5. Streetwise Opera, UK

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I’ve just received my invitation to the North East premiere of Streetwise Opera’s “The Answer to Everything”, a 75-minute interactive live opera and film event set in a fictional conference. I feel honoured to be invited and responded immediately.

Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music as a tool to help 500 homeless people per year move forward in their lives. They do this through a weekly music programme in 11 homeless centres across England and Wales and by staging critically-acclaimed opera productions starring homeless performers.

Their productions platform the skills of the performers in a professional arena, showing them that whatever life throws at you, you can achieve great things.

I became aware of Streetwise Opera in 2009 when I was researching the lives of people who had experienced homelessness at The Crisis/Skylight Centre in Newcastle. I attended one of their sessions and meet a fantastic group of people who were dedicated and enthusiastic about singing and were hungry to learn complex operatic choruses.

I saw their  production “Fables” in London a couple of years later, a combination of film and live performance taken from traditional fables and re-mixed into an eclectic contemporary multi-media event. I was overwhelmed by the power of the people involved and the artistry of the presentation. It felt like a new performance genre which celebrated individualism inside community and at the same time aspiring to the creation of great artistic endeavour. Nothing seemed compromised. The performers were presenting themselves completely. Vulnerable yet powerful, confident yet humble, determined yet tentative. Beautiful people being themselves and performing art with passion and commitment.

In 2012 I was fortunate to be involved in the performance “With One Voice” at the Royal Opera House in London. The first time in history that an event for homeless people was part of official Olympic celebrations.  “With One Voice” saw 300 performers who had experience of homelessness come together from around the UK to showcase their talents. Echoing the international ethos of the Olympic Games, the event also featured films made by and about homeless people from around the world and helped to start to the first ever global network of arts and homelessness organisations. At the end of the night 300 people, all of  whom had experienced homelessness, sang a newly-commissioned song by Gavin Bryars in the glittering atmosphere of the Floral Hall. I watched with admiration, completely amazed and inspired by what they had achieved. I was moved, excited and felt an incredible surge of hope.

Over the years I have got to know some of the performers from Streetwise. I have worked with some of them and continue to do so. I have seen for myself the progress they have made in their lives. From some extremely difficult circumstances and environments they have created lasting positive change in their lives. The contribution made by Streetwise Opera towards the individual’s personal development maybe cannot be measured in social work terms but is, without doubt, considerable.

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