“Lift Every Voice” Panel Transcription | June 5, 2020
Hosted by J’Nai Bridges, featuring:
Introduction from Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera's Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and CEO
<Christopher Koelsch> Good afternoon. I'm Christopher Koelsch and I want to welcome you for joining us today. I wanted to begin today with a reiteration of LA Opera's statement in the wake of unnecessary violence and deep anguish.
“As a community of believers in the healing powers of art, we have committed our life's work to exploring and understanding our shared humanity. We acknowledge the longstanding pain and frustration felt by so many, especially those in our black communities. We stand with them in sorrow and solidarity, opposed to prejudice, violence, devastation and inequality. We commit anew to self-examination and to devoting time, attention and resources necessary to do our part to heal wounds that are hundreds of years old.”
The statement is of course, meaningless without action behind it. I come to you today as the white male leader of this institution, and I won't pretend to have all the answers to the issues that plague our society. But I do know that it is essential and urgent that we work together and absorb the wisdom of so many voices as we affect real change. J'Nai Bridges, a supremely gifted artist and a leader in the operatic community, had the idea of hosting the discussion today about racial disparity and inequality in opera. I have the utmost respect for J’Nai as an artist and as a person and I'm deeply grateful to her as she leads an honest and frank conversation with a distinguished panel of opera professionals that, frankly, is long overdue. This is just part of a process of being more conscious and more intentional in both our words and our actions. We have urgent work ahead and a long way to go today and tomorrow. We stand in feedback.
<J’Nai Bridges> [00:05:05] Thank you Christopher, for that lovely introduction. I'm super happy to be here today and I'm just very grateful that my friends have agreed to join me. I would like to introduce them individually.
You can actually go to their websites and read their bios. I'm going to make it, you know, more personal of introductions. So with that being said, I would like to introduce Julia Bullock, who is my dear friend and the soprano that actually, you know, Julia is anything she wants to be. And that is something that I love so much about this woman. I am constantly inspired by her, and she's one of the most versatile musicians and people that I know. So, Julia Bullock.
Karen Slack, my dear sister who I've known since I was a student in grad school, is one of the most beautiful not only voices out there but souls that you will ever encounter. And I thank her for just being who she is.
[00:06:15] Next, we have Lawrence Brownlee, my brother who I literally don't think that there is anything he cannot do. This man sings on all of the world's greatest stages, speaks every language, plays tennis, salsa dances. That's my salsa buddy and I'm just so happy that he's here with us today.
[00:06:36] Russell Thomas, who is someone that I don't have a lot of personal experiences with but I feel so close to him because I've been observing and watching and studying him since I was a student. And I'm just so inspired and I hope to sing with him one day. I hope to sing with everybody. But I have dreams of singing with this incredible man.
[00:07:01] And lastly, but certainly not least, Morris Robinson, another one of my brothers that I met in 2008. I heard this voice on the Metropolitan Opera stage and in the opera “Salome” and I just thought, oh my gosh, who is this man? How is he making those sounds? And how can I meet him? So ladies and gentlemen, this is our panel for today. And I'm just so grateful for this family reunion. Hello everybody. Oh, my gosh. I can't see all of your faces.
[00:07:37] Larry, where are you? There you are, okay. Hi. Thank you for being here today. You know, it's really just great to see you all at once. You know, even if it's through a screen. I feel, I instantly feel better because it's a hard time right now.
[00:08:00] And I'll start off by just saying what this is. I mean, I was asked to do a virtual recital by LA Opera. And I as much as I wanted to accept that, I'm just not in a place right now to present in that way. And, but they did extend the invitation and said, you know, we would like for you to use our platform in whatever way you see fit.
So I thought, you know, I've been so inspired just by seeing how people have been able to continue to create in spite of COVID-19 and our jobs being stripped from us. Karen Slack has Kiki Konvos where she's weekly interviewing a wide variety of people in the industry. And I was a guest on her show. And it, you know, it's an amazing, amazing platform. The Sitdown with LB , Lawrence Brownlee has started his talk showand it's, you know, a place where people can come for advice and info in the pursuit of their career.
