In 2000, a resident of the Passage (a homeless night shelter) read out a quote from a politician in the newspaper, saying that 'the homeless are the people you step over coming out of the Opera House'.
The comment made some people angry whilst others saw it as an opportunity - if homeless people were in an opera it would challenge the public's attitude to homelessness. It would shine the spotlight on achievement rather than need and turn stigma into celebration.
Matt Peacock (Streetwise Opera's founder who, at the time, was an opera critic and support worker at the Passage) worked with residents to put on a production of The Little Prince at the Royal Opera House. It was an immense success, creating transformational impacts in the lives of the people involved, as well as receiving great acclaim from the public.
The performers asked 'what next?', and a regular programme of music workshops in homeless centres was developed. Streetwise Opera was established as a charity in 2002 and has gone from strength to strength, working with thousands of people who have experienced homelessness, helping them make positive changes in their lives, and staging numerous critically-acclaimed opera productions.
In 2012, Streetwise Opera also began a With One Voice international programme, commencing with a showcase as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. This was followed by projects in Brazil for the Rio 2016 Cultural Olympiad, before With One Voice became the first ever international arts and homelessness movement. Streetwise is incubating this movement for five years, with the aim of building the arts and homelessness sector globally through exchanges in policy and practice.
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Rehearsing Canticles at Westminster Abbey in 2002