Steam ~ or ~ The Specters of the Knox Mill
Steam ~ or ~ The Specters of the Knox Mill
Steampunk opera ghost story set in Industrial Revolution Pittsburgh. Classical opera meets rock music and modern film storytelling.
Steampunk opera ghost story set in Industrial Revolution Pittsburgh. Classical opera meets rock music and modern film storytelling. Read more
About this project
Between 2012 and 2014, we four musicians converged over a set of common grievances. The world in which we live sharply divided between "entertainment" and "art" with little room for overlap. It often felt like there was a vast 'no-man's land' in between high opera and it's closest relative, musical theater. Compelling pieces that appeal to modern sensibilities that are performed with a high caliber of vocal training and are few and far between. "Where are the mainstream operas?" Friends would ask. "We can have exciting, relate-able, stories with twists and turns AND beautiful singing with songs we want to hum, can't we?"
We believe that there is a need for performance art that balances mainstream aesthetics with high-quality artistry. It is critical that opera does not lose touch with the audience because as performers, we believe that satisfying our audience is our top priority. It is also important that we acknowledge that audiences consume their media differently than they did two hundred years ago. The internet and movies have largely taken over where live theater once reigned supreme, and we believe that there is room for creative art to flourish within the freedom and accessibility that our new technology offers.
Our project, Steam ~ or ~ The Specters of the Knox Mill is designed to take the things that people enjoy about opera, namely quality singing and the spectacle of world-building, and combine it with modern story-telling and technology through the art of film.
Steam is an episodic steampunk ghost story rock opera. We, the performers, are involved in every aspect of the project, from writing an original story, to composing all the music, playing instruments, and each performing as a character. We are fully-invested in making sure that each step carefully builds upon the last, and that all the elements support and compliment each other.
The story takes place during the Steel Tycoon era of Pittsburgh’s Industrial Revolution. An accident at the fictitious Knox Mill costs the lives of many workers who now haunt the mill. When the owner, Francis Knox, dies without naming a successor, the spirits turn aggressive. Charlotte, a scientist, petitions the mill’s board of directors to hire her to build a machine to contact the souls of the dead and restore peace. The characters in the story cope with their emotional milestones such as the acceptance of past mistakes, the struggle to find purpose, and the challenge of moving forward.
We’ve chosen Steampunk as our theme because it fits with the mission statement of our project. Steampunk is about taking something traditional, classical, and beautiful- the Victorian Era, and updating elements of that world to fit our modern palate and priorities. We’ve embraced that philosophy by taking the traditional art of operatic singing and changing its presentation to include a rock band, original music, and an original story written like a screenplay, and then to produce it as a feature film that will be released in six episode installments on YouTube.
We are also embracing a modern mindset- We could never succeed without the innovators and patrons who can see the potential of an experimental project early on, but we would also like to invite the audiences who need to see for themselves before they commit to lending their support. We truly believe that opera and its classical singing technique has the captivating ability to resonate inside the human soul, and we want to give new audiences the chance to dabble in opera from the privacy of their homes without fear, commitment, or judgement. People who never considered themselves opera fans may just fall in love with the singing in the same way we did- through themes and elements that they find familiar and appealing.
Steam ~ or ~ The Specters of the Knox Mill is excited to be working with Mr. Smalls Recording Studio through their Creative.Life.Support. program to professionally record and master our music and to film segments in their theater.
We are also thrilled to be fiscally sponsored by a Pittsburgh-based non-profit organization called New Sun Rising. New Sun Rising supports lots of projects like Steam that endeavor to raise awareness for the arts in creative new ways. We will be looking forward to this relationship for the opportunity of mutual benefit for ourselves and our community.
The way we see it, there are three big components that restrict audiences from enjoying live opera- The first is cost- a performance is not necessarily out of everyone’s price range, but there’s that fear of investing in something sight-unseen that frequently deters would-be fans. The other two factors are logistical- schedule conflicts and geographical location- most shows run for a limited time, and it's easy to miss your window to see a new show when life and geography get in the way. Our project, Steam, endeavors to address those concerns by using the internet as our means of conveyance. Audiences can enjoy the show for free and then decide to support future episodes. They can watch from the comfort of their own homes, and at any time of day or night. It will truly be a show that you can’t miss.
