Queer Query: Opera OUT Loud - Breaking Down Barriers for LGBTQ Youth

An interview with Dr. Jourdan Laine Howell

What is Palm Beach Opera?

We’re a non-profit organization dedicated to producing live opera at an international standard of excellence. One major goal of ours is to enrich the life of the communities we serve, by offering a diverse selection of educational programs.

Tell us about yourself, and your position.

I’m Dr. Jourdan Laine Howell, Education and Community Engagement Manager at Palm Beach Opera. My job is to oversee educational opportunities in the community, such as PBO Studio or Opera 101, and to develop new programs that we think are needed in our community.

What is Opera OUT Loud?

My future. (Laughs.) It’s a project that uncovers real world connections between opera, and the LGBTQ community. At its core, Opera OUT Loud will catalogue thought-provoking work, will link LGBTQ-youth to affirming industry professionals, and offer those who participate a meaningful connection to the world of opera. Outcomes of that will be raising awareness about social issues addressed in the libretto readings, or find ones that should be addressed.

How does it all work?

Opera will be the vehicle for dialogue, essentially. The primary component would be doing libretto reads with LGBTQ youth. That’s the kicker. Otherwise, it’s database for LGBTQ industry professionals, and their stories. The active component is you. It matters to us so much, what the youth think. It’s important to make sure that everybody is aware of the connections that they might have, and that their stories could be told through opera. The spotlights of LGBTQ libretto readers will also be a venue to study and discuss. It will always be 100 percent youth-focused.

How would you describe Opera Out Loud in three words or less?

Exhilarating. Youth-driven. Overdue.

What could this become?

It’s a pioneer program. I imagine that it’s going to have national scope. A community linker, of sorts. We want to give the youth a voice. If everyone gets on board, which I think they will - if national opera companies adopt this model, it could become a national movement.

What were the reactions you received?

I had a meeting with Leah Wilson, who oversees education for Opera America - one of the largest service operations for opera companies in North America - and she was so excited by the fact that the genesis of this project came from a conversation with a youth learner. She told me: “Oh my goodness, how has this not been done before?” Everyone’s shocked by how this isn’t a thing yet. It’s long over-due.

What do you have in the works?

There’s this incredible work that debuted last September, called “As One.” You know what’s killer? I got in contact with the composer Laura Kaminsku and librettist Mark Campbell, who created an opera based on filmmaker Kimberly Reed's life.

Before she transitioned, she considered herself the “golden child” in high school - star quarterback, valedictorian, and so on. She transitioned in college. “As One” is based on her story. If you guys choose that, it will be such a brilliant work to start with.

Where did you find the inspiration to create this program?

You could definitely reference yourself right here. A group from Compass GLCC(Gay and Lesbian Community Center) was attending Opera 101 for “Enemies: A Love Story.” During intermission, I checked up on the youth to see what they thought. Mariah Rivera mentioned that the musical was decent, but it was heteronormative. It wasn’t relatable. This was a new term for me. I looked this up online before I went to bed. And later, when I woke up… You know people in the movies, after they have an epiphany, and jolt out of bed with their eyes wide open? It was like that.

I walked away from that performance thinking to myself: “Well, opera is very heteronormative, isn’t it? But throughout history, gender variance and sexuality found itself in theater. Pants rolls, women who played in the roles of men. Castrati, men singing for female roles, and beyond. Gender bending has been around since the beginning of time. There’s such a deep history, already known to us. Opera OUT Loud came to me immediately. It was kismet. (Arabic, Turkish, and Urdu for “fate”.)

For more info on Palm Beach Opera, visit the official web page: PBopera.org For more info on Opera OUT Loud, visit the main website: OperaOUTloud.org

 


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