For more than a decade, the Point Loma Nazarene University Writer’s Symposium By The Sea has become a great resource to learn about the craft of writing from some of the country’s premiere authors. We asked host Dean Nelson to tell us a bit more about the series.
UCSD-TV: How did the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea begin?
DEAN NELSON: Many schools and regions have what are called writer’s workshops, and we thought we could do something that would attract great writers, but didn’t want it to be about “how to write,” or about “getting published,” or filling would-be writers with false hope. There is a place for those kinds of gatherings, and we didn’t want to duplicate what was already out there. So we thought we’d try to focus on bringing in role models who could enlighten, encourage and inspire great writing.
The interview format was something we did from the beginning, but we did it as sort of a fluke. I was begging Joseph Wambaugh to come, and he refused,saying that he didn’t give lectures. But he added that if I wanted to ask him questions, he would come and answer them. His interview was such a smashing success that we stuck with it, and many writers actually prefer this format, because it takes the pressure off of them to try to prepare something profound.
UCSD-TV: How did the partnership with UCSD-TV come about?
DN: I met Shannon [UCSD-TV Producer Shannon Bradley] when I was a reporter for The New York Times, and she was running a UCSD summer school program for high school journalists during the Republican National Convention here 1996. I contacted her about the symposium and she was interested in working with me to turn it into a series of programs for UCSD-TV.
UCSD-TV: How do you prepare for your role as host? Does being an author yourself help?
DN: It helps that I am a writer because I can ask about technique and craft a little more pointedly. The secret to the interview is that I try to read as much as I can of what they have written, but I try to read their stuff in chronological order so I can see how they have changed over time. So I usually can point out some examples of how I think they have evolved. I don’t pay much attention to what other interviewers have asked them.
UCSD-TV: What insights have you gained on the writing process after picking the brains of so many authors?
DN: One of the recurring themes of virtually all the speakers has been in regard to how hard it is to write well. I take perverse pleasure in hearing them say this year after year, because it’s still hard for me, too. Every writer has his or her quirks, some have gotten a little lucky, but most great writers have become great writers because they were willing to commit to it and pay the price. Students don’t get that because they’re young and used to abandoning things that are difficult.
UCSD-TV: The past year has seen the demise of several magazines championing long-form journalism. How do we get people excited about the craft of writing again when technology seems to demand sound-bite simplicity?
DN: People will still read good writing. My daughter eats bowls of Froot Loops for a few days, then decides what she really wants is a great salad full of all sorts of stuff that’s good for her. Readers do similar things when they come across something good. I am not worried about the future of long-form narrative, as long as it’s well done.
UCSD-TV: The Writer’s Symposium gives the live audience a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite authors. Each session generally ends with a question and answer session. Any memorable interactions with the audience?
DN: The Q&A with Anne Lamott usually turns into a love fest. Other writers say some profound things about writing during those interactions. Probably the best was Ray Bradbury telling everyone to go home and write a story. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a demand. I think everyone did it, too.
UCSD-TV: What is your current favorite book? What book could you read over and over again?
DN: This is going to sound like a cop-out, but it’s usually true — my favorite book is usually the one I am reading right now. So that would be The God of Small Things by the Indian writer Arundhati Roy. There is also one book that I find myself re-reading whole sections of, so maybe it’s my favorite as well, and that is Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. He’s one of the most profound, elegant craftsmen I have ever read.
La Jolla Music Society and UCSD-TV have forged a unique partnership to share the magic of Summerfest with television and web audiences. We asked executive producer John Menier to tell us a bit more about the history and making of the series.
UCSD-TV: How did UCSD-TV’s partnership with La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest begin?
JOHN MENIER: The exact details are shrouded in the mists of time, but I first made contact with La Jolla Music Society in 1993. At that time I was interested in one particular event, an appearance by composer Bright Sheng at the Athanaeum Music Library in La Jolla. The resulting program turned out very well, and over the next few years we gradually developed an enduring partnership with the Society.
UCSD-TV: What are some of your favorite moments from past Summerfest seasons?
JM: I’m fascinated by rehearsals, and I love documenting the creative process…
Nick Reveles is the Geisel Director of Education & Outreach for the San Diego Opera
San Diego OperaTalk! and San Diego Opera Spotlight have brought the joy of opera to televisions across the county for over ten years. We sat down with the host of these two great programs to find out more about their history and the upcoming season.
UCSD-TV: What sparked your love of opera?
Nick Reveles: I had to teach 19th century Romanticism when I was first assigned to the music faculty at USD in 1977. Although I loved certain operas at that time (especially 20th century operas), I had no real interest in the operas of the “golden age.” So the summer before I began teaching I went into isolation and spent quality time with Verdi, Puccini and Wagner. It didn’t take long to get the bug and I’ve been infected ever since!
UCSD-TV: What is your favorite opera?
NR: Hard to say! I could better give you my top five! Wozzeck by Alban Berg (one of those 20th century operas that I’ve loved since the age of 15!!), Otello by Verdi, Don Giovanni by Mozart, Turandot by Puccini and Wagner’s Ring.
