When I was first introduced to Beth Morrison Projects, I was not enthusiastic. I was at a networking event hosted by a vibrant, engaging woman who I’d met through work. She is passionate about women in technology and the arts, and was bringing together some of the fascinating and incredible women she knew to see what creative sparks would fly.
I had been looking forward to the event from the moment I’d been invited. When I heard that one of the women would actually be speaking about her work, I thought that was a wonderful idea and was fine with that, too. But when I heard the topic was opera, I felt… blank. I hate opera. Maybe even beyond hate. I have a massively adverse reaction to the opera.
I thought, well, maybe I could find a graceful way to exit before the presentation began. But then we were being ushered into another room. And I was stuck in the back corner. I was trapped. I would be seeing this presentation about… opera. I desperately needed to calm myself down. This was only going to be a short 15 minute presentation. I could survive. Just keep breathing. Ok maybe even sit down. And relax. When I was finally able to let go of my initial panic about being subjected to a talk about opera and open my mind to it, I was nothing short of amazed. I don’t know why I’d doubted my hostess for even a fraction of a moment. Beth was incredible. And what she was talking about had a direct application and relevance to work I really care about.
This is Beth’s challenge: the audience for opera is aging and it’s hard to get younger people engaged in opera. Opera has been traditionally managed and run by individuals who have a very traditional idea of what the opera should be. Specifically: Madame Butterfly. In a foreign language. In a traditional theater setting where no one in the audience is talking or- God forbid- checking their cell phones. A silent cocoon of two hours where the audience is swept away by immersion into the on stage action- which was the dimension of singing and live performance only.
Beth starting thinking about the audience she wanted to attract and how to make the opera more accessible to them. This was an audience that lived and breathed using their cell phones. What if cell phone useage was not only allowed, but encouraged during the opera? What if, instead of looking at cell phone use as an abomination, it was encouraged as a way to engage the audience and allow them to participate in the production? What if audience members were asked to share and blog and tweet about their experience at the opera? And what if the technology could actually be used to unlock another dimension of experience for the audience? Perhaps a view that- during a death scene on stage, for example, could provide an overlay of blood spilling from the body, flowers growing, and a spirit floating away? What if there was also video onstage and other multimedia aspects to the performance? Thus Beth’s genre of indie opera was born. It is still evolving and being developed, but there has been an incredible reception. Opera composers have been unleashed, and Beth is now able to give new voices exposure through the medium they love, but where there was previously no space for them.
I was dumbfounded.
In opera, this space where I have no connection, no attachment, no love, I was completely drawn in. And not because of opera. Beth was tackling the exact same challenges that we are facing at the New York Daily News in media. The parallels were astounding- trying to shed traditional ideas around what the format means and is about. Engaging new audiences. Even video and social sharing! Technology is impacting business models across the spectrum and throwing up challenges that- in the end- have a surprising amount of similarity. And the possibilities that emerge when these challenges are embraced and addressed are incredibly powerful and inspiring.
I don’t think I’ll ever love opera. But this experience was a reminder that, wherever you are and whoever you meet, bring an open mind and heart. Inspiration comes from unexpected places, and just being open to connections and possibilities can inspire new ideas and opportunities.