Daniel Ellis joined the UGA faculty in 2021 as an academic professional in opera and theatre for the Hugh Hodgson School of Music and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ theatre and film department. In this position he is a teacher, stage director, producer, collaborator and mentor.
“I have the joy of working with singers and actors in both departments, from undergrad to doctoral students at so many different stages of their development,” said Ellis. “My favorite part is watching them all learn with and from each other. It’s about meeting the students where they are at that moment in time.”
The brave space Ellis creates in the rehearsal room or classroom sets the tone for his work both on and off campus.
“My professional work informs my work on campus, and vice versa,” he said.
One such professional opportunity is an innovative new production of the popular opera “Elixir of Love” opening Jan. 27 at the Minnesota Opera. Ellis and a team of professional designers received the 2021 OPERA America Robert L. B. Tobin Director-Designer Prize for their concept of this opera, and Minnesota Opera commissioned their work after the team presented at the 2022 Opera Conference in Minneapolis.
“When I approach a piece from our inherited repertoire, I look for ways to recontextualize the work to invite every artist from every background to bring their full, authentic self into the room,” said Ellis.
“One way to do this work is to explore moving the period. In [“Elixir’s”] case, Southern California in 1916 provides agency for all singers to approach these roles without having to check their cultural history at the door. This embraces a singer’s individuality and celebrates a rich, layered and new interpretation, even though the universal story being told ultimately stays the same.”
Bringing this approach back to UGA, Ellis incorporates traditional opera as well as lesser-known works into the UGA Opera Theatre seasons. Additionally, in creating his new course “Acting for Singers,” Ellis developed a curriculum that incorporates the tenets of acting into a singer’s existing technique.
“Our students need to be prepared to sing new music, as well as known music in unexpected ways in order to be successful in this industry,” he said.
This spring, Ellis will be directing two productions at UGA. First, “The Tragedy of Carmen,” a creative take on Georges Bizet’s original opera conceived by Peter Brook, opens March 21-22 in the School of Music.
“It takes the story to a deeper psychological level, giving students a chance to take bolder risks with familiar music,” said Ellis.
Ellis recently announced casting for an inclusive interpretation of “Little Shop of Horrors” April 12-21 for the Department of Theatre and Film Studies.
“Our students are learning about their own identities, and this piece gives them a supported opportunity to express themselves,” he said.
Ellis feels that “the point of music and theatre is to start a conversation that advances the dialogue of the human condition for everyone. Any work we do needs to move us all forward together.”