International Conference 
"Theatre Between Tradition and Contemporaneity"
Theatre - Dance - Music - Visual & Multimedia Art - Arts Administration - Performing Arts Training - Theatre Design & Technology

December 17 - 21, 2015


After the Quake: Designing a Site-Specific Eastern-Western Fusion Opera in the Ruins of Kathmandu’s Most Powerful Ancient Site

Interactive conversation and audio-video presentation on the multicultural international performance project in Nepal by Greg Mitchell - lighting and scenic designer for theatre, opera, music, dance, and television, Assistant Professor of Theatre at the University of California, Santa Barbara M.F.A., Scenic and Lighting Design from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (USA). 

Greg Mitchell is the Assistant Professor of Theatre at the University of California, Santa Barbara M.F.A., Scenic and Lighting Design from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (USA), he is a working theatrical lighting and scenic designer for theatre, opera, music, dance, and television. 

Recent projects have included designing lighting for the premiere of Clinton for the New York Musical Festival at the Signature theatre center, Tannhauser for Albania’s National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and Chicago for Perseverance Theatre in Juneau Alaska.

Greg is a 2015 Hellman Foundation Faculty Fellow and has been nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Design.


Greg Mitchell is currently engaged in the development and design for a large-scale, multicultural international theatrical performance project in Nepal. The work embodies classical opera material with a contemporary twist, and will be set in site-specific ancient ruins in the capital city of Kathmandu. 

As a designer of imagery, light, space, and sound, Greg's work has taken him to varied and interesting locations around the world, enabling him to engage with colleagues in a myriad of creative performance genres. After collaborating on a recent opera in Albania, he is particularly excited about this next project in Nepal, which has undergone a major transformation over the course of its development during the past year. 

The Macbeth Massacre was initially envisioned as a cross-cultural collaboration between American and Nepali artists. Interweaving Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Verdi’s Opera Macbeth, the performance would also reference the Nepali Royal Massacres. Separated by a century and a half, these historic Nepalese events bear eerie resemblances to Macbeth.

The project was scheduled to be presented in a site-specific location in the ruins of a 19th-century Rana Palace in Kathmandu, with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to be spoken by pre-eminent Nepali actors in contemporary costume and simultaneously sung by international opera singers in the ornate regalia of 19th century Nepali royalty. The preliminary vision for the set involved bracing existing ruins with bamboo scaffolding to create a multi-level performance area for performers and musicians that would be structurally sound and visually
striking. The audience was to be placed in an ancient battlefield in front of the palace with bonfires, jeeps with searchlights, and a façade of projections to help transport the ruins through time.

In April 2015, a devastating earthquake dramatically changed the course of this project. Known as the Gorkha earthquake, the initial quake and aftershocks killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 23,000. Thankfully, the collaborators of Greg avoided serious injury during the catastrophe, but the impact on them, their friends and families, and the greater community in Nepal was significant. In the wake of this tragedy, the priorities for the project have shifted and the team is working to re-envision how their work as artists might
somehow help the Nepalese people.

Following a summit in California in July 2015, the continued conversations and ideas led to new thematic content for the project. It was agreed to transition away from themes of violence and massacre by instead exploring the development of a new opera, Arjunna’s Dilemma, which blends western improvisational Jazz with Eastern traditions and Indian Singing. The powerful work is based on a section of the beloved and wellknown Hindu epic The Bhagavad Gita, which references the impermanence of life. As the composer of Arjunna’s Dilemma, Doug Cuomo, explains, “… the piece is appropriate for being the first western opera in Nepal because of its subject matter, with which so many Nepalese will be intimately familiar, and because it is itself a mixing of eastern and western ideas and artistic traditions.”

Significant funding from a series of international bodies, including a generous grant from the Hellmann Foundation, is available to reassign from The Macbeth Massacre to Arjunna’s Dilemma, and the new performance will incorporate the original intentions of cross-cultural collaboration and sharing of traditions between Nepalese and international artists. The set, lighting, and costume designs will be constructed using local materials and resources by Nepali craftspeople.

Greg and his team are also currently working with the Nepali government and UNESCO to pursue a new venue for the project in Patan Durbar Square, a sacred enclave of ancient Hindu Temples and one of the most iconic places in Kathmandu. Largely demolished by the earthquakes, the resources to repair this iconic world heritage site are nonexistent, but our plan to transform the ruins into an uplifting performance space could help improve tourism in Kathmandu and promote greater understanding of the heritage of this important location.

The hopes are multifold with this evolving project - the creators desire to use the performance as a spiritual gift to the Nepali people, and wish to shine a spotlight on the plight of Patan Durbar Square and the crumbled postearthquake infrastructure of Nepal. The collaboration team will infuse desperately needed funds into the local economy through the hiring of Nepali artists, performers, craftspeople, engineers and technicians. It is also their hope to use the web of international connections to devise a touring version of this performance as a fundraiser for the Nepali people, that will ultimately travel to Europe, the United States, and Australia.

Arjunna’s Dilemma will be in mid-process at the time of the December presentation, making it ripe to share the conceptual approaches, design materials, and obstacles to be overcome in the creation of this work with an international audience.

Using the above background as a narrative framework to discuss the evolution of this unique project, Greg will focus on the dual core of western and eastern traditions at the heart of the work, as well as the trials and exultations of designing in close concert with Nepali visual and performing artists in post-earthquake Nepal. The presentation will focus primarily on the cross-cultural collaboration rather than technical elements, and will be geared towards a broad audience of performers, directors, and theatre-makers.

Greg's presentation style is engaging, conversational, and interactive. Through the use of video projection, he will depict imagery from the project and will play audio to transport the audience into the heart of the project’s music. Having introduced the narrative, context, and issues distinctive to producing Arjunna’s Dilemma in Patan Durbar Square, Greg will then draw on the shared expertise of theatre-makers from around the globe to engage in idea sharing, problem solving, and suggested solutions in a collaborative manner.

Through this presentation, Greg hopes to introduce his own design work to a new group of practitioners who will share his drive to create important performance work outside of traditional comfort zones, in global spaces, spanning cultural and theatrical traditions. Greg is hopeful that his presentation will spark the sort of interest and connections that will promote further creative expression and multi-cultural exchange in the future.

Organized by IUGTE in collaboration with "ArtUniverse"