SWEAT-int2-01

These interviews are Part 2 in an ongoing series that spotlights the cast of the upcoming production of SWEAT, an a cappella opera that will be touring Ontario by bicycle this summer If you haven’t read our previous post about our collaboration with The Bicycle Opera Company, click here to dive in!

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Emma is wearing the Coleanthus 3/4 Sleeve in purple and the Paralomis Tunic Slub in teal. Photo my Marc Bernhard

Emma Char

Q: Have you had any previous experience with the Bicycle Opera Project?

A: First time!

Q: How long have you been performing opera?

A: My first operatic performance was 10 years ago.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

A: I’m worker #3, one of the five core sweatshop workers

Q: What resonates with you about the character you portray?

A: I’ve never worked in a sweat shop but I have done manual labor when I worked as a maid. The repetitive nature of the job can be mind-numbing and the need to work as quickly as possible is extremely stressful physically. During one brief stint cleaning in Toronto not so long ago, I also found it demoralizing to work so hard for so little pay. Imagining no way out of a similar even more excruciatingly difficult (even less lucrative) career is heartbreaking.

Q: How does performing a multilingual opera affect your performance? Is it important to you to perform using contemporary language?

A: As an opera singer I often perform in languages that aren’t my native tongue, so performance in multiple languages doesn’t seem strange for me. I enjoy working with language in both modern and antiquated forms and find both relevant.

Q: This is a very ambitious and innovative project, is there anything about the performance that is brand new to you?

A: Singing an entire opera a cappella will certainly be an entirely new experience for me.

Q: Did this production open up your eyes to the nature of the global garment industry?

A: The horrifying conditions of sweatshops are something I’ve been aware of for a while but avoided thinking about because I don’t have a personal connection to the garment industry. By that I mean I have no acquaintances, friends or relatives working in sweatshops, so it’s easier to distance myself from the realities of them. Working on this piece will definitely make me think about the subject on a regular basis.

Q: Has it impacted the way you view or interact with your clothes?

A: I hope to be able to support sustainable fashion as much as I can going forward, investing in things that I can feel good about buying.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

A: I hope that this opera will provoke people to think about who makes their clothing and become more mindful about the clothes they buy.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience so far?

A: It’s a thrill to be involved with a project that’s innovative in so many ways! I’m very much looking forward to biking and performing this summer.


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Larissa is wearing the Paralomis Tunic Shibori in teal and the Nanomia Shrug in purple. Photo my Marc Bernhard

Larissa Koniuk

Q: Have you had any previous experience with the Bicycle Opera Project?

A: Yes! My colleague, Nadia Channa and I founded it in 2012 as a happy accident and I’ve been cycling each summer since.

Q: How long have you been performing opera?

A: I guess the first full-length opera I was in would have been Dido and Aeneas in university, in 2008, so almost 10 years! I’ve been focusing on contemporary opera for the last 6 years.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

A: The characters in Sweat are all named for the function they serve in the opera. The Union Organizer, the Owner etc. I believe this is because the creators, Anna and Juliet, wanted the opera to be able to take place anywhere in the world where there are sweatshops and didn’t want to dictate the casting ahead of time.

My character, the Neighbour, is named so because she, above anything, wants to maintain the status quo at the factory. She opposes the Union Organizer because she terrified that she and the workers will be met with violence if they fight for their rights to safe labour and pay.

Q: What resonates with you about the character you portray?

A: My character is quite nasty to be honest, and I think some audience members will question why she bullies the Union Organizer. I do understand her though – she has seen violence in a similar factory at a nearby town and has lost family members in attacks on the workers. In her mind, her actions are justified in order to protect the lives of her colleagues.

Q: How does performing a multilingual opera affect your performance? Is it important to you to perform using contemporary language?

A: Bicycle Opera strives to make opera accessible to new audiences and one of the ways we do this (beyond cycling and performing in intimate spaces) is to perform in English, about contemporary subjects. Sweat is mostly in English, but has these amazing quasi-improvised sections in which Juliet has given us musical material that can be translated into the “mother tongue” languages we have in our families. For example, some languages our parents and grandparents have access to are Cantonese, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Spanish. Those sections are very special because they connect us to our roots and sound a little different at each performance.

Q: This is a very ambitious and innovative project, is there anything about the performance that is brand new to you?

A: Singing an entirely a cappella opera is a major challenge for singers. We have hired the best singers for the job and rehearsals are sounding AMAZING. The music demands that we are ON at all times, since we all rely on each other to hand-off notes as the opera goes along. It is like one big trust exercise! I’m glad that we have the best team for the job.

Q: Did this production open up your eyes to the nature of the global garment industry? Has it impacted the way you view or interact with your clothes?

A: I have been interested in sweat-free clothing for a while now. I read Naomi Klein’s book No Logo in the year 2000 and have been pretty dedicated to shopping locally-made, and vintage. I am also a huge proponent of clothing swaps, which is an easy and super fun way of keeping your old clothes out of landfill and also discovering new finds from your friends. I’m thrilled Jennifer has agreed to collaborate on this project. It means so much to me to contextualize the opera for our audience members, and challenge our daily consumption choices.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

A: I hope people will be inspired to learn more about the global garment industry and think about their consumption habits. I hope that the stories of these women impact our audiences and I know they will enjoy the music.

I’d love for everyone to sign our friend Robin Pacific’s campaign at https://www.actionfast.org/action


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Catherine is wearing the Anemone Tunic Print in purple shibori lines. Photo my Marc Bernhard

Catherine Daniel

Q: Have you had any previous experience with the Bicycle Opera Project?

A: No, this is my first time working with Bicycle Opera project.

Q: How long have you been performing opera?

A: I have been performing in operas for just under 10 years.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

A: I play the role of the Overseer. She is a jaded manager of the girls she deems lower class than her. She abuses them because it is the only way she knows how to get results. She tries to secure her position by making herself indispensable at the sweatshop. She will use any means necessary to promote herself.

Q: What resonates with you about the character you portray?

A: I empathize with her situation – she doesn’t see a way out and there are too many sad stories so she wears a tough exterior. Playing a nasty character onstage is fun because you can use so many vocal colours.

Q: How does performing a multilingual opera affect your performance? Is it important to you to perform using contemporary language?

A: I think that opera singers have an equal responsibility to make classic and modern opera accessible to audiences. Modern language is an incredible way to do this.

Q: This is a very ambitious and innovative project, is there anything about the performance that is brand new to you?

A: I have never performed a completely a cappella piece before. I look forward to the team effort required to be accurate with pitches and rhythms to create the overall intended effect.

Q: Did this production open up your eyes to the nature of the global garment industry? Has it impacted the way you view or interact with your clothes?

A: I was only somewhat aware of the conditions surrounding the manufacturing of many big labels. I had heard of factories burning down and killing people. This project has made me more acutely aware of the socio-economic factors that make these factories a possibility and the underbelly of the garment industry.  Shopping consignment has become a bigger priority in my life as a result.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

A: I hope people connect with the “realness” of the characters. I want people to be moved by the different textures the singers create. I would like for it to trigger discussions and reflections. I would like for people to remember how watching the piece made them feel.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience so far?

A: I’m very excited for the whole process: the cast, the biking and telling an authentic story.


This is only Part 2 in a three-part series I’ll be publishing on my blog. Stay tuned for the final instalment!

PART 1 / PART 3 [coming soon]

Follow The Bicycle Opera Project on Facebook

The Bicycle Opera Project website

Follow Jennifer Fukushima on Facebook

jenniferfukushima.com

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