in Ms. Chinn's combination piece comprised of opera, theatre, a lecture, and science experiments. As a mezzo-soprano, a performer, and an educated woman, she was able to utilize these different components of her life with the help of pianist Erica Switzer, director Lisa Rothe, and composers Matthew Schickele, Renée Favand-See, Stefan Weisman, and Conrad Cummings.
Science Fair is made up of twenty songs, from “Natural Phenomena,” “Our Solar System,” and “The Amazing Atom,” to “Orbit,” “Beakers, Bottles, Glasses, and Bells,” and “The Phases of the Moon.” Each section is meant to educate, with text from astronomers, physicists, biologists, and other scientific contributors. But Chinn is your teacher for the evening, even using texts from the NASA Goddard Flight Center to further explain lunar libration. I felt like I had a very informative evening, observing innovative ways to present complex concepts. Here, education is served with entertainment. I very much appreciated the playfulness with which she approached each lesson/song.
Chinn's costume design is really something special. She manages to convey a professional demeanor with that of a stylish, futuristic, sexy teacher. Beginning with a play off of a stereotypical lab coat, she wears knee-high white synthetic go-go boots, complimented by bright red tights. After her first change she reveals a mod-type outfit, still in white. Her most impressive moment though is with a solar system hoop skirt. Covered with black and white sparkly tulle to represent the solar system's dust, throughout the song Chinn deconstructs her outfit to reveal the creation of the planets.
What stood out to me was the integration of each component of Science Fair. Even with this production being prop heavy, the transitions are well planned and she is able to bring a science class into the 21st century, including with technology involved. During one scene/song Chinn has a camera attached to her forehead with a contraption holding a model moon in front of her. While a light shines on her from the side side of a stage, a projector shows the camera feed, clearly demonstrating the phases of the moon. As Chinn states about halfway through, “We are in the business of art, so let's make a metaphor,” and she turns the theatre into the nucleus of the atom. It is innovation like that that needs to be introduced to schools so we can nurture new generations of creative and talented individuals like Chinn.
(Science Fair plays at HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue, through April 24, 2016. The running time is seventy five minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 7; Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 7; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $20 and are available at here.org or by calling 212-352-3101.)
Science Fair is conceived by Hai-Ting Chinn and directed by Lisa Rothe. Piano & music direction by Erica Switzer. Music by Matthew Schickele, Renee Favand-See, Stefan Weisman, and Conrad Cummings. Set Design is by Caite Hevner Kemp. Lighting Design is by Lucrecia Briceno. Costume Design by Hai-Ting Chinn. Slideshow Art by Maki Naro. Stage Manager is Haylee Scott.
The cast is Hai-Ting Chinn with Erika Switzer.