In what could be described as a prime example of “pivoting,” Boston Lyric Opera has created a mobile outdoor stage that will allow them, as New England’s largest and longest-running opera company, to continue bringing live music to locations throughout the city and Greater Boston.
BLO Street Stage made its public debut on Oct. 28, said John Michael Kennedy, a spokesman for the organization, with two 15-minute performances in front of small, socially distanced crowds at the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. Several unwitting neighbors who wandered over during the soundcheck and the first show to find out what was going even ended up sticking around for the second performance, since space was still available as the audience hadn’t reached the 35-person capacity limit in advance. (While three performances were originally planned for the afternoon, the second was postponed, Kennedy said, and the third ultimately canceled, due to inclement weather).
“It showed how starved people are for live performance and the live music that they haven’t heard for eight months,” Kennedy said. “I was pretty amazing, even though it was drizzly.”
BLO doesn’t have a permanent home and instead stages its performances at various area theatres, as well as at other local venues not typically used to accommodate live music, such as the DCR Steriti Memorial Rink in the North End for one recent performance.
“They’re adept at being at nontraditional locations,” said Kennedy, who added: “BLO had been trying to figure out how to do outdoor performances for quite a while, and once the pandemic hit, it rose back to the surface.”
Director of Production Jessica Johnson Brock embarked on this endeavor by first researching mobile trailers and mobile stages, Kennedy said, and she eventually found a company based in Georgia that not only built trailers, but also retrofitted them for different uses.
After it was customized to fit BLO’s specific needs and outfitted with a stage large enough to accommodate a piano or a small musical trio, the trailer, which measures 26 feet long by 8.5 feet wide, was white and otherwise unadorned when it arrived in Boston just before Labor Day.
The trailer was then transported to the Museum of Fine Arts parking lot, Kennedy said, where on Sept. 10 and 11, it was transformed into a mobile piece of street art.
The BLO had commissioned Artists for Humanity – a Boston nonprofit that provides paid employment opportunities for inner-city youth in the arts and is led by co-founders Jason Talbot and Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs – to create original artwork to decorate the trailer’s exterior.
“We provided a blank slate for street art for the Street Stage,” said Bradley Vernatter, the Boston Lyric Opera’s COO.
And for those who unable or not comfortable enough to attend in person, BLO Street Stage performances will also be made available via operabox.tv – a new streaming service the Boston Lyric Opera is using to deliver its original content, and which is available online at www.operabox.tv and via branded apps on Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
Meanwhile, upcoming BLO Street Stage performances are already planned for late November and early December, and following a winter hibernation, the program is scheduled to return again in the spring with more offerings and an expanded schedule.
“It’s going to be tough for anyone to have outdoor performances in a Boston winter,” Vernatter said, “but we hope to apply what we’ve learned this fall to implement a really robust programming schedule at many locations in the Greater Boston area this spring.”
For more information on Boston Lyric Opera and BLO Street Stage, visit blo.org.