Return to Skip Menu

Main Content

Department of Theatre Arts to present a multimedia music theatre exploration of the life and work of Emily Dickinson


BLACKSBURG, Va., April 8, 2008 – Virginia Tech’s Department of Theatre Arts presents an original show based on the writings of Emily Dickinson and directed by Virginia Tech faculty Bob McGrath.

The show – Lightning at our feet – is scheduled to run April 17 through April 19 at 7:30 p.m., April 20 at 2 p.m., and April 22 through April 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Squires Studio Theatre located in the Squires Student Center on College Avenue adjacent to downtown Blacksburg.

Lightning at our feet is a new multimedia music theater production that reunites composer Michael Gordon with Ridge Theater in an exploration of the life and work of Emily Dickinson. The projection production is intended to live on the borders of music, theater, and dance.

A prolific correspondent, Emily Dickinson often delivered her poetry through letters. In her writings to friends and family she began with prose and then add a poem. Reflecting on this process, Lighting at our feet will be structured as a single letter. Excerpts from her correspondence will surround and engulf the poems all presented musically in Gordon's score.

Dickinson's Amherst, Mass., house is re-imagined here as a mutable interior, featuring moving translucent screens on which video projections are shown. From the enclosed conservatory on the porch to the parlor and her room with a window overlooking the garden, where she is presumed to have created the bulk of her writing, Lighting at our feet intends to illustrate how she might have utilized the house as her own theatrical setting and instrument of her musings.

Gordon's compositions demonstrate a deep exploration into the possibilities and nature of rhythm and what happens when rhythms are piled on top of each other. John Adams, who has conducted Gordon's works with the London Sinfonietta and the Ensemble Modern Orchestra, calls these raw and complicated sounds "irrational rhythms."

His works for musical theater and opera includes What To Wear, a recent collaboration with director Richard Foreman, which premiered at the RedCat Theater in Los Angeles. Other works include Aquanetta, about the 1940s B-Movie starlet, for Oper Aachen; Lost Objects, an Oratorio for Baroque Orchestra in collaboration with David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and director Francois Girard, which was seen at the 2004 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Van Gogh, vocal settings from the letters of Vincent Van Gogh, recorded by Alarm Will Sound, soon to be released on Cantaloupe Music.

Gordon's Light is Calling, recorded on the Nonesuch label was named one of the top CDs of 2004 by the New York Times. His music has been used by a wide spectrum of dance companies including the Royal Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet, Wayne McGregor/Random Dance Company, and Emio Greco/PC. Dystopia, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a music and video collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison premiered in January 2008. Gordon is co-founder of the internationally acclaimed music collective Bang on a Can.

Ridge Theater has established itself as one of America's premiere creators of avant-garde theater joined with opera, and new music performance, sometimes referred to as "music-theater".

Bob McGrath is co-founder and artistic director of Ridge Theater. He teaches at Virginia Tech, Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Festival. McGrath is the recipient of three OBIE awards in New York for his work with Ridge Theater.

Lightning at our feet was commissioned by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston, Texas. The Virginia Tech Department of Theatre Arts production of Lightning at our feet is a workshop production leading to the official premiere hosted by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center in Houston on Oct. 30, 2008. Lightning at out feet will be part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival in New York, Dec. 10-13, 2008.

Tickets for Lightning at our feet are $9 general, $7 senior/student, and are available in advance through the University Unions and Student Services Ticket Office in the Squires Student Center at (540) 231-5615 and, if available, at the door one hour prior to performance time.

A University Exemplary Department, Theatre Arts is part of the School of the Arts within Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. It is a highly successful and innovative theatre program rooted in the liberal arts tradition with a mission to educate and train students in and about theatre.