So I thought, “people are listening.” People are tuning in and I'm gonna be honest, I'm a bit nervous about this because this is something different. Speaking of our experiences as black artists in the world comes with something different. It comes with injustices and that's not easy for people to hear. It's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable to hear about them and it's uncomfortable to talk about. But it's time. It is..It is beyond time and I know people want to listen. I know people want to hear and I know people want to learn.
So, that's why we're here. I want to say that, you know, I didn't call you all to fix any problems. I don't believe that that's our job. But I do believe in using our platforms to inspire and so I hope that this talk definitely inspires people to make change and not just talk about.
[00:10:20] So let's talk, let's talk about our experiences and go from there. 2020 has really thrown us for a ride so far. And, you know, we're managing and combating multiple things; COVID-19, the loss of our jobs, ongoing police brutality and murder, protests, riots, looting and our own personal trials. So it's just a lot. It's really a lot. And the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police have sparked yet another outrage in this country. We know that these killings are not... these types of killings are not new, and they've been happening for hundreds of years in this country. But with that being said, I would like to delve in and that's my first question.
Why do you think there is such a big reaction now from white people and nonblack people about police brutality?
[00:11:41] Feel free to start. I would love to hear from all of you but if you don't, you know, if you don't feel like this resonates fine, you don't have to answer. But let's just go.
<Russell Thomas> I'll start. Okay. I think there was something about the image of that white police officer with his knee on that black man's back, in the middle of the street. His face flush against the ground and this guy had his hands in his pocket like he was taking a stroll through the park. There was something about that image that if you didn't think it was a problem before, that if that image doesn't penetrate in some deep and meaningful way, you don't have a heart. Because for me, I'm always bothered by it. We all have experienced various forms of varying forms of aggression from police especially us black men. I know for a fact us black men on here have. But there was something about that image that I think the callousness of it, how he just was so nonchalant about it. And this man is begging and pleading for his life and for just ability to breathe. Now, when we saw... again, we saw that in the Staten Island situation as well. The man said, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. But there was something about that moment that was different. I don't know why it is. Maybe it was the hands in the pocket. Maybe was, you know, it was something. And for me, it was that, that nonchalant, that oppressive action with this nonchalant attitude about it. That, to me spoke volumes. Absolutely.
<Karen Slack> I think because we've all been home. I'm sorry, Morris. I apologize. Sitting at home for two months, forced to address issues that we've all been ignoring or pretending like these, those things don't affect us. When you have to sit up and you'd been sitting on your couch and you look at your screen and you see, like Russell said a man casually sitting on someone's neck. That affects you on top of the you know, the COVID, people haven't been able to work, people haven't been able to get their unemployment, people haven't been able to feed their children and all of these other societal aspects that are already sitting in your belly. All of these things and you see that and you go it's right in front of you, you can't look away because there's nowhere you can go. You can't go to the store because the stores closed. You cannot go to church because church is closed. You can't even go to your neighbor’s house because we're all supposed to be social distancing. And so, I think that that is another reason why people just couldn't turn away.
<Morris Robinson> Inasmuch as COVID-19 has forced us all in a myriad of ways to look at ourselves and re-examine everything in our lives, because of the pause. Both your points are exact. We weren't able to do a whole lot else and we were forced to sit there and see it. And the casual nature, the evilness in his eyes, his refusal to move, his refusal to be budged by the people that were urging him to get off. The callousness that you could see being implemented, being exercised at that moment touched everyone. And you're right. We saw that the guy in Charleston get shot in the back. I saw the guy in Miami get shot in the back with his hands up. We witnessed, what’s his name, Eric Garner, the guy in New York get choked up by the cops. He had like 20 cops around him so you really couldn't see that well, but you know he got choked. But when you saw this, it was just one knee, one cop, hands in pockets and the guy's neck and head wedged between the car. I don't know how you could look at that and not have a heart. And I think that at that moment, everyone saw it and thought, “Okay, we really got to do something about this now because that's just ridiculous.” Now. Six of us on here and all of our family, that was just another occurrence.
