Everyone Has a Story Worth Telling: A Recap of the Opera Makers Collaboration with Regent Park’s Youth Enrichment Academy (YEA!) and the Canadian Opera Company
By Dustin Stern, Director of Creative Programming
“Everyone wants an emotional connection,
Everyone has a gift worth sharing,
Everyone has a story worth telling,
Knowing the small things add up to –
Something bigger than us all,
And we can share it with the world!”
This chorus will forever be stuck in my head, as will the image of the final bow taken by the writers, performers, puppeteers, singers, and actors of Writer’s Block; also known as the current cohort of students in the Regent Park Community Health Centre-affiliated Youth Enrichment Academy (YEA!).
Over the course of a mere eight weeks, this group of twenty-five students aged 11-14, created and performed their very own original short opera. Twice a week, Canadian Opera Company teaching artists, Chris Thornborrow (librettist & composer), Gwenna Fairchild Taylor (soprano and director), and Robin Polfuss (puppeteer), as well as myself on behalf of Building Roots, were invited into YEA!’s HQ to facilitate the journey also known as Opera Makers.
The Opera Makers program aims to make opera more accessible to all kinds of communities, offering the opportunity for creative exploration and meaningful learning opportunities that explore every element of the art form. The participants are centered as the ultimate directors of the program, and the facilitators merely just help them to tell their stories.
Writer’s Block is about a group of engineers in Toronto who have successfully created the pop-up house: an affordable mini house that pops up from its portable state into a fully functioning house with a kitchen, running water, and even a working washroom. After gaining much prestige for this invention, the engineers decide to make a movie. Unfortunately, they are unsure what story to tell.
At a nearby café, they come across a community of unhoused folks that recognize the engineers as the inventors of the “pop-up house”. The engineers and their new friends start a conversation, and the engineers become inspired to tell the stories they hear. They also find out that this community has a myriad of talents, including comedy, singing, storytelling, and acting.
Before lunch is over, the engineers, unhoused community, and even the baristas at the coffee shop, endeavor to work together and create one of the greatest movies ever, and the first movie to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
On the red carpet, when asked about how they came up with the idea for this blockbuster hit, one of the engineers explains: “We actually didn’t come up with the idea! Instead, we listened to people in our own community!” Another of the filmmakers chimes in: “You realize that everyone has a story, and every story is worth sharing with the world.”
Interspersed with hilarity and imbued with the amazing personalities found among this group of YEA! students, the final performance was unsurprisingly a huge success. This group of inspiring students, all with little-to-no experience in music, acting, storytelling, singing, or puppet-making, told a story that highlighted what I personally witnessed in the process of its creation: that when we come together and honour each other’s stories and unique gifts, anything is possible.
And here, we present the song from the finale of Writer’s Block!