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Opera by and for the Community: Collaborative Arts Summer Camp 2022

A production chronicle by Diego Barbosa-Vásquez (Music & Artistic Director)


After two years of mandatory stop (Covid), in 2022 Los Angeles County community experienced the Collaborative Arts Summer Camp with incredible outcomes. Re-Starting this project was very difficult because of where we were coming from after a pandemic; as our selected Opera libretto says, “this is the land of chaos… what will we do now?” but with “Suyay” (Quecha word for strength and perseverance), we found a collaborative community way to make the project happen. This is the story about how we created “harmony and peace” in Los Angeles County society with Arts practice.


Versión en Español: Click Aquí


The seed of all started on 2018 with the Pilot Program of Opera Camp™ (my Doctoral Dissertation). Currently a program/service offered by the Performing Arts Laboratory that allows professionals, students, and full communities, to produce and perform Operas in a fun, encouraging, and sustainable way ALL TOGETHER!


The program started as a shared effort of artistic and educational entities, close collaboration of community members, and enthusiastic leaders. We co-founded the Collaborative Arts (Opera) Summer Camp. With Liliana Rocha as Art Director, Mayra Rico as Community Involvement Director, Alexander Koops as CEO, and myself, Diego Barbosa-Vásquez as Concept Creator and Music & Artistic Director. With the full intellectual property of what will become Performing Arts Laboratory (that clarifies every single element of how to do the experience possible in every aspect), the goal was to offer sustainable ways to be sure high-level quality programs in Arts and Opera were experienced by Los Angeles County community members. We wanted to give and develop a voice for every single person and a place to exercise that voice. We wanted to show that all voices are important and create spaces for encouraging collaboration. And finally, we wanted to be sure every single person interested in that experience could enjoy it no matter their background, race, training, or socioeconomic status.


The first two years (2018 and 2019) were a moment for huge learning. In many ways, our enormous success, with more than 450% increases in community involvement, become our Pilot versions. We clarified multiple elements of music, artistic, and pedagogical elements. As the Pilot Program, these experiences were crucial, from a practical perspective, for my doctoral thesis. Since together with the research of more than 100 Opera companies and with the collaboration of multiple fields (economics, business, entrepreneurship, anthropology, political science, etc.) they clarified, from a cutting-edge multidisciplinary academic point of view, the nuclei, strategies and models to be replicated each year both there (Los Angeles) and in other places. Successful results we were getting and improving constantly. These deep analyzes plus the Performing Arts Laboratory discoveries on the Administrative, Community, and Bussines models encouraged us to make substantial changes for our 2020 Camp. Two weeks instead of one, and the goal commision 10 totally brand new operas that could become the comprehensive tool to develop our three goals: Give voice to all and places to exercise it, encourage multilevel and multidisciplinary collaboration between all society, and be accessible to all. A challenge assumed by CommunityOperaScores™, a product/service of Performing Arts Laboratory.

Sadly for 2020, our camp was canceled as COVID was stopping the world. However, as multiple artists, we continue developing our work. While the performance-focused world stopped, with Performing Arts Laboratory we were developing all the interconnected music, artistic, pedagogical, administrative, community, and business models to offer this community-focused experience for Los Angeles Community. On the other hand, with CommunityOperaScores™ we were now into the gigantic task of creating a brand new type of opera experience that allowed people from different backgrounds, races, training, and socioeconomic statuses to collaborate and do Opera in a sustainable way. We were creating the commissioned Opera “El Imperio de la Luz - Community Opera in One Act” Originally scheduled for 2021, but again because of Covid complications was premiered finally on 2022.


Our Opera started to get multiple international attention who were focusing on this new concept of Opera Score. In general, traditional Opera is conceived only for highly skilled professionals, and only a few people can do Opera nowadays. At least, this is the general consent supported by the National Endowment for the Arts study of 2017, with only 2.2% of the US population having any kind of relationship with the Opera. Our challenge was enormous. We were building a unique concept to change that. An original composed full bilingual opera (Spanish English), a fully composed multilevel Opera (for singers, choir, and orchestras of multiple levels including amateurs), a fully Pre-hispanic/Peruvian story, characters, landscapes focused Opera; and a highly Peruvian music style influenced Opera. Also, with the full Music, Artistic, Pedagogic, and Community components permeating and influencing every single element of the Opera.


TV USA Broadcasted Interview with Telemundo 52. Click to see it here!

In many ways, for me was not a surprise to start getting multiple international recognitions and awards for this effort; at the end, we were developing something highly new and required by the field. A field full of old powerful traditions that sometimes are not even understood by its own actors/entities. Traditions that sometimes are at the core of the international Opera field decline. In the end, we were creating an Opera concept that allows the field to return to the original goals of the Opera: Arts for all in an accessible way. (See this more in-depth information about the full Opera concept here).