UCSD-TV: How did you become involved with San Diego OperaTalk! and San Diego Opera Spotlight?
NR: Our General Director Ian Campbell suggested OperaTalk!. Spotlight already existed, and I simply took over the interview portion of the show without ever being on screen. But when Ian asked me to write and host my own show, I met with director John Menier and fashioned with him pretty much what we have today — a half hour show about the history and culture of the operas we produce, as well as a significant amount of time about the music which I still think is something of a mystery to our audiences.
UCSD-TV:Opera Spotlight takes the audience back stage to see what goes on behind-the-scenes. What kinds of things do they get to see? What do you find they are most surprised by?
NR: Well of course John Menier and his crew get terrific B-role of rehearsals in the studio as well as onstage footage from the full-dress rehearsals. That’s always exciting for our audiences to see. But I’m still fascinated by the various “takes” on their roles that the singers present to us. You never know what they’re going to say and their responses to our questions can sometimes be provocative.
UCSD-TV: What is the most challenging aspect of bringing opera to a television audience?
NR: I’d say that from day one the most challenging aspect has been to write the script of OperaTalk! so that I’m talking not only to seasoned opera lovers but to people who are completely new to it. I’m always gratified when someone stops me on the street or at the mall or in a restaurant (and it happens with great regularity!) and tells me that they’re not particularly opera fans but they love watching the show and that it sometimes results in their buying tickets. Gotta love that!
UCSD-TV: You’ve been a member of the UCSD-TV family for quite some time. Do you have any war stories from opera shoots over the years?
NR: Oh, there are so many! Every time we tried to shoot in Balboa Park (a lovely location) we’d end up struggling with lawn mowers, leaf blowers and dump trucks that were constantly interrupting the shoot. We’ve pretty much given up on the park as an outdoor location…lovely spot, but impossible to deal with. We had to actually quit an early morning shoot there for the show on Il trovatore because it got too noisy. I also remember the shoot at the Point Loma Light House for Simon Boccanegra. It was an especially sunny day in June or July and yet our beloved director John insisted on lighting me AND using a reflector! I had to wear sun glasses, could barely read the cues, and ended up with the worst sunburn I’ve ever had in my life!!
UCSD-TV: It has been said that the audience for opera is shrinking. How should the opera world respond to this? Can opera connect to new audiences?
NR: Shows like OperaTalk! and Opera Spotlight go in the right direction. We’re responding in the Education Department here in the company by producing videos and podcasts that live on our web site. As well, they’re being hosted by YouTube (OperaTalk! and the Artists’ Roundtables) and iTunes (OperaTalk! and the new San Diego Opera Podcast). More presence in new media will help and I think our entire industry is realizing that we have to be on the cutting edge in order to compete for audience.
UCSD-TV: Opera has such a long, rich history, which can be overwhelming to someone new to the scene. What operas do you suggest for best acquainting oneself with opera?
NR: This season, probably the best operas to begin with would be the double bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci and Verdi’s Aida. They have all of the best and most immediately apparent glories of opera at its best: passion, spectacle, great singing and gorgeous music. You can’t miss with any of them!
UCSD-TV: What can viewers expect from the 12th season of Opera Spotlight and the 10th season of OperaTalk!?
NR: In Spotlight you’ll probably see more of an emphasis on personal responses from singers, stage directors and conductors about the works we produce. More footage from our Artists’ Roundtables will probably be used — this is one of those great events that not everyone knows about but should definitely come to. It’s an opportunity for a live audience to spend about an hour with these folks and find out what makes the opera tick. They are informal discussions and are always great fun! In OperaTalk! I’m going to try to get deeper into the music of these great works. It’s always a challenge, especially with only about 28 minutes of content allowable, but I’m always trying to think of new ways to approach opera “education” so I think you can expect something different in every show.
Bonus Video Zandra Rhodes: Designing The Pearl Fishers
This excerpt from San Diego Opera Spotlight features British fashion icon Zandra Rhodes describing her process in designing sets and costumes for San Diego Opera’s premiere production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers.
San Diego Opera Roundtable: TannhauserUCSD-TV and San Diego Opera present a panel discussion about San Diego Opera’s production of Wagner’s Tannhauser featureing cast members Petra Lang, Camilla Nylund, and Robert Gambill; production designer James Mulder; conductor Gabor Otvos; and director Michael Hampe. Hosted by Dr. Nicolas Reveles.
An image from Tannhauser that faithfully depicts the famed Metropolitan Opera production by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen.Photo Copyright Marty Sohl
Director of Photography Matt Alioto, Producer/Director John Menier and Host Nick Reveles discuss the next shot of the day.
Photo Copyright Keturah Stickann
Host Nick Reveles shooting on location for San Diego OperaTalk!: Verdi’s Aida
A back stage look at the set of Wozzeck.
Photo Copyright Keturah Stickann
Richard Leech sings Turiddu and Jose Cura sings Canio in Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci.
Photo Copyright Sasha Gusov and Cory Weaver
Prepping for an OperaTalk! interview with Zandra Rhodes.
Photo Copyright Keturah Stickann
Angela Gilbert is Mary Stuart in Mary, Queen of Scots.