Otterbein Theatre Department Chair’s Work Seen Worldwide with New Opera

Posted Dec 02, 2021

The performance of Eurydice on Saturday, Dec. 4, will be transmitted live to cinemas around the globe as part of The Met: Live in HD series. Otterbein Department of Theatre and Dance Chair T.J. Gerckens will have his work seen by thousands of people as part of this production.

T. J. Gerckens
T. J. Gerckens

Gerckens served as the lighting designer on the crew. He has many years of experience with stage production, which led him to this position. 

“I have been working with the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and Tony Award winning playwright and director Mary Zimmerman for 30 years. She was asked to direct this new opera and invited me to join the creative team,” Gerckens said. “We premiered in Los Angeles just before the pandemic, and this fall we made our scheduled debut in New York.” 

The ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, who attempts to harness the power of music to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the underworld, has inspired composers since opera’s earliest days. This version reimagines the familiar tale from Eurydice’s point of view. A new take on this classic called for different and unique scenery and sets. This gave Gerckens opportunities to innovate in scene setting with lighting. 

“The play opens on a beach scene, moves to the seedy penthouse apartment of Hades, and then to the underworld. This allowed me to work with a wide range of color, painting the beach in rich hues of sky blue and sun, creating a sickly, dim, yellow-greenish world for Hades’ apartment, and diving into stark shafts of white light against blackness as we descended into the underworld,” he said. 

Working with The Metropolitan Opera’s (The Met) grand scale proved to be a new challenge for Gerckens. The scenery itself is close to 45 feet tall, which is more than twice the height of the Fritsche Theatre curtain and backdrop. The lighting pipes holding the lights themselves are often 70 feet up, which would be above the roof of Cowan Hall. The Met also puts on a different opera each night, so the lighting systems had to be refocused and recreated every night. 

Otterbein University professors are at the top of their academic fields and industries. Gerckens sees this experience with The Met as a significant teaching tool for his theatre students. 

“Throughout my professional projects, I share the processes with our students, highlighting what I am learning, what I am doing well, and sometimes what mistakes I make and how I fixed them,” Gerckens said. “I’m also building connections for internships, being able to tap those connections to place students in positions in major theatres.” 

When the curtain goes up on the streaming premiere of Eurydice on Dec. 4, Gerckens says it will still be a nail-biter for him despite his years of experience, waiting to see how his lighting visuals transfer through the camera lens instead of in-person. It’s a global stage he’s not used to being a part of, but one he welcomes for the many benefits it provides for his career, both as a theatre professional and educator. 

“The Met is the premier opera company in America and is utilizing the latest in lighting technology and methodology. I will bring this experience back to Otterbein and help keep us current and ahead of the curve.” 

For more information on The Met’s production of Eurydice, visit their website.