From the Director’s Desk: Opera and Social Impact
A blog series offering perspectives from various members of On Site Opera’s leadership team
“Opera and Social Impact”
by Eric Einhorn, General & Artistic Director
In the opera industry, we often talk about the potential opera has to create an impact within one’s community. Our site-specific productions that occur around NYC are, by their very nature, impactful in various neighborhoods and communities because of how each show is molded to a specific local space. A year or so ago, though, I began to wonder if there was a deeper level of community and social impact we could achieve with our productions. I was particularly inspired by two projects/organizations that had empowered traditionally marginalized populations through performance: The Dallas Street Choir & The Sex Worker’s Opera. Enthusiasm from our board of directors helped drive this exploration as well.
These questions, exploration, and enthusiasm became part of the development process of two recent projects I am very proud that OSO took on. The first was our December production of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. My directorial spin on the piece updated it to our time, and made Amahl and his Mother a housing-vulnerable family who frequented the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, our performance venue. In order to broaden our community and social impact, we partnered with Breaking Ground, NYC’s largest supportive housing organization, to create an amateur chorus of people who have experienced homelessness. Jessica Jahn, our amazing costume designer, individually styled clothes for each chorister, who was given the outfit to keep at the end of the production. Working with these wonderful choristers was a real gift for all of us. Their enthusiasm and dedication was contagious! We received so much positive feedback from the individual chorus members about their experience. One comment that still stays with me came from a gentleman in the chorus: “Thank you for giving us a voice.”
Our striving for community impact didn’t stop with the chorus, though. We wanted to, somehow, include the audience to amplify the production’s impact even more. Audience members were encouraged to bring a donation of non-perishable food in lieu of a ticket fee. The food was then donated to our performance venue, the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. We, of course, hoped that audiences would participate in the food drive, but we never anticipated the mountains of food that were donated over the course of the run. Thank you all for your generosity!
We were able to continue our work in the community just a few weeks ago by bringing our 2012 production of Shostakovich’s The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse to an afterschool program run by Win, the largest provider of family shelter in NYC. We were greeted by an audience of thirty incredible children, ages 6-8. After a spirited question-and-answer session following the performance, I asked the audience if they now loved opera. Their answer was a deafening “YES!” We were able to bring Baby Mouse to Win thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. We are in discussion with Win about visiting more of their facilities, and hope to seek funding to underwrite a continued partnership.
The impact of this work is a two-way street, leaving all of us at On Site Opera forever changed for the better. Seeing how opera can create these profound community and social connections has been a truly inspirational springboard for our longer term planning. I look forward to sharing some of our plans soon and for continuing to partner with you, our OSO audience, to further the impact of our work.