As artists, the communities we create are almost as important as the art itself. We form strong ties with one another because those of us who make art are able to understand each other in a special way. When I first started studying at Indiana University and found myself riding the struggle bus with the role of Tonio in La fille du régiment, my coach and now friend, Kevin Murphy said to me, “Listen, I don’t care if you crack every single note. You’re learning, and you can only learn how to do this on your feet.” Kevin said those words to me some four years ago, and I still hold them in my heart to this day. Because Kevin saw something special in me that I didn’t yet see, I was able to grow into myself. This is the power of community. However hard we wish that we could wake up tomorrow and be Beyoncé, the process of becoming ourselves is often hard-won and accomplished through others. Our in-person connection to others, though, is difficult to maintain in #operalife because a production or schooling may only last anywhere from six weeks to a few years. In a world where even in better times artists find ourselves far-flung across the globe, we rely on technology to facilitate and digitally materialize our (re)connection.
The other day, a friend asked me to imagine going through the 1918 pandemic when social media didn’t exist. I could not. In a time when we are physically isolated from one another, technology is giving us the shared space we lack. Of course this connection includes catching up with our friends on Marco Polo and scrolling through Instagram, as it did before, but today I find that technology is facilitating difficult and meaningful conversations that were once deemed taboo. In opera, we are attending summer festivals on Zoom and having voice lessons via FaceTime. As we rely more and more on technology in order to continue to build our personal and professional relationships, the moments of seeing a face telecasted onto our screens feed our need for connection. In my recent coachings with Kevin, I had a wistfully nostalgic moment seeing that he was working from his studio at IU. It wasn’t so much the space itself that moved me but rather recalling how much this person on the other side of the screen helped me to be a better singer and person.
We can conceptualize community as less about our physical surroundings and more about relationships that we’ve formed, as well as relationships that we have the potential to create. Through social media, I am getting to know people I had previously only heard of. I’ve had full-length conversations on race, music, and the future of opera with people I’ve never met before. I have reconnected with people I haven’t talked to in years. Technology formed a large part of our lives before the pandemic, but as we move through this time, we are learning how best to use it. Some use cases provide an approximation of something live that is not currently available, while others augment our understanding of our reality. In “the real world,” it’s hard to say all the things we want to say or work up the courage to talk to a manager at that networking event. Social media gives us platforms to present the selves we want to in a landscape where everyone has a voice. We can create all kinds of communities - from ones where we share ourselves in a vulnerable way to ones where we curate our presence. That choice is our power. This separation of the social spaces we occupy allows us to show up more fully in those spaces.
"Social media platforms can help to flatten perceived social hierarchies that exist in our lived experiences by giving us all an equal platform and access to a community."
Before we even enter the physical space of a rehearsal room, we have the opportunity to connect. Having a curated space to make the most salient details count for more is important in making the impression you want to make. Social media platforms can help to flatten perceived social hierarchies that exist in our lived experiences by giving us all an equal platform and access to a community. Stagetime aims to do exactly this, favoring narratives that lead with media and celebrating collaboration over likes and comments (which, in fact, don't exist on the platform). We need each other now more than ever, and we have so much to learn from the people we know and from the people we don’t know (yet!). Through creating a community that centralizes stories and giving us the power to show up fully as professionals, Stagetime creates a community that centralizes opera’s first principles - the music, the art, and the artists.