We are pleased to announce Shadow House, a fully immersive opera & theatrical event staged throughout the Powel House. Shadow House will premiere during the Philadelphia  FringeArts Festival, September 2016

Image by RA Friedman: Shadow House with Kayla Grasser & Anthony Crosby

Photo credit: RA Friedman featuring Kayla Grasser & Anthony Crosby

Shadow House

A fully immersive chamber opera


Libretto by Brenna Geffers  

Director - Brenna Geffers                       

Music Director – Josh Hartman    


Where:  The Powel House – 244 S. 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

When:  September 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd @8pm




Peggy Shippen- 1790s – Kristy Slough

Charles Stedman – 1790s – Sean Lally

Minnie Cadwalader Rawle- 1880s – Crystal Charles

Wolf Keblansky- 1920s – Michael A. Lienhard

David, Wolf’s nephew – 1920s – Anthony Crosby

Edith Standen- 1940s – Kirsten C. Kunkle

Robert Weston- 1960s – Brendan Norton

Eedie Fen- 1960s – Richard Chan

Frances Wister- 1920s – Maryruth Stine

Elizabeth- 2010s. – Kayla Grasser


What does an "immersive performance" even mean?

Shadow House  uses music and text to create a mysterious, sometimes dark sometimes funny, world for audiences to explore.


The story follows ten people whose lives span over 200 years of history the historic Powel House. As the characters find themselves caught in loops during pivotal moments of their lives, the past and future begin to merge. Their individual identities become threads in a larger pattern challenging the way they understand their own personal sense of destiny. Created by Brenna Geffers, Shadow House is a historical fantasia that asks us to suspend how we view time.

Audiences must explore the many rooms of the Powel House in order to put the story together. They may follow a woman to the third floor as she tries to escape her guilt over the loss of millions of lives. They may toast gin at a Garden Party where a socialite is trying to bring European culture back to a post- Civil War country. They may interrupt two lovers meeting in the resplendent ballroom for the last time. They can hide with a poor soldier as he breaks into the dining room to enjoy one night of luxury in his life. The stories unfold simultaneously over the grounds and three floors of the restored mansion.

In addition to the scenes and private monologues delivered intimate spaces, Shadow House also uses music to unfold its many stories. The new compositions, like the characters, span many styles and periods. Philadelphia Opera Collective composer Josh Hartman tweaks Wagner and Bittner for a non-traditional soprano aria. Philadelphia Renaissance man Christopher Colucci’s seemingly playful 1964 rock style hides a darker thread running through the period. Sarah Van Sciver’s contemporary compositions create soaring duets that cross periods and genres. Sean Lally lends his haunting compositions as well as his unique performance skills. From Russian Folk songs to deconstructed choral work, Shadow House’s new music will keep you moving through time and space.

An ensemble of ten performers make up the roaming cast of Shadow House. Philadelphia Opera Collective veterans Michael A Lienhard, Crystal Charles, and Kristy Joe Slough bring their classically trained voices to the ensemble, as well as award winning Kirsten Kunkle, whose compositions and recordings are part of the National Museum of the American Indian’s archives. Sean Lally, a theater maker with Found Theater and Bearded Ladies most recently seen at the festival’s Andy; A Pop Opera, performs as well as plays his own compositions on the guitar. Richard Chen, a frequent creator with the Greenfield Collective, plays opposite of Brendan Norton, an actor who has performed with People’s Light and Theater as well as other local theaters. Arts activist and actor, Maryruth Stine brings a sharp improvisational set to the ensemble. Anthony Crosby, last seen in Philadelphia’s It Girl, as well as Kayla Grasser were both part of the Powel House’s last immersive performance of La Ronde.

Historical research, vocal exploration, group devising, and newly imagined scenarios went into creating the tapestry of Shadow House.

Here's a little teaser video of footage taken during rehearsals...the featured duet is original music written for Shadow House

Here's a bit more background on how Shadow House came about:

After creating three wildly successful world premiere operas, the Philadelphia Opera Collective continues to redefine opera with a fourth, completely internally created opera. Shadow House is a world premiere opera and theater piece staged immersively throughout the historic Powel House. This production was born through a partnership between PhilaLandmarks & the Philadelphia Opera Collective, and is the vision of PhilaLandmarks’ Artist-in-Residence, Brenna Geffers. The work will feature music from a variety of composers. It will contain folk pieces, dance rhythms, accordion music and opera with a libretto that is fully conceived by Brenna Geffers.