You know, I know, and that's the sad part. I know that even when I leave my apartment going to LA Opera to do a performance. I've got to make it from my apartment to the LA Opera without getting pulled over by police. So, I might’ve end up in that situation. We know that every time we get stopped we could possibly end up in that situation.
But for other people to see it and see the heinousness of the crime. I felt like that was what sparked the interest and sparked the urge to say, okay, guys, enough is enough. We've been saying it, but now it’s good that everyone else is saying it. So that's my two cents.
<J’Nai Bridges> Yes, absolutely. Larry or Julia, do you have any comment on that? Ooh, can’t hear you, Larry.
<Lawrence Brownlee> Hello. There we go. Am I there? Okay, yeah, we talk about the callousness, but you know, it was a quiet, quiet defiance that I saw in him. You know, when these people were pleading and there was a lot, but it was just like he couldn't be bothered. He was not going to move his knee. You know, and I said something to someone earlier and actually posted it this week. Why couldn't he just move his knee? He didn't have to get up, per say, but why couldn't he just adjust his knee to make sure that the man could breathe properly? He still had him detained. He was outnumbered because there were several cops there, but not even so much as a gesture to readjust himself. So, when you have people seeing that in the light of day, the vision, the view was not obscured in any way. It was clear that this man was intentional in doing him harm and he couldn't think any more about this individual that he had on the ground. That he could have such a small opinion of that man's, the value of that man's life. It touched everyone at a really, really deep core. And people just thought, okay, I've been seeing this and hearing about it. It's out of my mind's eye but this is something that, as everyone else said before, we are, we can't be distracted because COVID has us inside. And so the fact that we could see this in the light of day, this man, nonchalant, quiet defiance was the thing that I think hit so many people in the stomach and made them think, whoa, something has to change.
<J’Nai Bridges> Yes. Okay, can't hear you Julia. Oh, Julia. Yeah. Yes. I keep reminding everyone else to unmute themselves
<Julia Bullock> This…The buildup to George Floyd’s lynching. It's, you know, as you were saying, Morris, we were all looking at Ahmaud and at Breonna, and these were shootings, very fast. And so everyone was already kind of in this mode of all right. And then what is the next thing to come and this brutal, quiet, calm thing. And then also the unfolding of the news afterwards of like, no, it's not just one man with a knee on his neck. There is a row of men behind, of police officers behind that were contributing to this… that were not, well, their intentions were very clear. I think that is the deal. It’s like the intentions of this action were super clear and there's no doubt about it. It wasn't... there's no slip of the hand. It's just a, yeah. Brutal hand homicide. [20:10]
<Morris Robinson> I think that the slow methodic killing, in retrospect, is almost a methodical parallel to America, black Americans.
<J’Nai Bridges> Absolutely.
<Morris Robinson > We've been saying for years, help us out. We're struggling here. Get your knee off our face. Get off our backs. Give us a chance. Give us this. Stop ostracizing us for this. Give us fair opportunity. I'm just trying to breathe. I'm just trying to live in this society. I'm just trying to eat like you eat and try to have the same advantage you have. And on the surface, it doesn't look like, you know, the guy was still talking so people say he was still breathing, but the blood wasn't going to his brain. The oxygen wasn’t getting to his brain. It was a slow methodical, tragic life-sucking death. And, you know, it's a parallel to how we are today, and people don't understand that. We carry this burden with us, this perpetual burden with us, this perpetual paranoia with us all the time. So I just want to put that out there.
<J’Nai Bridges> And I’m glad you put it out there, because I was just going to say that you know, Reverend Al Sharpton spoke at George Floyd's memorial and he spoke, he said that this is nothing new. You know, oppression is on our necks and it has been for over 400 years and in every way, to be honest. And so, you know, it’s still a question to me... Why, why the outrage hasn't been there before? But this is where we are, you know, and I'm personally grateful for the outrage.
