05/08/2020 - 11:00

Opera hits the streets

05/08/2020 - 11:00

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Freeze Frame Opera was quick to hatch a plan to take opera to the people after COVID-19 restrictions were imposed and indoor gatherings banned.

Opera hits the streets
Opera singer Naomi Johns performing on the back of a truck as part of Freeze Frame Opera’s Street Serenades.

Freeze Frame Opera was quick to hatch a plan to take opera to the people after COVID-19 restrictions were imposed and indoor gatherings banned.

Known for its quirky performances, the Perth-based opera company started performing private shows in suburban driveways and on the back of trucks, as part of an initiative called Street Serenades.

Freeze Frame Opera artistic director Rachel McDonald told Business News the company wanted to do something that would lift people’s spirits amid the uncertainty of lockdown, and keep its artists employed.

“We have these fabulous singers who are not working and we have got this community that is feeling a little bit anxious and not able to celebrate,” Ms McDonald said.

“We can make people feel better, that’s what we do.”

She said the team at Freeze Frame Opera was overrun with requests and worked seven days a week for two months to keep up with demand.

“It just went bananas,” Ms McDonald said.

Singers performed at wedding anniversaries, a 100th birthday party, engagement parties and Mother’s Day celebrations.

She said the new venture meant the company was able to continue employing all of its 22 artists, and raised enough money to buy a truck, the 1975 Bedford used in the filming of the Tim Winton movie Breath, so they could continue performing Truck Opera.

“We were mainly trying to keep the artists employed, and we kept the fees low enough that the service was popular, and nearly all of that went straight to the artists,” Ms McDonald said.

“They have done really well out of it and we are really pleased about that.” While restrictions had eased and demand for the performances was slowing, Ms McDonald said Street Serenades was something Freeze Frame Opera would continue doing.

“We feel like it’s going to be part of what we do,” she said. “It’s not just people in lockdown who need this, there are lots of people.”

Established in 2016 by Harriet Marshall, Freeze Frame Opera aims to introduce opera to new audiences by presenting classic operas in accessible productions.

Street Serenades aligned with this purpose, Ms McDonald said.

“It really fits with our brief because we are all about making opera accessible, and there’s nothing more accessible than an Uber Eats-style delivery model,” she said.

“In terms of our mission, it’s a no-brainer.”

Despite COVID-19 halting artistic performances, Ms McDonald said the company had remained on a solid financial footing during the shutdown, given its income came from a mixture of philanthropy, government grants and box office sales, and considering traditional performances were its main expense.

“In some sense, any arts organisation, when they don’t work, they have more money in the bank,” she said.

According to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, in the 2019 financial year, Freeze Frame Opera had $239,446 in revenue: 64 per cent from ticket sales; 19 per cent from donations and bequests; and 12 per cent from government grants.

While much of its 2020 season was postponed, Freeze Frame Opera is presenting Handel in the House in August, and is performing an extended version of Street Serenades, Opera Truck-O-Rama, in August at the Claremont Showgrounds.

The company is also planning shows for next year, including its interpretation of The Little Mermaid.

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