With the full intellectual property of CommunityOperaScores™ to create this gigantic new concept of Opera, we worked for almost two years with a wonderful team of artists to co-creators of “El Imperio de la Luz / The Empire of Light - Community Opera in One Act”. In addition, to being the concept creator, I had the pleasure of leading an amazing creative team: The Original Libretto in Spanish and English was done by Alonso Cueto and Esteban Cueto. The Music was made by Daniel Cueto, and The Arts component was designed by Liliana Rocha and Gloria Manzanares. (See an Interview with the creators about the full process here).


Despite the monumental two-year efforts to create this Opera (from the Artistic Perspective), international multidisciplinary studies were clear (you could be interested in seeing: Opera Sustainability: Through Multilevel-Apprenticeship Programs at Opera Companies); that this new type of Opera scores are fundamental but are only around 30% of what is required to offer a high-level Opera/Arts experience that tackles down our three goals: Give voice to all and places to exercise it, encourage multilevel and multidisciplinary collaboration between all society, and be accessible to all.

With Performing Arts Laboratory we knew that the full elements designed for the Collaborative Arts (Opera) Summer Camp and its sustainable interaction with all Los Angeles County community and stakeholders were crucial. That is why, while I was in charge of leading the Opera Score creators team, I was also leading and collaborating with the CASC executive team developing and designing every single aspect of the CASC 2022 with the models highly researched and proven by Performing Arts Laboratory.



Some elements of the full process are, of course, private information of the companies and I cannot put them here, but in general, more than 1 year and a half (the pandemic at the end worked in our favor for logistical/preparatory purposes) were required to design all the elements to the specific necessities of Los Angeles County and San Gabriel Valley Communities. Task only possible because of Performing Arts Laboratory intellectual property. Its Sustainable-Opera-Governance models, in which the programs are built, implement a high-level understanding of the “local-arenas.” A highly specialized multidisciplinary economic term/way of thinking that, in simple words for us means, Performing Arts Laboratory tailors all of its program characteristics to the specific needs and characteristics of the city, allies, and communities in which the program is implemented.


With that titanic work done by Performing Arts Laboratory and in alliance with Azusa Conservatory of Music and Azusa Pacific University as co-producing entities, we were able to start pre-registration in March 2022. Our goal was to do it in Nov 2021. However, Covid fear was in the heads of some local allies and co-producer entities, and only until March 2022, we were able to get the green light to officially share registration. However, because of our strong community relationships, developed by SustainableOperaSolutions™ governance models, since we opened registration, multiple people have started to register for the camp. In the end, more than 45 families were part of the camp collaborating together around Opera and arts.


The Camp started officially on June 11th, 2022. However, with the governance and administrative team, we started to work almost full-time on site (Los Angeles) since May 31st, ensuring all the plans were working as planned. One of the most complex elements was funding, trying to be sure all people interested could be able to participate. Therefore we develop an interdisciplinary team to work with the different public, private and nonprofit entities with the specially designed Fundraising strategies developed by Performing Arts Laboratory. A huge full city collaboration with arts in the center. In addition, different soloist auditions and faculty meetings were required to be sure the community could enjoy a remarkable experience.

We had rehearsals for two weeks from 2 pm to 6 pm all Monday to Friday, and Saturdays 9 a to 12 m. Plus faculty and executive meetings always 2 hours before and up to two hours after every single day. After two years of really hard work, was incredible to see how multiple diverse communities were all together collaborating to produce and perform a totally brand new opera. From 5-year-old kids to 65 years old professionals, each person was sharing with others and, from their different roles, strengths, and assets, they all were making possible a unique combined high-level artistic experience; they all were doing Opera in a sustainable way.


Another TV USA Broadcasted Interview with Telemundo 52. Click to see it here!


Multiple powerful images about these experiences come to my mind about what we achieved in and with the communities. Sharing all with its analysis will require a full set of books, but perhaps two could show a little bit of the experience with our readers.


The first one was on Sunday the 12th (June 2022) one day after starting the camp. It was officially a personal time for all after our first day of camp where multiple “homework/responsibilities” were assigned based on our program criterias/goals. With some family and friends, we were invited to go for a Futbol game (or soccer as US people used to call it). I was seeing the game when I saw two kids (5 years and 12 years) that were in our camp too. Without realizing I was looking, both of them were studying the libretto and the vocal score of the Opera we were producing. That was an amazing image: 2 kids were studying (musicologically, artistically, technically, and musically) an Opera in their FREE TIME for their own pleasure!!


Could you imagine that? Could you understand the huge meaning of that for the full Opera field? Could you realize the kind of lifelong transcending development this experience gives to these kids and their families? Then we started with all of them to talk about the opera, the story, the culture, their core values, and what it represents to humanity. I published the photos on my Instagram (see the full publication and more photos here), and as surprised other participants started to send me other photos doing the same. A full community was studying Opera in their FREE TIME for their own pleasure!! Arts was transforming society by creating deep conversations about life, humanity, and collaboration. The images were powerful and reminded me why I decided to be an artist and transform society by facilitating all people to experience art.


