In 2000, opera critic and support worker Matt Peacock was volunteering at The Passage (a homeless night shelter in London) when a resident read out a quote in the news from a politician that said “The homeless are what you step over when you come out of the opera”.
This statement upset many of the residents and it led to a conversation about how people who are homeless are dehumanised and objectified, how they are denied participation and agency in the arts, and how they could take ownership over an art form like opera, that in Britain is traditionally considered aimed at the rich.
The group agreed that if homeless people were in an opera it would challenge the public’s attitude to homelessness, as it would shine the spotlight on their achievements. Matt then worked with residents to put on a production of The Little Prince which premiered 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.
When the show was over the performers asked ‘what next?’ which was when Matt set about devising a regular programme of music workshops in homeless centres, starting at The Passage. Streetwise Opera was established as a charity in 2002 and has gone from strength to strength, working with thousands of people who are or have been homeless, providing weekly workshops in homeless centres and arts centres across England, and staging numerous critically-acclaimed opera productions.
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