Vivien Conacher on our Artist Training Day

Today I participated in an all-day training session with Streetwise Opera, led by Rowan Fenner, their Artistic Director of Workshops.

Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music to help homeless and vulnerable people make positive changes in their lives. They run weekly music programmes in various centres across the UK and also stage opera productions starring their homeless performers. This Artist Training session is the first time I’ve ever done anything with Streetwise Opera, so although I really had no idea what to expect, I can honestly say that I thought it was brilliant and I left the session feeling very inspired.

Amongst today’s participants were teachers, singers, composers, and outreach workers – a really varied group with an equally varied knowledge and familiarity with opera. Today Rowan introduced all of us to the Streetwise Opera workshop model – demonstrating how (and why) the company uses certain exercises and activities. By treating us as a workshop group, rather than workshop leaders, she also gave us an opportunity to experience how it feels to be a participant in a Streetwise Opera workshop.

Today was an eye-opener in many ways and I really think Streetwise Opera has hit on something special. Through carefully crafted warm-ups and improvisation activities, Rowan had us singing (in four part harmony) before anyone quite realised what was happening. We were taught scene snippets of La Boheme without a score or word-sheet in sight, and by the end of the session, everyone in the room felt like they had been invited to inhabit the world of Puccini’s opera, and had gained an intimate knowledge of the key characters.

It was really exciting to work on opera in such a new and different way, and I can see how powerful and confidence-building such workshops would be in homeless centres. It is truly inspiring and liberating to be in a safe space where people are allowed to be themselves, to sing, learn, be creative, and (even if just for a couple of hours) escape the stresses of day-to-day life, without the fear of getting anything “wrong”.

That is the gift of Streetwise Opera. A brilliant company that is doing amazing work around the UK.

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