From Media Designer, David Murakami

How does the boxing ring set up on stage play into or influence your projection design?

David Murakami Video Artist Opera ParalleleFor me, everything. Projections in live performance are a double-edged sword. Their realism makes them brittle, and though often literally in motion, they can become static intrusions. My first question when approaching a design lies in integrating the projections within the set, each an extension of the other. Working with Set Designer Dave Dunning’s design of a fractured boxing arena, my projections are also fractured, mapped in layers over the panels and on the boxing ring itself. When audiences see the projected scenery and the physical scenery side by side, they will see a visual call-and-response which, just like duality of lucidity and confusion within his dementia, present the two realities within Emile Griffith which make up the whole.


How do the projections play a role in helping Emile travel between his flashbacks and present reality in his dementia?
One of the hallmarks of opera is how, through the sung word, we learn how a character feels, what they are thinking, etc. The challenge with a piece like Champion lies in portraying a character whose mind is at odds with itself. What Emile feels or thinks has layers of truth and, through dementia, with reality. The projections will present a counterpoint for Emile to play off, depicting lucidity when his performance portrays confusion, or conversely, reminding the audience of the chaos within during moments when he finds the strength to be present in the moment.



Stage and projection sketch_Champion_DavidM


Some previsualization sketches of the stage concept!

Gym Test_projection previs



DaveDunning set building Champion
Set Designer Dave Dunning works on the sets – in progress at his workshop!

From Choreographer, Joe Orrach

Which came first for you – boxing or tap dancing?  How do they go together?

Orrach_thumbnailBoxing came first; it was part of my Puerto Rican family heritage and my dad (a boxer himself) thought it essential to a young man’s upbringing. When I started boxing in New York, my trainer, Tony Fortunado, told me ballet classes would be good for my footwork in the ring. So, I took ballet classes, but nobody knew. I couldn’t tell the other fighters or my dad that I was taking ballet. When I realized boxing wasn’t for me, I was driving a truck for the family business; I started taking ballet classes in NYC during my delivery routes. Then I saw Gregory Hines tap dancing on TV and knew that was it.

Boxing and tap dancing go smoothly together. Both are all about rhythm, moving from one foot to the other, and changing weight on the fly. Both can be extremely improvisatory. I think of both tap dancing and boxing as moveable drumming: one is hitting the feet, the other is hitting the hands, all propelled with rhythm.

What is your role in telling the story of Emile Griffith?

My role is to help tell the story through the physicality of the boxer. Emile was what fight people call a classic boxer, where the fighter uses his footwork to outsmart his opponents, to create angles in order to hit and not get hit. So I will tell the story through rhythms and overall movement. I work very closely with Director Brain Staufenbiel to make sure that what I’m thinking about the movement meshes with his ideas.

What do you most look forward to about this production?

Wow, I feel like a kid in a fancy Parisian chocolate shop! I really don’t know what to say about working on this production. It is simply humbling to get to work with such artists on a project like Champion, which combines so much of who I am and what I love. Jazz, opera, dance, theatre, and BOXING!!!!! Man that is cool.






BrianJoeErin at Boxing Gym Small

Director Brian Staufenbiel, Choreographer Joe Orrach, and Assistant Director Erin Neff visit the boxing gym




Click on the video to watch a clip of Joe boxing and tap dancing in some of his other projects

From Costume Designer, Christine Crook

Young Emile is such an interesting character because we only see him through his own flashbacks. Can you talk about his ‘Flashy Green Suit’ costume in that context?

Christine Crook Opera Parallele Costume Design San FranciscoIt’s a total costume moment!  It shows a kind of heightened reality. Aesthetically, the green suit is part of his memory. Just the way you remember your own life, but you don’t remember it in full focus with all the details. To help us theatricalize this story in the most interesting way, we can create a real moment.  We can add pop and exaggerated color – we can play with colors and patterns. With Emile, we’re going through the span of his life in his own memory.  His outfits are a way to show the progression of time, and because of his dementia, that’s often blurred together.

I think about how difficult it must have been to be a bisexual man in the sports world in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s so interesting to see the contrast of what he was wearing at the boxing gym and in his other life at the gay bar. His style changed as he boxed less, but he really did like to dress flashy, always wearing an obscene amount of jewelry, even when it was a casual look.

Do you have any other favorite characters?

The Ring Announcer is pretty fun. He’s on stage through the whole guiding the story. He’ll have a kind of cheesy tuxedo with a ruffled tux shirt.

Emile’s mother, Emelda, also has a cool character journey that she takes. She starts off in a lower socio-economic class, and then Emile shared his wealth with her. Her clothing changes to show that progression.

Now that we’re about 3 weeks out from opening night, where are you in the costuming process?

Well, right now I’m pulling chorus costumes at the rental house, we’re working with a tailor in north beach, and we have a magical spreadsheet in the works to organize the chorus’ many costume changes (up to 5 each!).




collage EMILE green suit_Champion

Some of Christine’s costume collages for Young Emile!

collage emile young and boxing_Champion