Published on August 31st, 2021 | by TLV News0
Visiting Faculty Artist Joins UM Opera Theatre for Fall 2021
Blake McIver Ewing will take the helm of the University of Mississippi Opera Theatre this fall, directing the company in a production of The Light in the Piazza.
The musical is based on Elizabeth Spencer‘s novella of the same name. “The opportunity to honor Spencer on her 100th birthday in her home state is so special,” Ewing said. “I’m excited that my time at the University will be culminating in this production.”
In addition to directing Piazza, Ewing will be co-teaching opera students with Prof. Amanda Johnston in the fall semester. To this work, he brings his experience as an actor, director, and producer in television, film, and on the stage; he says this wide scope of previous work is integral to his directing process.
“I started directing at 19 and it was because I noticed that as a performer, I was always thinking about more than my own role, thinking more big-picture. I was at UCLA when I started directing, and learned enough about each field that I can work collaboratively with lighting, costumes, and set design.”
Ewing says he’s happy to be stepping back into the college classroom, and feels strongly that students learn by doing.
“The greatest gift we can give to students is practical training,” he said, “and the best way to do that is to give them the experience of a professional production, working collaboratively with the faculty.”
“What I love so much about this learning period for the students is that there is so much life and life experience ahead of them, yet they are at the university level with advanced skills. They are honing their craft, and it’s a great time to take on something big, take a risk, and this show does this,” he said.
“The score explores so many motifs and includes lots of opera, jazz and standard musical theatre influences. There is so much to be learned and mined from this material,” he said.
Ewing and Johnston, who is also Music Director of UM Opera Theatre, have been working together the last several months as they plan for the fall semester. Ewing said that Johnston works and performs at a very high level, which will be important for the complicated music in Piazza.
“Just the time signatures alone are such a beast,” he said. “Having a music director that is so fearless and so knowledgeable is amazing. It makes my job so much easier knowing that Amanda has the music.”
Johnston says she is really enjoying collaborating with Blake and bringing this production to fruition. “We each have vastly different skill sets and this can only be of benefit to the students. His residency marks a change of course and direction for the UM Opera Theatre.”
“Blake has incredible experience as a professional artist to share with our students,” said chair Nancy Maria Balach. “He’s not just a great fit to direct Piazza, he’s also an outstanding instructor. It’s going to be an exciting fall!”