Slideshow: The Offbeat Steampunk World of "The Threepenny Opera," the Latest Pomona Theatrical Production
Tonight, Beggars, criminals, prostitutes and corrupt cops will invade Seaver Theatre in a steampunk staging of The Threepenny Opera, the latest production from the Theatre Department. This 1928 play by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill has themes that, though 83 years old, are surprisingly relevant today.
The premiere begins tonight at 8 p.m. with subsequent performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 general and $5 for students, staff, faculty and seniors from the Seaver Theatre Box Office at (909) 607-4375. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and one hour prior to curtain time.
“The issues of homelessness, greed, corruption, the creation of a subclass of people and commodifying sex aren’t any different now than they were in 1928,” says Professor of Theatre and Director Betty Bernhard, who says she has directed the play once each decade since her graduate school days.
But, she assures, the play isn’t dour: “There are all kinds of great moments of humor in it, and the music goes from opera to vaudeville to German folk songs. And it’s not sentimental—it shows why people have to do what they have to do to keep their heads above water. Our young cast takes on a difficult but brilliant play with great enthusiasm and talent,” says Bernhard, who explains that many of the cast are freshman, new to the Seaver stage.
Professor James Taylor, who designed the sets, was inspired by the play’s plot to put materials from the Seaver Theatre basement to use as props and set decoration. “The prologue is set in an abandoned urban warehouse where street people use what they have available to put on a play,” explains Bernhard.
Another idea that was inspired by the play is a food and clothing drive sponsored by the Theatre and Dance Department. “All plays are political but this one is so close to what is going on today. We thought, we can ask people to contribute something and we might be able to make the lives of some people who will receive these things a little better,” says Bernhard.
Donations of clothes and non-perishable food items can be dropped off at Seaver Theatre, Frank or Frary Dining Halls, CMC or Pitzer Dining Halls, or Pomona College RA desks (clothing only) through March 7, and donations will be given to the L.A. Food Bank and Salvation Army.
One way the play does break from its roots in 1920s Germany is unique costume design. Designed as a senior thesis project by Katie Dowse PI ’11, the costumes follow the steampunk aesthetic, a subculture that celebrates Victoriana through an old-fashioned sci-fi lens.
“The show takes place during the cusp of the Victorian era,” says Dowse. “Professor Bernhard had mentioned wanting to perhaps contemporize the show and to work with the Brechtian aspects of the play—that is, to say, she wanted the process of the performance to be visible.
“Seeing how things worked in a modern environment, with a call back to the Victorian era, led me to stumble upon a fairly young genre that began in the 1980s. Steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used with futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, with their inner working visible. In other words, it is a world based on a Victorian perspective on an advanced version of fashion, culture, and architecture.”
Dowse collected some 350 images for inspiration, designed the costumes in a rich patchwork of fabrics as might be collected by the downtrodden characters as discards, and used common steampunk iconography like clockworks, goggles and the skeletal underside of objects like a hoop skirt or wings.