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By Liz Rishel
$4,496 pledged of $20,000 goal
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About

Production photo from "The Pitch"
Production photo from "The Pitch"

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.

Jordan Speranzo, William Strom, Liz Rishel, and Sean Lenhart
Jordan Speranzo, William Strom, Liz Rishel, and Sean Lenhart

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.   

Liz, Sean, William, and Jordan filming at Mr. Smalls Theater
Liz, Sean, William, and Jordan filming at Mr. Smalls 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. 

All of the videos will be posted on the Watch tab of the Steam website, and on video streaming sites such as YouTube.  

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.

Jordan's guitar solo
Jordan's guitar solo

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.  

Filming "The Pitch" trailer
Filming "The Pitch" trailer

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.

Scott Lewis and Edwin Huang
Scott Lewis and Edwin Huang

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.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Our Sincerest Gratitude:
    You get a your name listed on the Sponsor Page of our website as a Kickstarter contributor.

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    Album Download
    You will get a download code for all of the music in the episodes that are successfully funded by this Kickstarter. This is flexible- the more money we raise, the more episodes we can produce, and the more music you will receive.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website!

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    Signed Photo
    You will receive a fully-costumed band photo signed by the project creators Liz Rishel, Sean Lenhart, Jordan Speranzo, and William Strom.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website and a download code for the music!

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    Project T-Shirt:
    You will receive a T-shirt with the project logo on the front and the skull emblem on the back.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website, a download code for the music, and an autographed photo!

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    Special Edition DVD

    You will receive a special print of the DVD of the first episode (stretch goals may add more episodes if they are further funded) including extra bonus material.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website, a download code for the music, an autographed photo, and a project T-shirt!

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    Project Shot Glass
    You will receive a shot glass the features the Steam skull emblem.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website, a download code for the music, an autographed photo, a project T-shirt, and the DVD!

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    Engraved Pocket Watch and Pendant Set
    You will receive a customized pocket watch as well as a Magnifying Pendant that feature the Steam Logo.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Personalized Serenade!
    Do you want a theme song, gift, or custom ring tone?
    Provide us with some details about the person (it can be you or a friend) and chose from the following:

    Choose your Theme: Ballad/Theme Song, Love Song, Song of Friendship, Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Life Event.

    Choose your Singer: Liz (Sop), Sean (Bari), Jordan (Bari), William (Tenor)

    And we will write a short song (under 1 minute) for you and post a video of us performing it on our Youtube Channel for you to link and share at will.

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    Your Name in The Credits
    Your name will appear in the credits at the end of the video and listed as a "Patron."

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website, a download code for the music, an autographed photo, a project T-shirt, the DVD, a shot glass, and an engraved pocket watch and pendant set!

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    Autographed Storyboard
    You will receive a page of the actual storyboards that we drew to outline the layout of a scene. Each will be a one-of-a-kind, hand-drawn artifact from the production, and autographed by the band.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website, a download code for the music, an autographed photo, a project T-shirt, the DVD, a shot glass, an engraved pocket watch and pendant set, and will have your name listed in the credits as a Patron!

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    Autographed Storyboard AND Serenade

    Please see the descriptions detailing those rewards.

    You will also receive a Thank You on the Sponsor Page of our website, a download code for the music, an autographed photo, a project T-shirt, the DVD, a shot glass, an engraved pocket watch and pendant set, and will have your name listed in the credits as a Patron!

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    Pledge $450 or more About $450

    Featured Cameo:
    You get to be featured in the episode, in a non-speaking, non-singing capacity chosen by the project coordinators. (Bartender, mill worker, ghost, ect.) May be a man or a woman.

    We are excited to have you join our project! We are looking for actors who are local to Pittsburgh, PA, or can provide their own transportation. No previous acting experience required, just a fun and professional attitude!

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    Pledge $700 or more About $700

    Featured Cameo who Dies:
    You get to be featured in the episode, in a non-singing capacity, as a mill worker who is killed in the cataclysmic accident that gets the plot rolling. Your character may be covered in molten steel, burned, crushed, or dispatched in any number of disasters. You will also appear as a ghost. May be a man or a woman.

    You will get to keep the clothes you wear in the scene.
    We are excited to have you join our project! We are looking for actors who are local to Pittsburgh, PA, or can provide their own transportation. No previous acting experience required, just a fun and professional attitude!

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Featured Cameo: Knox Mill Board of Directors Member.
    You will be repeatedly featured as a (non-singing) member of the Knox Mill Board of Directors, dressed in swanky Victorian- style costume, which you will get to keep once the project is completed! You may be asked to return for subsequent episodes in which the board appears. May be a man or woman.

    We are excited to have you join our project! We are looking for actors who are local to Pittsburgh, PA, or can provide their own transportation. No previous acting experience required, just a fun and professional attitude!

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    Pledge $6,000 or more About $6,000

    Private Concert:

    We will travel to a location (within 2 hours drive of Pittsburgh) and perform a concert set of songs from Steam ~ or ~ The Specters of the Knox Mill at your party or event approximately 45 minutes in length.

    The venue must have appropriate accommodations for sound and electric.
    The event may not be political in nature, nor support institutions counter to the interests of a non-profit organization.
    The event must be appropriate for all ages (excepting alcohol).
    If you select this reward, we will contact you to clarify the details. If we discover in advance that we are unable to perform at your function, you will receive a refund.

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Funding period

- (30 days)