<Lawrence Brownlee> Well, you know, another thing I wanted to say, if I might. The thing that has even made it more upsetting is because when you realize that but not for cell phone footage. You know, and they said that it was different in the police report. It was a contradiction what they saw in the police report to what was, you know, to what was seen on the video. So, you only have to think for a moment the countless lives that have been lost. The miscarriage of justice that has been, you know, implemented in so many millions of lives over the years because there was not cell phone footage. The incident in New York, in Central Park. Had he not recorded that incident in the fullness of it, that would have been completely misconstrued in a different way. And so, I am glad to the inventor of cell phone cameras that we can now document what we've been saying, as everyone is saying for many years. This has been happening so many times. You see how a situation that is, if you know, George Floyd to go back to him, if he was being pulled over or detained for a possible, probable forgery cause or crime. That is not, in my opinion, punishment for death but how these situations get escalated because of a certain attitude the police come already when it is a black guy. If you think about Amy Cooper in Central Park. She said code words that the cops would come with a certain attitude and mindset. She said the code words. So, she knew that that situation would heighten to a certain level and that is the upsetting thing with all of us. I got pulled over in L.A. before on my way to LA Opera rehearsals for doing nothing. And the attitude of the police officer was just completely out of hand. But I just said to myself, I'm going to live another day. I'm going to have the last laugh. I'm going to go home to my family. I'm going to wake up to see another day because I'm not going to allow myself to be provoked to a certain thing.
And so that's the attitude police and the mentality that they have towards us that you saw in both George Floyd’s death and the attitude when Amy Cooper was calling these policemen to have them come in with a certain attitude. That’s the thing that is so upsetting because it seems that there is never decency when we are approached in any situation that deals with the law.
<J’Nai Bridges> Yes. Thank you for that and there's certainly usually never an apology either. And that brings me. Thank you for that. It brings me to my next question. You know, George Floyd it could be you Morris, it could be you, Larry, could be you, Russell, and it could be us women as well.
As artists and as singers we are required to bare our souls in front of people, in front of huge audiences, in front of intimate audiences. That requires a huge sense of vulnerability and so how do you tune out the noise? You know, artists of every color deal with noise but there is an added noise that we have to deal with as black performers and artists. And you know, I'm still trying to figure out ways in which I tune it out because it angers me. But I still have to put on a show, so I'm just curious what, how do you guys do it?
<Russell Thomas> I wouldn't say that I tuned it out. I don't tune it out. I use it. I use it every way I possibly can. You know, a situation happened to me this year in a work environment. Unfortunately, one of my uncles was killed in a horrible car accident and there was, you know, funeral arrangements and all these things were happening, and I was in a work situation on a lot. I appeared a few minutes late to rehearsal regularly. That's my fault. Everyone was aware that this situation was going on. I expressed to them what was going on, what was happening and believe it or not the administration called me to a meeting because I was on my phone too much or I was late to rehearsal a few times too many. And in 20 years of singing…20, I have never been treated in the way that I felt was that I was diminished so much, and the work situation for the most part was absolutely amazing. But there was something serious going on.
And you know what? To tie it all in, that frustration that I felt with these people just not getting it and I ask the question, well, are all the people who come to rehearsal late, gonna be called into a meeting or is this just me? And you know what? I asked my colleagues that I saw come to rehearsal late. They didn't have a meeting. They didn't have a meeting, and these are things that we have to deal with. These are things that we have to deal with. I could pop off. I could pop off in a way that Russell Thomas can yell, you know me very well, you know that I have a tendency, I can be very mouthy. There's nothing, there's nothing that would, that wouldn't solve anything, that wouldn't solve anything. So, I came. I did my job with a level of excellence that I felt that showed me and my colleagues and the production and that represented the company well. And to me, that's how I use that situation. I came in to my friends and I told them all about it. I was like, can you all believe this happened to me while I was dealing with a death in my family? While I was dealing with trying to figure out how I was going to get home, if I was going to get a release. All these things were just logistics that I was trying to figure out. I felt in that moment that anyone else would have been given a certain level of consideration. But me the lone black man in the…no, not the lone, there was a few of us, but me in that situation. I was not given just the basic amount of consideration that I can deal with this problem and deal with it in a way, it wasn't interrupting anyone I was coming to rehearsal everyday anyways, and we'd sit around for ten minutes before we'd even do anything. So, it wasn't bothering anybody. But they had to put me in my place. Yes, it was. They were putting me in my place. You know, but this is what we deal with on a regular basis.
