Protecting opera in Canada during a pandemic. What are we fighting to preserve?

(2.5 minute read)

“PLACES, PLEASE!”

I can’t wait to hear those words again. I don’t know when, but I know it’ll be in a world that looks very different from when I last stepped on stage.

While singers continue to exist in a holding pattern wondering which of our gigs will next be cancelled, organizations across Canada are calling for donations to keep the art form afloat till we can get back on stage.

As an artist I have to ask what it is we’re trying to save? While acknowledging the hard work of performers and administrators across the board, I think we can all agree in the grand scheme of things what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working — for a while. In January 2020 I couldn’t have looked at the realities of the Canadian opera industry and ethically encouraged an aspiring performer to pursue a career in it, unless they had the means to leave the country as soon as possible.

While we wait in the wings now, I believe we have an opportunity. 

To talk. To listen. To change.

As artists we’re used to having hushed conversations about the reality of the industry and what needs to change. We keep these conversations private for fear of repercussion, and even if given the chance to make them public we’re justifiably wary of speaking plainly. Nothing changes. In fact, things have been steadily deteriorating across the profession.

This blog is a way of reclaiming my agency to speak openly. While organizations use this time to discuss and plan their priorities, I think it’s time we had open conversations about our own. It’s time to ask pertinent questions, out in the open, about what the future of opera in Canada will look like for individual artists, not just companies.

Do we want to preserve the structures, contracts, funding systems, issues of access and representation etc. that have failed us?

Do we want to return to an industry where the obvious imbalance of power between organizations and artists enables a startling lack of transparency and accountability?

Do we want to continue perpetuating a culture of silence in exchange for job security?

If Canadian organizations and artists agree that our common goal is a thriving, equitable opera industry, then we need to work together for meaningful change. We need to work in a way that addresses the wellbeing of all parties. That can only happen if all parties have secure representation at the table.

The future is murky and we can plan to go back to a failing system or we can work to dramatically reset the conditions with which we meet what awaits us.

An industry working towards equity and sustainability for everyone involved. That’s what I would like to see the next time I’m in the wings waiting for my cue.

The Canadian opera industry is built on and will survive on the art we create on stage.

Perhaps it’s time our voices are heard offstage as well.

Places. Please.

Starting this Wednesday I will publish a weekly post sharing my thoughts on the opera industry in Canada, and what I think needs to change moving forward.

What changes would you like to see in Canadian opera? Fill out this brief anonymous form and let me know.

2 thoughts on “An Overture”

  1. Yes, Asitha! Thank you for starting off this conversation and asking hard questions that will help to initiate change for the better in the opera industry and in some many other industries where there are inequities and lack of transparency, etc. I’m excited to read what you’ll be posting next. Onwards!

  2. Excellent questions and opportunities for consideration and change. Yes, it’s often disingenuous to treat bad situations and difficult circumstances as opportunities, but in many ways, there really is one here. Thank you, Asitha – looking forward to sitting with these thoughts and working on these things with you and my other brilliant equity-minded colleagues.

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