Tapestry Opera's Selfie talks online bullying

Tapestry Opera's Selfie talks online bullying

Jenna Simeonov

Next week, Tapestry Opera opens its new season with a workshop presentation of Selfie, a new opera with text by Julie Tepperman and music by Chris Thornborrow. Selfie was a part of Tapestry’s Opera Briefs in past seasons, where Artistic Director Michael Mori says “it received the most support.”

The opera talks about online bullying, and tells the story of BFFs Cindy and Mindy, Mindy’s boyfriend Ty, and one pot-stirring “Ho-bag Heather.” Mori heard plenty of praise for the piece after its preview. “It also received the most criticism, I think partly for its use of profanity in writing and in song. But it’s the language that’s used.”

Selfie isn’t the first opera to talk about bullying; there’s Neil Weisensel and Shane Koyczan’s Stickboy, put up last year by Vancouver Opera, and James Rolfe and Camyar Chai’s Elijah’s Kite, a Tapestry Opera commission that premiered at the Manhattan School of Music in 2005. There’s something anarchic about the combination of teenage life and the Internet, and Mori finds Selfie looks at an unique facet of present-day bullying. “What’s really exciting about this to me is that it’s not just bullying, it’s about how easy it is to get away with it. Not only how easy it is to get away with, but how easy it can be to not actually feel connected to the effect of what you’re doing. It’s easy to leave comments on something, and in that moment it feels funny to you; but that thing lives there for somebody else to see, maybe forever.”

These workshop performances will be incomplete, yet “that’s intentional in that we really want the audience to be able to give us feedback,” says Mori. “We’re going to be bringing in some educators, some kids.”

Tapestry has already presented Selfie to students as part of the opera’s development process. “We did take it to Stratford, to a bunch of schools in that area, and the reaction was really, really strong. The biggest thing that they said was that, ‘we don’t write with misspellings.’ Texts and messages used to be written with misspellings, like shortcuts. They use autocorrect just like everybody else.” The creative team learned that teens don’t encounter, or fear, physical bullying; they’re more afraid of having their reputations damaged online.

“I would say the perfect demographic, for the impact of what the piece is trying to say, is going to be grade 8-10. People who are just going through their maturity, just entering this age where it’s far more common to be sexual in what you talk about and how you dress, and experimentation is a big part of that age.”

Mori has pressed the point before about the impact a relevant story can have on audiences; the workshop process of a piece like Selfie, and bringing it to schools, seems to confirm that point. “They loved the fact that it was dealing with things that they were dealing with.” Sometimes, opera can be simple in that way.

“I love the idea that this could tour schools, and both introduce kids in a different way, where it’s not so backward-looking, and find an absurd and comic way into a hard subject.”

Catch a pay-what-you-can workshop performance of Selfie on October 8th (7:30pm) and October 9th (2:30pm) at Tapestry’s Earnest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District. You can reserve tickets online, or pay at the door. I’m curious! Are you curious? For details and tickets, follow the box office links below.

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