Opera and Activism

Monday, November 14th,  Paul Mason, of the Guardian, wrote that the films that have topped the box office in recent years, superhero films and expensive cartoons, have been escapist and culturally blind. They’ve created an ever widening gap between average American viewers and liberal Hollywood elites.  His solution?  Hollywood must create films featuring modern themes and characters to articulate a response to real issues facing the country.  Hollywood might then have the ability to use their influence to better the country. Instead, Hollywood drags us deeper into the sense of powerlessness that inspired voters to support Trump. It offers no solutions, no expression, no release from despair. Hollywood won’t change. There are too many millions at stake. They will continue to take on the tone and promote the prejudices of the producers who make them.

But to the artists and storytellers accustomed to working for little to no money, toiling away at day jobs and wondering if it’s worth it, I say this: you’re free. Free to be creative visionaries. You have permission to tell stories that illuminate as well as entertain. Prince once said that an artist who creates all the time is not going to have a hit every time.  A lot might not be very good, but the hits will be even better. I propose that we create more than we ever have. If not now, when?

In April my husband and I started a five month creative journey that culminated in our opera, The Place Where You Started.  It premiered Saturday, November 12th at Portland State University. It’s not agenda driven. It’s not about immigration. But the main character, Meredith, meets an undocumented gardener. Their friendship illuminates the complexity and tragedy that drives illegal immigration. My husband and I did not anticipate a Trump presidency, but that our piece opened November 12th felt more timely than we ever imagined. A few of the performers said they felt that they could offer audiences comfort and hope via their characters. The main character can’t save her friend from his fate, but she can do something. That is ultimately the message. That we must do something, even if we don’t know what it is. We must start.

Portland held some of the biggest and most violent protests in the days following the election. As my husband and I walked to rehearsals we heard the sirens. As we sat at dinner we saw paddy wagons careening down streets filled with people. Walking back from dinner one night we were caught in a stampede as protestors fled flash cannons. The last dress rehearsal I came into the bathroom to find a girl weeping. She’d just ridden her bike from the protests. Her friends had been arrested. She’d gotten away.

I’m not exactly sure how activism and art connect, or where they connect. But this past week was the most organic coming together of the two I’ve seen. I’m thrilled to have been a part of that. Let’s do more, together. Let’s keep doing more, of both.

If you’d like to see more, here is another clip featuring the two lead characters, with a brief introduction by our A-list stage director, Kristine McIntyre.

8 thoughts on “Opera and Activism

  1. Congratulations on the Opera. Very awesome! 🙂

    I found a quote from Kurt Vonnegut a few months ago “The canary in the coal mine theory of the arts: artists should be treasured as alarm systems”.

    I find it extremely interesting that even shows like the Walking Dead, the stories written years ago, the scenes filmed months ago… all seemed to culminate on that weekend. There was a scene between Michonne and Rick, at the end, on Sunday, where he is telling her that “Neagan” is in control now, and she has to accept it – because he has… But there was a hesitation in her… that was palpable. Even when she ‘accepted’… you could feel it was a temporary agreement.

    Just like the situation we are in now.

    Great post.

    1. I adore that quote from Vonnegut. Thank you for posting it. The media can be a cathartic place, or a destructive one. We need more constructive. Now more than ever. The void is vast, but it’s not endless.

  2. I’m not sure where they connect either, but I continue to believe that they do–that the thoughts we think and toss into the public world make a difference, however small, however delayed. The conversation we have with the world matters, and often in ways we’ll never really know about. Which is why we have to be responsible about what we say.

    1. That’s right. I think responsible means that it’s time to be bold and tell the truth. We’ve become a fact free nation and I believe the arts are the only way back.

  3. No, not literally. That’s right. I believe in activism and protests and running for office. Dems are on notice. Their constituents are coming for them.

  4. I hope we can make some kind of difference. My “thing” is interfaith understanding. There are some people who are very frightened right now, and I can’t say I blame them.

    1. I appreciate interfaith understanding. Any pursuit of that nature is critical. For myself, I’m staying in denial until January. I can’t take the hysteria and the fear mongering.

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