A bunch of Carnegie Mellon graduates took their act the the mean streets of NYC last week. According to a NPR story, Bus Stop Opera made their Broadway debut–on the sidewalks of Broadway. The students spent time interviewing and listening to people’s stories while riding the buses of New York City and used the text to create a libretto for operatic performances set at the very stops they conducted those interviews. They tried it out in Pittsburgh first then took it to NYC.
While listening to the NPR interview, it first sounds like the group proves what we have already learned when Tasmin Little and Joshua Bell took their acts to the streets– nobody will stop and listen during rush hour. As the day progresses and the group moves to other locations, some people do pause.
As with the Bell and Little experiments, the importance of time and place when interacting with art is underscored. This isn’t just in regard to intangibles like being in a proper mental and emotional state to receive an experience but also very practical concerns like…acoustics. Not being able to hear is one of the most frequent comments made during the interview. A strong voice is no match for New York City traffic–especially the buses. The canyons of New York are also no substitute for the amphitheaters of ancient Greece when it comes to reinforcing the voice in an outdoor setting.
Bus Stop Opera gets my approval where the Bell and Little experiments didn’t. The Bell/Little events were about testing people’s reactions to great performances in their midst. Bus Stop Opera is specifically designed to be accessible and appropriate to the target audiences. An earlier approach was discarded when audiences had an averse reaction. Even though the group encountered the same indifference Bell and Little did, I suspect the results will diverge should Bus Stop Opera continue to pursue this project.