Brisbane Airport BNE Issue 4 - page 28

A fantastical vision of Disney
omposer Phillip Glass can polarise an
audience. As soon as his latest opera
The Perfect American
was announced for
Brisbane Festival online comments were abuzz
as readers traded barbs with each other about
what they thought of Glass’ music, ranging
from “boring” to “brilliant”. Nevertheless, Glass
is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest
contemporary composers and he continues to
write and perform as he approaches age 80.
Australian production designer Dan Potra
is a big fan and says that meeting Glass, one of
his favourite composers, gave him a “new lease
of inspiration”, and it led to an extraordinary
collaboration in
The Perfect American
that is both
daring and provocative. Daring for its technically
challenging sets, its special effects and animated
projections; and provocative in its subject – a
dark and highly imaginative interpretation of
Walt Disney’s achievements and his nightmares
as he lies in hospital during the last hours of
his life. Out of his twisted dreams a bizarre
assortment of characters appear, including Andy
Warhol, Abraham Lincoln and Snow White
moonlighting as a nurse.
You’d be right in thinking this is not your
typical Disney. There’s not a Mickey Mouse or
Goofy in sight. Potra admits that not being able
to use the copyrighted characters initially seemed
challenging but in the end it was “liberating”,
he says, forcing them to find creative ways to
reference Disney’s greatest successes. And they
do – it’s surprising how the shadow of an old
Arriflex camera can look like a very famous pair
of big ears!
When Potra joined Phillip Glass and British
theatre director Phelim McDermott on the
project the opera was still unfinished, but he
found his inspiration by listening to every
piece of music Glass had created and reading
the fictionalised biography of Walt Disney by
Peter Stephan Jungk upon which the libretto
was based. Finally, it was the very mechanics
used to create the old animations, by drawing
characters first on transparent paper and then
flipping the pages to make them “come alive”,
that ignited Potra’s imagination. He needed to
create a machine…
“It’s a hugely ambitious
project – as much a music
theatre event as it is opera”
BNE August/September 2014
Australian theatre designer Dan Potra has again created a technical marvel on
stage for
The Perfect American
at Brisbane Festival
This is not your typical Disney.
Dan Potra’s own sketches for his
fantastical costume designs for
characters Lucy (this page) and
Abraham Lincoln (opposite page,
centre) in
The Perfect American
Christopher Purves as Disney
(opposite page, bottom)
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