Cast member and founder Liz Rishel talks about how Steam the Opera began:
The concept was compelling, but daunting. A rock opera, with REAL opera singers who play rock band instruments. Where in Pittsburgh was I going to find 3 other performers who could do that? It was time to dust off my ol’ steampunky Rolodex and dig. But where to start? I knew a lot of opera singers, but not a lot who play rock instruments… that I knew of.
The first one was easy. I already knew because the character in Steam had been written for him. In the summer of 2010, Bonnie Bogovich and I sat behind an audition table listening to singers to cast for our first show, Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera. One of the roles we needed to cast was that of my 19-year-old brother, a character in a cut scene that we needed to film. But to our surprise, in walks 14-year-old Jordan Speranzo, a perfect fit with the right kind of voice and the right kind of attitude. He sang well, had a good read, and left. Despite his young age, he got the part. Working with Jordan was so much fun because he was anything but shy and fully willing to invest in the scene as many times as required to get the right shot. I remember thinking that I wanted to get him for a bigger project while he still had this amount of energy and commitment. I already knew that Jordan played guitar because I had seen him perform with his band, Lightning Box, at a Zombie Opera fundraiser. He knew I was working on a concept for a little while, and when I came to him and told him it was ready for work shopping, he was instantly on board. Jordan’s main strength comes from the amazing lines he writes, particularly for chorus, and guitar solos have made me cheer. He shares my passion for hiding little references to other Steam pieces inside new themes.
My first interaction with Sean Lenhart was brief and over the phone. We needed someone to play a part in the Zombie Opera and called him based on the recommendation of a mutual friend. Sean was already committed to something else and had to turn it down. It seems like an odd first interaction with someone that I now see every week, and who is now one of my best friends. I was in a few shows with Sean before we really clicked. By the time we were in Sweeney Todd in 2012, we had bonded over enough nerdy stuff to sit in the green room and watch movies on his laptop during the long stretches that we weren’t needed. I discovered that he played drum set and that solidified my decision. I gave Sean a few days to think it over and talk with his wife about it, and we talked about the challenges involved. Sean was leery about the thought of playing drum kit and singing opera at the same time, something that to my knowledge, no one has done. Because it’s insane. But the challenge and the opportunity drew him in. Sean’s inspired ideas had a huge impact on the story, which we still talk through, tweaking and adjusting as we write pieces. The speed with which he mastered the ability to sing with his full operatic baritone voice while playing kit is impressive.
When I was in the chorus for Marriage of Figaro, the dance instructor told us to partner up. I took the initiative to ask a kind-looking stranger named William Strom to be my dance partner. I learned a bit about William over the course of that show and the following several shows that we were in together- I learned that he was dependable and committed, and an excellent Tenor. He helped with set building, was good with numbers, assisted on the board along with his wife, and performed with enthusiasm, making his roles uniquely his own. It was based on these qualities that I asked William to join the Steam Team. William had the most difficult job- with the rest of the members selected, we needed someone who could fill in the gaps. He had the skillful singing down to a tee, but we also needed a bass player to fill out the instrumentation, and William stepped up. He rented and then bought a bass, learning as he went. He grew a steampunky beard just for this project. While we’re talking through points, William usually listens. He waits until he’s heard everyone’s point before he weighs in with his opinion. Musically, he is talented, flexible, and modest. His experience with helping other arts organizations has made him vital to solidifying the innerworkings of this project, and his dedication and promotion is truly the stuff of legend.
Find out more about these talented folks on the bios page!