<Morris Robinson> [00:28:51] You know, I carry, and I talk about the perpetual paranoia of being a black man in America. You know, you talk about the 20 years, Russell, and I think me, you and Larry met each other at Opera Theatre of St. Louis back in 2000, which is exactly 20 years ago, almost to the day, we were going to do "Treemonisha." And so I've been singing for this business for 20 years. And when I came into this business and I'll say this publicly, because I have no shame in it. I'm a brother from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm from the south. All right. There are certain dos and don'ts that you just comprehended, and you understand. And when I came into this business, I was very, very cognizant of the fact that, A, I was a big, bald headed, black guy. I'm a former jock. I didn't come through the traditional routes of university and conservatory training. So, I'm an oddity already as it stands. That jock mentality, that jock image is going to follow me forever. And because of my black skin and my bald head and my big frame, it could be intimidating to a lot of people. I carry that with me even to this day, every rehearsal I go through, every interaction I have, every post-opera party which I don't hang out at a lot of times because just what happened in Central Park is another thing.. not just what happened with the police but what happened in Central Park is something that I've known for all my life to be something that can happen at the drop of a hat without provocation, without justification. So, I've managed and I'm very proud of this and I'm saying this publicly now so something jumps out at ya, you already know. I'm handling my business, I'm not doing this, but I say this publicly that I walk around every opera rehearsal I’ve ever been to guarded, cognizant of the fact that my interaction needs to be very public, in front of everyone and very innocuous such that all doubts, all potential images are eradicated.
So, people talk me up, and say, Morris, you know, you never hang out with us that much. I do some, but I spend a lot of time in rehearsals. I'm the guy that walks into rehearsals, I high five everybody, I hug everybody and I'm really happy to be there because I love what I do. And I love making music. I love making music with lots of people. I love everyone, the people that hand me my water, to people that wipe it off my head, the people that tell me which direction to go on stage, the conductors, everyone.
But I realize that, you know, this practicing safe distance has always been a practice of mine because it's self-imposed that if I infringe upon anything it could be misconstrued or someone's having a bad day and they want to say that I make them feel uncomfortable, because it's very easy for a 6’3”, 300-pound black man to make you feel uncomfortable, I carry that with me everywhere I go and that is something unique to us. That’s something unique to the black experience in this world.
So you talk about not this week, but you talk about how do we tune out the noise. In this country, we've been conditioned to just accept a certain amount of noise is going to be there. But you still got to do your job. You still have to rise above the fray. You may not get the accolades you deserve, but you still got to do it. So often as a lineman I did all the blocking but the running back got the touchdown. I'm not good. I needed a paper, but, you know, I did my job. You know, I get harassed on the way to the studio, but I've got to show up at rehearsal just like the other people or else somebody is keeping me from being at that level of performance. So it's a constant, perpetual weight to be carried. You know, the art of tuning it out is something that's inbred in me and inbred in us because we just deal with stuff and keep it rolling. You know black people are good at letting stuff roll of their backs. All right, that's my piece.
<Julia Bullock> I don't know if it's rolling off your back. It's just like how are we… conditioning is exactly the right word. And I think part of the outrage right now is that we're all so… I am so exhausted having to also put on a joyful, easy or face or if I present myself in this like constant state of understanding, let me. Okay. Let me just ask one more question and hear your answer and sort through it and sort through all of the noise that is being projected into my face to give a clear answer that is illuminating in some way. And it's just like or ….then on top to sing with…to find the, like, transparency and clarity through which to also deliver material so that it is a, I don't know, I’m not going say transcendent thing, but it sears through the center of everything else that we're dealing with and get to the heart of the piece that we're trying to deliver, because the message of the piece usually is something that's really, really important and critical for human, like, development. And yet it's like I'm just, I'm getting so tired of trying to make peace within myself, like it's not …My capacity to hold noise. I've gotten so damned good at it.
