By McKenzie Fetters
Some performances exist for entertainment, to allow the audience to forget themselves for a while. Other performances are a showcase of talent, to wow the audience and perhaps motivate them to become better at their respective crafts. Very few performances, however, possess the depth and artistic finesse to make the audience think, to ponder the deep questions that haunt the human existence and to search for an answer to them in the murky dark. I am happy to say that the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music’s event “Expressions of Acceptance: An Evening of All-Inclusive Micro-Operas Celebrating Unity” was among those rare few performances with respect to both its content and its caliber.
This one-of-a-kind event took place on Monday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (PAC) and was developed in response to audience feedback on an opera performed last year, Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land.” Featuring a total of 13 groups each with their own opera to perform, the event explored themes of diversity, exclusion and acceptance, among others.
At this event, guests were directed toward the rear entrance of the PAC, where upon entry staff presented them with a colored ribbon and instructions to find a stranger that they had something in common with in the next room. After, guests were supposed to write down what the commonality was on the ribbon and then tie the ribbon off to one of the many ribbon chains hanging down from the balcony surrounding the room. In the next room, guests were introduced to “The Welcoming Committee” opera, composed of a violinist and two singers, who eventually broke off into three different directions, each beckoning audience members to follow. At that point, audience members were able to explore the different operas on all levels of the PAC lobby at their discretion.
Several events stood out to me in particular. One opera, titled “I Wish I Knew”, featured a bunch of papers scattered across the floor of the second level balcony. The papers happened to be survey responses to questions about feeling ostracized, alone or different. Audience members were able to read the papers during the performance, and the performing vocalist even sang some of the survey responses aloud to the audience.
In the lounge, a drummer and pianist accompanied an opera about an off-kilter interaction between a boy and a girl, in which it was obvious that the two wanted to get together but were each held back by their own insecurities and doubts, which they articulated through song to the audience. Eventually, the pair did overcome their obstacles and hit it off, sending an inspirational message to the audience as they danced in perfect harmony.
Another performance took place in a bathroom, featuring a pianist who introduced himself to everyone in the room and then began a discussion about friendship, honesty and the inevitability of loss.
Notable among the other operas was one titled “I had an idea”, which displayed the cruelty of the monotonous majority against one person, the idea bearer, who attempted to change the status quo.
At the end of the night, all of the operas moved towards the main atrium and raised their voices and played their instruments all at once, their sound coalescing in beautiful unity before subsiding to just a few voices and then none at all. Afterwards, everyone responded with roaring applause, commemorating the efforts of the performers that night.
Once the event concluded, everyone was invited back to the room that they started in, where they were able to see the completed ribbon chains stretching from one side of the room to the other. Performers and audience members were then encouraged to discuss the performances.
The point of the whole program was to expose the audience to situations involving differences and diversity, and to start a conversation about those situations. More than anything, the program communicated the universal message that no one is alone in their struggles. Everybody feels left out or scared or vulnerable to some extent. By bringing these facts to our attention and encouraging us to make conscious choices to accept and include others, especially those who are different, the performers not only posed questions to the audience but gave them the answers that they needed as well, culminating in an event that was as thought-provoking as it was beautiful.