Mross’ Sketch of the carriage organ set piece, which will be used for choreography in the ballet

A Steampunk Shrew

Eugene artist Joseph Mross designs the look for a Eugene Ballet production next year of Taming of the Shrew

Leave it to Eugene Ballet to pull off a steampunk adaptation of Shakespeare’s most controversial play, Taming of the Shrew. 

That’s right, you read that correctly. Shakespeare. Ballet. Steampunk. This show is not going to be your typical night on the town. 

Artistic Director Toni Pimble decided to put the twist on the ballet when she came across the music of Louise Farrenc, a 19th-century female composer whose recognition had faded due to her gender. At the time she was writing, however, her compositions were regarded as first-rate work. 

“Her music is really strong and muscular, like Beethoven or Brahms,” Pimble says. “It made sense to me to do something really strong and not stuck in the period. What better place to put it than with steampunk?” 

Luckily, Pimble came into contact with Joseph Mross, a local Eugene metalsmith with a passion for steampunk. Along with running a metal studio, Mross has designed work for the annual festival Burning Man, including a gargantuan steam walker weighing in at over 5,000 pounds. 

Mross fell in love with steampunk before he even knew there was a word for it. As a kid, he was obsessed with building models, making miniatures and reading books like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. After spending years working in home construction, Mross began to explore metalsmithing and sculpting. 

“It just seemed like such a natural fit,” Mross says. “For me, the idea of being able to mix all these disciplines together, different media and different styles, seemed like the perfect world to dabble in.” 

A couple of years after Mross moved into his current space in a farm northwest of Eugene, he decided to turn the barn into an old English-style pub and throw a huge Halloween blowout. Since then, it’s become an underground favorite that continues to grow each year. 

“Last year was a little too big,” Mross says with a laugh. “We have to cut the party thing down a little bit.” 

Mross is designing three set pieces for the ballet. One is a huge organ carriage for Bianca’s music lessons, which will be used in the choreography. Another is a mad scientist boiler oven, and the last is a “flying” tricycle with flapping wings. If the props he is proposing end up looking anything like the other pieces at Mross’s studio, something tells me the audience won’t be able to fully grasp that what they’re seeing is real. 

“We’ll do all types of maddening things,” Pimble says. 

The ballet is scheduled for April 10-11, 2021, at the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall. OrchestraNext will play the music of Farrenc, which might be the first time audience members hear her music played live in a concert hall. Pimble says she is determined to give the late composer the recognition she deserves. 

Pimble suspects, as many others do, that it was perhaps a woman who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. This theory stems from the disbelief that Shakespeare could so accurately write lines for women without actually being one. 

“The words that he put into the mouths of women seem as if he really understands them, and it almost seems as if it was written by a woman,” Pimble says. She is incorporating this hypothesis into the ballet right from the start, opening with Shakespeare facing away from the audience only to turn around and reveal a woman’s face.

Taming of the Shrew is controversial today because of the way in which it depicts women and how they should act. “A lot of people have given me grief about doing this ballet because it isn’t kind to women,” Pimble says. “But I’m planning on turning it around to give Katherine a strong voice without her being submissive. It’ll have a strong ending for women.”

Eugene Ballet’s Taming of the Shrew will run April 10-11, 2021, at the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall.