Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
For graphic designer Laura Sage, her earliest geek memory involves computers.
"My dad bought us one of the first Apple IIe home computers," she said. "I loved writing starfield simulations and playing text-based games like 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'"
And while her varied interests have led her down many paths less traveled—including playing violin, singing opera and creating costumes—Sage never embraced the geek title until now.
"I don't think it really registered until a few years ago; [I] always knew I was a nerd, having grown up as a classical musician," Sage said. "But geek didn't become obvious to me until fairly recently."
As far as fandom goes, Sage finds herself drawn to series like "Star Wars," "Doctor Who" and "Wonder Woman" because of their strong female characters. She counts Princess Leia, Rey, Amy Pond and the titular Wonder Woman as her favorites. While she’s new to cosplaying and attending conventions—Con Nooga was her first foray into the world of fandom conventions—she’s excited about becoming more involved.
"[Attending a convention] was fun, but I wish I’d known more people there," she said.
She plans to attend Dragon Con later this year and participate in a group cosplay with some women she met through a Facebook cosplay group.
Giving opera a modern voice
As a classically trained musician, Sage has learned, traveled and accomplished a lot—and her experiences in the classical music world inspired her to start Scenic City Opera, an opera company with a decidedly fresh twist.
I started out as a violinist. In college, I took voice lessons and discovered I was really better at singing. In Los Angeles, I started singing with a few small local opera companies and got really frustrated with the lack of organization and lack of quality. So I decided to start my own company, specializing in the sorts of operas I prefer—lesser-known works (not modern) that somehow dropped out of the standard repertoire. I've continued that mission with [Scenic City Opera].
Since its inception, Sage has picked two genres to tackle that appeal to the geek world: "Star Trek" and, more recently, vampires. Her latest production of "Der Vampyr" will take geek cues from both "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "True Blood." The Marschner-penned opera includes a romantic plot, a marriage and vampires (of the nonsparkling variety).
"Our first production catered to the geek crowd—we did a 'Star Trek' reimagining of Mozart's ‘Abduction From the Seraglio’—and it was a huge hit," she said. "I'm hoping our vampire opera is as well-received."
Sage’s production choices are also influenced by her need to cast opera itself in a new light, allowing Chattanooga residents to rediscover and enjoy the music genre—even if they haven’t in the past or have been put off by it.
"For a lot of folks, the idea of opera is boring and staid," she said. "I'm hoping that by presenting operas that folks don't have preconceived notions about, that they'll be more open to enjoying the experience."
As both owner and producer for the company, Sage has exciting plans for Scenic City Opera’s future productions, and plans to pull from Spanish sources. She also wants to present a marionette opera within the next year.
"[I hope I can] bring some other fun productions to town that have been successful elsewhere," she said. "A friend recently put on a wildly successful '80s take on Donizetti's ‘l'Elisir d'Amore,’ for instance."
In the end, Sage wants people to see opera for what it truly is: exciting and passionate.
"Opera isn't boring," she said. "But it's been performed in a boring manner for so long that people think it's boring. The old ‘park and bark’ way of performing has thankfully gone way out of style. I think that if people came to the opera with an open mind, they'd find that opera is full of intrigue, sex, violence ... everything you'd expect from a soap opera."
Rachel Stewart grew up in the '80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered "Doctor Who" and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a "Doctor Who" fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who and ConGT. She also reviews "Doctor Who" novels and "Big Finish" audios at "The Oncoming Storm" podcast. Want to show off your alter ego? Email Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.