"Fellow Travelers is gorgeous, thoughtful, and deep..."
This November, Arizona Opera will take audiences back to the McCarthy Era in our upcoming production of Fellow Travelers. In anticipation for this performance, we spoke with Stage Director Marcus Shields about his involvement with the piece, as well as a few things we should look for when watching the production.
You’ve been involved with this project from the beginning. Tell us about your journey with this piece.
This piece has taken on a larger role in my development as an artist, as I’ve been involved with it since the first workshop in the fall of 2013. I was a graduate student at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where Fellow Travelers was part of their new works incubator program called Opera Fusion New Works. I was cast as Timothy and Joseph Lattanzi was cast as Hawkins.
Why should everyone see Fellow Travelers?
First, because it’s just really good! Fellow Travelers is gorgeous, thoughtful, and deep. The score is so forward-looking, in the way new composition has always found depth and quality by taking the ancient and pairing it with the new. It really plays with the tools that have made opera great forever.
Second, because the themes are a hugely important topic in today’s society and within new works: The relationship between individual and society; the person and the group. This opera successfully takes the gay identity as its existed in the context of America and attempts to celebrate the specificity of this story. And, through that, you get this opera that creates a really human and mythological expression of love that is gay, but also has a universal truth to it: That humanity is cruel and society will not always lift you up.
What are some of the themes in this opera?
Fellow Travelers is about how complicated humans are. In this story, these two men are willing to pursue this relationship and their truth despite what society thinks of that relationship. And yet, you still have to work out the complexities of being two human beings, and that is really hard.
This is a story about two humans with an unbalanced dynamic: one who is deeply struggling with his own self-hatred and willingness to display vulnerability and his own lack of courage to live the life he lives privately in the public eye. That is placed next to this young man who is faced with the nasty truth of what politics, power, and Washington is in this country. Those two things clash in this incredible way in this opera, and it stops being about that it’s “gay” and stops being about it taking place in the 1950s and starts being about this cosmic quality of humans that help you understand your own issues as a human being a little better.
What is something people should know before they go?
Many people mistake Fellow Travelers as a political drama in the fact that the story is mainly about these two people who pursued a homosexual relationship in light of the time in which they lived. That’s true, and also very interesting. However, there is never a time in society, including 2019, when there is not - in some way - tension between a life someone wants to live and what mainstream society thinks of that person. You come to Fellow Travelers to learn that human love is a very complex, thorny, rewarding, and shattering thing.
What do you want people to take away from the production?
There’s some deep message we should all walk away with that has something to do with the real goal of humans: to close the distance between the person you say you want to be and the person you actually are.
Fellow Travelers is an opera where the composer and librettist really thought hard about how to capture some sense of theatrical naturalism. As an object, it sits really well in the shared space between theater, opera, and dance. It is in English, it’s about American themes, and the names and places are real.
Also, there is so much young, incredible energy on stage. This production is really vibrant, very emotional, and just fun to watch.
It is an opera that packs such a punch in two hours you will leave saying “Wow, I really just went through something!”