Share the Glory - An Interview with LA Opera's Stacy Brightman

Senior Director, Education & Community Engagement, LA Opera

SHARE THE GLORY

An Invitation from Stacy Brightman, LA Opera Senior Director, Education and Community Engagement

By Diane Eisenman

Stacy Brightman develops and produces LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement Programs, which include family and student matinees, community opera, demonstration tours and community concerts for adults.  She manages artist-residencies, university-accredited teacher training, standards-based curriculum, materials development, adult education and pre-opera talks, Community Educators (formerly the Speakers Bureau) and Opera Camp.  She manages her department budget, oversees large-scale special projects, and cultivates prospective donors.  She does all that?  Amazing!

Stacy with Plácido Domingo

This is Stacy’s 13th year with LA Opera. “There is so much glory in what we do – we are on the front lines of converting people to opera,” she said recently.  Her mission is to advance and promote the opera art form.  Stacy definitely has her work cut out as she envisions an involved community where everyone in L.A. County (all 10 million!) can participate in opera and attend performances.  

She finds opera the most inclusive art form and loves working in Los Angeles because it is a pioneering city, where anything is possible.  People here say “Why not?” instead of “Why try?”

The Education Department’s focus expanded from students in grades K through 12 to encompass whole families, and now includes the greater LA community.  “We have to think strategically how to access each of many different interest groups – teachers, seniors, teens, kids, scholars, hospitals, veterans,” she added. Every program is a partnership with a community organization – schools, libraries, hospitals, senior centers, children’s services, and other non-profits.  Last year the department’s education and community programs served 122,000 adults and children.

Her department receives support from foundations, government grants, individuals and the Opera League, and she wants to be as smart as possible with these resources.  Waiting lists for her programs more than doubled last year, and the choices she and her staff must make are hard. “I’m deeply conscious of the fact that the reason I get to do my work is because somebody gave our department that support money.  I must use it wisely to have the most impact,” she said.

HER STORY

Stacy grew up in Los Angeles loving theater.  Her mother believed that giving children an education and a love and knowledge of the arts enables them to go anywhere in the world.  With limited financial resources, her mom took her to free or “cheap” arts events everywhere. Stacy now pays it forward to children and adults she invites to the opera.

She earned a PhD in Theater Research, worked in theater management, and was Education and Youth Outreach Director at the Friends of the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts until she joined LA Opera in 2000. She and her husband John have a daughter 15 and a son 17. The family vacations at historical sites, enjoying the characters and stories found there. She attends the theater often, which invigorates her, even after a busy day at work.

PERFECT MOMENTS

Stacy has had more than her share of “perfect moments” to motivate and inspire her. One day she stood in the back of Our Lady of Angels Cathedral during a Noah’s Flood performance watching 3,000 people sing with 500 LA Opera singers and orchestra members directed by Maestro James Conlon.  This vast community of singers brought together by a wide range of organizations, created a powerful moment for her that she will always remember. 

Another amazing moment came during Opera Camp last summer.  She witnessed 54 children holding hands and singing the children’s opera Brundibár with Holocaust survivor Ela Stein Weissberger, who 70 years ago sang the role of the cat at age 11 in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.  In this moment art, history and the importance of our common human spirit came together to be celebrated.

Ela Weissberger with the kids
(Photo by Robert Millard)

TOUCHDOWNS!

“I get high when I convert a new audience – when they “get it,” she said. Suddenly they love opera and want more such experiences.  This is a touchdown!  

We get there with programs such as these:

  • The Opera League COMMUNITY EDUCATORS are the first volunteers to interact with a new audience by presenting free talks and demonstrations at a community partner’s ‘home.’
  • THE COMMUNITY OPERA CHORUS NETWORK brings an LA Opera artist-teacher to form a choral group at a partner’s facility.  These groups are invited to join the Community Opera at the Cathedral conducted by James Conlon to experience being part of LA Opera.  This program also provides holiday recitals at hospitals such as the City of Hope and Huntington Memorial. The Chorus Network has 12 artist-teachers working around LA County.
  • THE COMMUNITY CIRCLE PROGRAM, launched last year, brings non-profit audiences to LA Opera to occupy 200 $9 seats reserved in the rear orchestra for every opera. When needed, grants are given to those who cannot pay.

VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE

Stacy wants to “convert” more audiences by placing more teaching artists across the county.  If we did that, she exclaims, “We’d get L.A. singing.”  She envisions 40 teacher-artists covering L.A. County.  These professional singers, also gifted teachers, share their passion for opera with young and old alike.  She hopes to expand other popular programs, such as the Opera Camp and school demonstrations.

“Doing my job would be impossible without the Opera League as a key partner.” Stacy thinks LA Opera is the nicest opera company in the world.  And Opera League volunteers play a huge part.   “You are so gracious.  You are the front line.  Our reputation among singers is built on the person welcoming them,” she said. League volunteers escort children and seniors to special dress rehearsals, greet singers at the airport and serve homemade meals to singers and staff on dress rehearsal nights. “That’s extraordinary!”

She invites us to join the programs she produces.  The need for Community Educators is growing.  Education and Community Engagement events have quadrupled and still growing. She encourages us to sing at the next Cathedral Opera, Jonah and the Whale, on March 21 and 22, 2014.  “Come be in the opera with us. Why not?”

Stacy hopes more League members volunteer to “share the glory” of working in this amazing world.  She wants us to experience a perfect moment, to realize that our service in support of the art of opera is well worth it.

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Author: Judy Lieb
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