A folk opera based on a trio of fairy tales is about to have its world premiere at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley. It’s called Iron Shoes, and began as a song cycle for the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble by one of its singers, and co-director, Janet Kutulas. Each of the stories includes a character who has to wander the earth wearing iron shoes. Director/choreographer Erika Chong Shuch and playwright/librettist Michelle Carter have turned it into a piece for a cast of 15.

There’s more information about the show at the Shotgun Players website.

Two of the stories are from Russia, and one was from Romania; Erika Chong Shuch says that the 10 or so songs that Kutulas wrote led to them wanting to do more with the material. “They quickly learned that they wanted to use that material towards the creation of a more interdisciplinary performance work. So they brought me in a couple of years ago to figure out how to take those songs, and make something that brings in dancers and actors, and here we are!” She says Michelle Carter’s work was cut out for her, finishing the narrative. “Janet’s songs all followed the stories from the beginning to the middle. And then we were left with what happens from the middle to the end of the fairy tale, so that was really our work.” Rather than just singing, the members of Kitka join with the actors and dancers in filling many roles. “The thing about this ensemble is that they do everything. So at times they function as a chorus. Somebody can get pushed downstage, and then put on a hat, and suddenly they’re a dad. The ensemble is really nimble, they move in and out of character. Because I think that there are something like 30 characters that are being represented. And then we have five people within a 15 person ensemble that are consistent characters from beginning to end.” By the time the stories evolved and intertwined, Shuch says Iron Shoes had become much more. “As much as we are telling the story of these fairytales, we became more interested in telling a story about storytelling. Who gets to tell a story, and what is it to tell somebody’s story who lives in the world in a really different way than you.”

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