The big difference between this project and what's currently available is that most of what you will find online are recordings of live shows. They will generally feature performers on a stage and can only be presented from certain angles because they are filmed innocuously to avoid distracting the performers and disturbing the live audience. It's enjoyable to watch, but you can’t help but feel that what you’re getting is the shadow of a live viewing experience. What we are making is an opera movie. The story was designed for the medium of film, to be story-boarded, shot on location and cut together with theater footage in a music-video style that pays homage to the live experience, while telling the story in film. All the songs will be recorded and mastered to be movie-quality. Through careful planning, it will be shot in such a way that there will be no degradation in your viewing experience by watching it on the screen instead of watching it live. For example, check out the above teaser for “The Pitch.”
We have been hard at work writing, refining and re-working the story and characters for over 2 years. We have been writing and rehearsing songs for over a year and a half. We finally hit the place where we knew that we couldn't make any more progress without adequate funds, and one place that we need to invest is in recording our music. Donations will go towards professional recording and mastering at Mr. Smalls Recording Studio that will ultimate in high-quality audio for the film, as well as a professional soundtrack.
Since this project is a period piece, care and expense must be taken to maintain the steampunk style along with historical accuracy. Funding will go towards paying to film in real historic locations and sites, as well as renting a warehouse space in which to build and film. In later episodes, the main element of the plot, a large steampunk machine, will have to be designed and built in miniature and composited with the footage through the use of green screen. Smaller elements like props and set pieces need to be built, bought, or rented. Funding will go towards the design and construction of original, vintage-style clothing pieces that grow and change with the increasingly steampunk style. This applies not only to the principal cast members, but also for crowd scenes, extras, steel mill workers, and the mill's board of directors. One of the core members of the team is a professional seamstress with professional costuming experience in both stage and film. As we bring on more costumers, the art direction will be clearly coordinated.
The performers have stage and film experience and a clear understanding of the language of movie-making. Through their experience, the project creators have honed the story and music composition toward the goal of maximizing the capabilities of film. They are supported in this endeavor through the expertise of local professional filmmakers, Edwin Huang and Scott Lewis, who also have a background in music.
Beyond the core team, a number of highly-skilled artists, model-makers, and filmmakers must be hired to bring the vision to life.
If this project is funded, we will have enough money to make the first episode. This would introduce characters and set up the plot. We could afford to record all the music and film in historical locations with several actors and custom costumes. If we surpass our goals, we will stretch those funds to produce as many episodes as we can, up to our final goal of a six-episode series.
We appreciate the confidence of our fiscal sponsor, New Sun Rising, and the further credibility that they lend to our project, allowing us to stretch your contributions further. With their support and our non-profit compliance, we can approach locations and businesses for their involvement and anticipate a higher chance of beneficial cooperation.
This project has many goals beyond that of telling an original story in a captivating way- the overarching success of this project would be to create audiences for an art that is struggling to convince people of its relevance. Most everyone who enjoys or even sings opera came to it by some other means, like musical theater that emphasizes the artistry of the voice, cartoons that used opera in their plots and soundtracks, or even older movies with characters that sing classically. These experiences that move us emotionally push us to explore music beyond what we happen across on the radio. Sadly, many of these cartoons, movies, and projects are no longer being produced by larger studios, and we fear that new audiences are losing their connection with opera. This project would be opening audiences to a style of music that they may have literally never heard before, and engaging new audiences to think twice when they hear about an opera that’s playing in their hometown. By diversifying opera with new technology and storytelling methods, we engage to enrich the art with new audiences, inspire new composers with ideas for diversity, create more call for classically-trained artists, encourage modern musicians to consider incorporating classical styles, and revitalize the art which has given us so many rich experiences. If you contribute to our campaign, you get to be a part of those goals and give internet users access to an art that has so much to offer.
Risks and challenges
A challenge involved in the project is in scheduling. Filming and recording the music involves scheduling large choruses and soloists while adhering to the availability of the studio. It is important to us that all the film performers do their own singing in the studio, and it can be challenging to coordinate around their existing schedules, many of which require our performers to travel.
We are confident that we can arrange this by scheduling far in advance so we can solidify dates before our performer's calendars fill. A member of the team works in the field of industrial engineering, and has experience and strategies for balancing many schedules.
Another challenge that often delays a project is when communication is not clear between all members. We have been keeping this hurdle in mind while researching applications like Smart Sheet that keep team members informed on the project status and sending alerts on upcoming deadlines.
We are confident that we have the expertise to produce this project, although we are aware that some unexpected delays may occur beyond our control. We will be sure to keep open communication with our Kickstarter backers so you will be informed on our progress.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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