Costume and set designs by Vanessa James, Mount Holyoke College professor of theatre arts, are featured in the play Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon, just reviewed in the New York Times and selected as a NYT Critics' Pick production.
Talk about a meeting of the minds: in 1889, visionary science-fiction writer Jules Verne visited pioneering journalist Nellie Bly. Bly was trying to beat the record Verne wrote about in Around the World in 80 Days, and was ahead of her time with feminist ideas about women's rights and roles in society.
Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon addresses both the historical meeting and how the imagination of each person presaged future events from women's suffrage to space travel.
The New York Times critic wrote that the "dazzling musical and multimedia paean to human aspiration will send you into the stratosphere."
James incorporated into the production some nineteenth-century costume pieces from her personal collection, as well as some real period furniture and props. Donald T. Sanders, whose long list of directing work includes three productions at Mount Holyoke, directed the show.
James is resident designer and producer for Mount Holyoke's Rooke Theatre, where she has produced and designed productions with Pulitzer Prize–winning author Suzan-Lori Parks '85 and Nobel Prize–winning author Wole Soyinka, among others. At Mount Holyoke, she also conceived and organized the first American Women in Design Symposium and the first International Dramaturgy Symposium.
In addition to her work at the College, James is the design consultant for the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA) and for the Ensemble for the Romantic Century in New York, which staged the Jules Verne play.