Immediately following the 2pm matinee performance this Sunday, March 26th, of the Lyric Opera's eagerly awaited trio of new American operas, "Proximity," I will be moderating the panel, "Creating Change: Arts and Activism," a conversation with artists who are using different forms of expression to ignite change. This panel is to honor the memory of my Grandson, Joseph London Smith, and I am so grateful to the Lyric Opera for commemorating Joseph in this manner. They have been very compassionate.
The panel is being hosted by Lyric Unlimited and Tarah Ortiz Durnbaugh, director, creative engagement for the Lyric Opera, and will include four panelists. One of the panelists will be Barrett Keithley, a producer of culturally moving art experiences best known for his paintings/murals and nonprofit, Paint the City, which impacts social justice issues. The Lyric Opera of Chicago commissioned Keithley to create three original mural installations in the spirit of its other world premiere this season, "The Factotum."
Also on the panel will be William Estrada, an arts educator and multidisciplinary artist who explores power structures of race, economy, and cultural access in contested spaces. Shawn Wallace, a composer and arts educator who studies how music can enhance the story creation and storytelling process; and Karen Slack, an operatic soprano whose advocacy focuses on making the field more inclusive of people of color and women, round out the panel.
"Proximity" is an inventively creative departure from the traditional opera form as it consists of three mini-operas with three different composers, but the structures intersect with each other. Each story tackles timely topics such as the difficulty to forge a human connection in a technologically driven world, the urgency in protecting our planet's dwindling natural resources and yes, the shattering loss caused by gun violence in cities and neighborhoods across our country.
The three works featured in "Proximity" are "The Walkers," composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain with libretto by Anna Deavere Smith; "Four Portraits," composed by Caroline Shaw with libretto by Caroline Shaw and Jocelyn Clarke; and "Night," composed by John Luther Adams with libretto by the late John Haines.
Moderating the panel will be bittersweet. My grandson Joseph was a photographer and filmmaker whose life was cut short on August 13th of last year while scouting locations for a music video in Atlanta. He was an innocent bystander in a random shooting. Joseph was only thirty years old. We honored the innumerable gifts he brought to the world here.
Our family was devastated by Joseph’s death, and since he was an artist, we want to use art to honor him. Along came this opera like no other that challenges us to view our proximity from a sphere of hopefulness, or as Anna Deavere Smith eloquently stated at the Chicago Humanities Festival preview, "Hope isn’t a given, it’s a resurrection." We want to do everything we can to contribute to that resurrection of hope.
"Proximity" runs at the Lyric Opera in Chicago from Friday, March 24th, through Saturday, April 8th. For tickets and showtimes, click here.