Charity wants to break the mould with opera workshops

Boring and elitist? Opera’s just great story-telling, say the theatre company who are hosting free workshops this summer.

School children and the elderly will be serenaded by live opera in Merton and Wandsworth this summer thanks to a series of free workshops.

The ambitious project is a collaborative effort between Merton-based company, Baseless Fabric Theatre, and the Wimbledon Foundation, the charity of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

The extensive programme will culminate in performances of the Johann Strauss’ opera Die Fledermaus across public spaces in the two boroughs, where high streets and supermarkets will become temporary stages.

Joanna Turner, Artistic Director, said of the school workshops: “They give young people an insight into what opera is.

“They learn to sing and act out characters in a classic opera duet and as one of our teaching team is a professional opera singer they get to hear a trained opera singer sing live right next to them.”

Baseless Fabric Theatre, who create site-specific and promenade productions, will run their workshops in community centres and luncheon clubs for the elderly, as well as local schools with low music provisions.

The school’s programme is a joint initiative with Merton Music Foundation, Jigsaw4u and others – and is being rolled out across selected primary and secondary schools.

Baseless Fabric’s mission is to deliver the classical art form to audiences that might not otherwise experience it, based on a belief that theatre and music have the power to transform a community.

Last summer, their re-imagined version of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, saw three musicians and a cast of five taking to the streets of Merton, where bemused yet delighted spectators were treated to free performances in locations such as Wimbledon Piazza, a Tooting pub, and the M&S café in Colliers Wood.

Joanna said: “We are very aware that many many people do not see opera as an art form that is relevant to their lives and believe that it is too expensive, elitist, boring or inaccessible.

“We are very keen to show that opera doesn’t have to be any of these things – it’s just telling a great story through wonderful music.”

She adds: “Creating performances in public spaces that pop up unexpectedly or move around give people a more unusual way to experience theatre.”

However, she appreciates that even unticketed, free events are still not necessarily accessible to everyone, which is why their outreach programme includes workshops in centres and lunch clubs aimed at older and potentially less-mobile generations.

Joanna said: “Elderly people too frail to follow the promenade performance around the high street are still able to engage with the project.

“We show them filming of the street opera performances and a singer and musician perform excerpts live for them so they too can hear opera up close and personal.”

Baseless Fabric Theatre, a registered charity, are the first organisation to receive funding from the Wimbledon Foundation’s new Arts and Community Engagement (ACE) Fund.

Helen Parker, Wimbledon Foundation & Community Manager said: “We launched the ACE Fund with the aim of supporting a creative project that would engage the local community, particularly disadvantaged groups who might not ordinarily access the arts.

“We are delighted to be supporting Baseless Fabric Theatre and the way in which they make opera accessible for everyone from the very youngest to the very oldest in our community.”

As well as this summer’s Die Fledermaus workshops, Baseless Fabric Theatre will be re-staging their 2017 Cosi Fan Tutte production for two performances in June, including a free street opera performance in Mitcham and an indoor immersive experience at Merton Arts Space in Wimbledon Library.

Die Fledermaus will be performed next summer.

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