For the first time in Philadelphia, audiences must leave their seats and craft their own experience with an operatic performance. Ms. Geffers has recruited an ensemble of classically trained opera singers and experimental theater artists to take on 11 stories that span over two hundred years of history.  The work will blur the lines between opera and theatre and create a wholly theatrical production that incorporates original music, in a small and intimate space.


Kirsten C. Kunkle will be returning to the cast for the fifth year in a row fresh off of her Carnegie Hall debut and company favorite Crystal Charles, will return for her seventh show with the POC.  There are plenty of newcomers joining this year as well.  As Deb Miller ( said, “this is a new generation of opera” and the collective takes that to heart. Rather than just casting opera singers, the young company also casts an array of movement based performers and well-known actors such as Emilie Krause, one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable actresses and star of New Paradise Laboratories’ recent creations and Sean Lally, part of the creative team behind the Andy: A PopOpera and a leading member of Found Theater Co.


Lienhard says that “by juxtaposing the voice through silence, speech and the singing voice we experience the entire gamut of what we are capable of vocally expressing. It meets the audience on a core level and raises them up to the operatic level.” Geffers and Lienhard hope that by choosing source material that speaks to them, with text in the vernacular and by uniting with artists outside of the operatic world that they can help opera find new voice.


In this way, Brenna Geffers and Michael A. Lienhard have begun a dialogue about where opera exists in this day and age. Previous performances by the young company with similar subject matter have elicited cries of "Screw Donizetti, this is how madness should be done: Not as a gorgeous four-minute aria followed by shouts of brava, but agonizingly drawn out, surreal and deeply affecting,"(Emily Guendelsberger - City Paper) and "The emotive cast members, whose acting abilities are on a par with their singing, are mere inches away from the audience, in such close proximity that they look at us, sing to us, implore us, and directly involve us in their characters’ human tragedy." (Deb Miller - Stage Magazine). 


This year’s production with take place in the historic Powel House in conjunction with PhilaLandmarks. This unique partnership allows for the incredible history of the Powel House to move front and center. Mickey Herr of PhilaLandmarks states that “while we have enjoyed partnering on a number of artistic endeavors, our goal is to move beyond being merely a venue, to allow OUR histories and properties to BE THE INSPIRATION for the stories told, whether through music, theater, or the visual arts.”


Brenna Geffers furthers the sentiment when she explained why she chose the Powel House for the POC’s next endeavor. “I love stories that are epic, that weave all sorts of threads in to a beautiful whole. That is one of the reasons I love history so much. The stories that are humming around a place like the Powel House cry out to be told. So many people pass through the house, living their lives, and leaving little echoes of their existence behind. I want to find a way to put audiences in touch with the immense passage of time. In a way, audiences are "zoomed out" so to speak, where almost omnipotently, they can observe 60- years pass by in a blink of an eye, with a single gesture.”


Brenna Geffers, who is the POC’s lead conceptual creator and wrote the elegant and nuanced libretto for their last three full length original operas as well as Shadow House, intends to bring a stark and elegant staging to the work.  With her intimate connection to the work, Geffers will further her reputation for creating edgy and visceral worlds. Her past fringe shows, including Marat/Sade and Woyzeck, and of course the Collective’s own The Consul, Opera Macabre, By You that Made Me, Frankenstein and Jump the Moon. Shadow House will be sure to fall into the same category. 


FringeArts (formerly Philadelphia Live Arts Festival& Philly Fringe) exists to commission, develop and present a range of high-quality contemporary performing and visual arts. Every September the Fringe Festival features boundary-breaking work created by some of the most renowned contemporary artists from our region and around the world, and serves as a collective home for artists to bring their artistic visions to audiences without any curatorial barriers. Our community is enriched as art takes over our neighborhoods, animating the spaces of our city from traditional theaters to corner bars and vacant storefronts.


Oh and by the by…"audience members won’t need a tux." (Jess Fuerst - South Philly Review).

For more information about the Philadelphia Opera Collective, please click here