How do you explain and visualize opera and the performing arts to blind and partially sighted people while keeping true to historical forms?

January 17, 2018 by Department of Art History

Hello, I am Lauren Wu and I am currently a fourth-year student competing my art history major in the Department of Art. Throughout my university career I have always been fascinated with the spectacles and traditions of the preforming arts. Opera, dance and theater have been themes and ideas that I have explored in many classes including FAH353H1 (On Display: Cultures of Exhibition, 1789-1900) and FAH345H1 (The Romantic Movement in French Art).

Love of the arts has been cultivated and nurtured by my ballet teachers, Jeannette and Marshall. Opera Atelier is an Opera Company based in Toronto, with an emphasis on baroque period opera. Annually, they mount two different productions and take a travelling production to the Royal Opera House at Versailles. Not only an Opera Company, Opera Atelier has the Making of an Opera program for schools to introduce to opera to students through participation in activities such as staging, singing, and dancing.

Two years ago my ballet teachers approached me with a question of making opera more accessible to a broader audience. With my background in government relations and advocacy I was motivated to find a solution and provide innovative programming that catered to blind and partially sighted people.

Throughout the course of this project, I have researched how certain institutions, particularly the Art Gallery of Ontario and Metropolitan Museum of Art have approached this question and apply their solutions to what would later be used at Opera Atelier. I have had the opportunity to create partnerships with various community agencies that cater to blind and partially sighted people. These relationships have helped us create unique programming for each group. Workshops can range from a single day workshop in a community or school setting, as part of the Making of an Opera program to a series of workshops for young professionals designed to engage a new generation of opera goers.

Designing these workshops has also put my skills developed in art history to use. Opera Atelier produces baroque opera and therefore studies the history of baroque art and baroque performance. The skills of art history such as research and the study of objects is essential for their productions Motifs, found especially in classical sculpture for example, and can be a great way to teach positions of the body or help engage students in historically informed discussions. For our course happening in the winter, we have used Ulysses sculpture at Versailles as principal inspiration. Furthermore, other courses I have taken in anthropology and archaeology have also helped the creation of this project.

I encourage any student to explore their interests outside of the classroom. Taking an independent study or internship course can help you broaden the scope of your interests. Not only does it provide a motivating challenge to complete a real project in the world, it also provides a space to develop your own ideas and have them realized in the broader community. These opportunities should not be overlooked by any student interested in a career in the arts.

Art Gallery of Ontario, Multisensory tour – Lauren and Rodin’s The Thinker

L to R: OA Board Member Jan Lambert, Lauren, OA Co-Artistic Director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg​​​​​@ a community workshop