After that amazing Sunday experience, the first week for me, and as Artistic Leader of the camp, I can say that for the full team, was really challenging but very encouraging. We were enjoying our “artistic” live-long dreams becoming true: the huge society thinking about who they are, collaborating together, having a voice, helping each other, learning from each other, and all because of the artistic practice in a sustainable way. We started to see that the families organized themselves to donate packed snacks for all participants and even their time as staff members to cover some necessities of the program. We started to see that step by step, the notes and figures in the Opera score were becoming sounds, movements, and colors, they were becoming art because of the people.

We were allowing all participants to have a voice and developing spaces for exercising that voice. With carefully designed educational activities, the official poster of the performance incorporated each participant's designs, the artistic proposal of full costumes was intended by all participants of the Camp, and the staging proposal was designed and built by 10s and 40s age participants of the Camp. With people from 8 to 60 years old: 7 different level singers were selected for Soloists; Choir members were assigned to have more minor solos. All the singers had the opportunity to act and sing in a multilingual setting (Spanish, English). Because of the multilevel organization of the original CommunityOperaScores™, all the singers were allowed to develop and portray their talents at their levels. With players from 8 to 30 years old: Each participant, no matter their level, was able to play during the complete show allowing them to have the experience of playing as orchestra soloists and section solos. Because of the multilevel organization of the original CommunityOperaScores™, each participant was challenged in their level and necessities.


See full LA Times News of our Camp: Click Here!

On the other hand, we were developing a highly collaborative experience where participants understood that all voices are important. Led by state-of-the-art artistic, pedagogic criterias of Performing Arts Laboratory, the aesthetic of the pictures for the poster, the costumes, and the stage were defined by all the art participants. It required constant interaction by different ages, experiences, and needs (including other participants of the Camp, not only art major), always carefully led by our faculty. All singers (at different levels, from cero singing experience to professional level) were part of an Operatic production collaborating side by side with others. Because of the multilevel organization of the original CommunityOperaScores™ constant multigenerational interaction was encouraged and required by the Operatic production needs. The original CommunityOperaScores™ orchestration had a highly diverse level of skills. It allowed people with three years of playing experience up to Master's Degree holders to collaborate. Each participant learned how to interact, help, and support their peers. In addition, the orchestra players learned how to collaborate as chamber music players, Opera orchestra players and interact with other Operatic entities such as Singers, Directors, and Art crews.


The second powerful image for me was in the opera's official premiere on June 25th (2022), seeing that ALL PEOPLE (Camp participants, families, and audience) were sharing and interacting no matter their background, race, training, socioeconomic status, or even their language. First, the Opera was performed bilingual. Seeing people learning Spanish and or English to be able to do it and interact in rehearsals in both languages was powerful. Also, in the premiere, the opera had supertiles in both languages too. It empowered the communities in an incredible way.


Second, the staging proposal from our 2022 Stage Director, Kisten Hamilton, was great in her understanding of the Opera score that asked that the audience should be part of the performance. In an involving setting, only after 5 minutes of the opera had started, we saw that the audience was now part of the story. They became and related to the story in a deeper way correlating their experiences to it. “The Land of Chaos choir song really touched my nerves; it made me realize the urgent social need for an understanding of the others and close and sustainable collaboration,” told me an audience member after the performance; or “is incredible to see how the full community is collaborating, thanks for make that happen”. As the people on the Opera field knows, this is not the usual feedback you get after premiering an opera. Usually, a more superficial approach focuses on the sounds, costumes, or spectacle. Not that all of them are not important, they are crucial too. However, from my artistic/humanistic perspective, these elements become important only when they can create these kinds of deeper conversations about humanity and society.


The third element of why the premiere was a powerful image for me was the audience arrived in massive numbers and was highly diverse this time. This was the result of our hard work and commitment to creating strong community involvement and leadership. And more importantly, the cores of the camp where all people were collaborating permeated the society. We had an after-premiere sharing (we do not say cocktail because non-alcoholic beverages were served because of the different ages participating in the program). It, in many ways, was donated and organized by the full community. There, we saw things as the parent of a camper, a Rotary member, a Cityhall Council member, a faculty member, and a new “young artist” sharing together. All of them were empowered to talk to each other no matter their position neither, background, race, training, socioeconomic status, or even language. They all were exercising their voice to find better solutions for their community. The Opera was rebuilding the social fabric required for a healthy society-individual-family relationship. A relationship that is the basic core for a better world. The Opera was serving the community!


More photos and videos of the full production soon! Stay in touch!


After our CASC 2022 was done, we entered into the full analysis of the camp. Multiple things will continue changing, always aiming for the continual improvement of our relationship with the communities, ensuring they are the center of the full process. For 2023 the Collaborative Arts (Opera) Summer Camp will be run officially by Performing Arts Laboratory in alliance with the different public, private, and non for profit entities in Los Angeles County. Alliances will be confirmed soon. And since now, the Performing Arts Laboratory team, in conjunction with the Collaborative Arts (Opera) Summer Camp team, is working tirelessly to offer another incredible experience for Los Angeles county.


In addition, with Performing Arts Laboratory, were are working to implement these successful experiences in different parts of the world. We want to be sure all people can access high-level quality artistic experiences. Keep in touch; many great news are going to come!!


Looking forward to see you all sharing with us our Opera Camps™ around the globe!

Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

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