But, wow, I'm ready to like. I just need to say... I gotta close. It's like I'm ready to close the door right now. I just I cannot hear another word. I really can't. I want to see the words of people put into action. Really, I don't, I want to...
I want to see the resources and the money. I know that arts organizations are struggling, in ways. But there are also major endowments here with these places. There's a lot of money in our business. So I actually, I don't want to... it's very challenging for me to hear about any place saying that they are struggling to survive right now or that their voice must be heard right now. It's like there are actual voices of messages that need to be delivered to us that are not just about making sound in space. Like, right, it's not just about that. There are the pandemics and the crises that we're dealing with and have been dealing with for some time. That is, that is actual survival issues. So I am so fed up hearing this desperation in arts organizations, excuse me, I am so fed up hearing about desperation in arts organizations. The perspective is so skewed. Like, it's so, so skewed and oblique and I can't I just cannot hear any more of it. Really. Can’t hear any more. We should be the ones able to provide the models. This is what we study. This is what artists study. We study these patterns and try to give them back, embody them and give them back to people. I'm just so... what have we learned? And why aren't our arts organizations ahead of the curve, leading this?
<J’Nai Bridges> Yes. Yes.
<Julia Bullock> Why are we constantly having to be the ones who are... the performers, non-white performers are constantly the ones who are having to fight? Okay. Let me clear the air. Let me try to clear the air again. I’m done, I’m done.
<Russell Thomas> And Julia, you make a great point, because even in this entire blackout situation, COVID situation. I mean, our very thing, all of these things like how can you guys help us help you? You know, everybody knows what's right and what's wrong. Everybody knows what's right and what's wrong. Arts organizations shouldn't have to be shamed into making a statement, you know, or shamed into doing what's right. That shouldn't be the case. You're absolutely right. And you have every right to be tired of it. I think we all are tired of it. And then how do...But we can't, unfortunately, we can't say all the time. I'm tired of it. We can't say that.
<Morris Robinson> We call each other.
<Lawrence Brownlee> Well, we do. You know, and, you know, there's this attitude that we have, I think it is built in this business, that we understand that it seems like we're always walking around apologizing for who we are. It's like we have to be in an environment and try to make everybody comfortable. I don't want you to be offended. I don't want you… by something I say or I don't want you to feel left out. I don't want you to feel like there's any, you know, viciousness coming towards you. You should like... we're always trying to make everyone else feel comfortable and no one has regard for our comfort level. You know, that's the part that we get fed up with. It’s tiring.
And one of the things, you know, like you said before, we're family and some of the people that you have on here are really, you know, some of my closest friends on the planet. And so we have to touch base with each other from time and time again and we'll say to each other, look this is what this one’s like or you shouldn’t take this. You want to make sure that you represent yourself in this way. We have real heart-to-heart conversations because we have to be pulled back in. Because if you think of an artist that is constantly pouring out, pouring out, sometimes we have to be filled back up. And in those environments, we're not because we're steady, you know, steadily trying to use our energy to be to pass or to make everyone feel okay. To say, okay, let's accept him because he is the odd person in the room. And so, yes, it's tiring. Yes, it's exhausting and it's one of these things that at a certain point, you know. It comes out and we don't want those. It shouldn't be that way. It's just a difficult thing with us all to deal with. But it's something that we deal with on a daily basis.
<J’Nai Bridges> Wow, yeah. Thank you. Thank you all for expressing that. You didn't have to do that. But I hope people, I hope people hear us and hear you. Ok and so for the next question, that just kind of brings me…I've been receiving so many texts and calls from my white friends, and it's nice. It is and I appreciate it and I love them, but I need action. You know, what does true solidarity look like? And honestly, I'm tired of answering that question and I understand if you don't want to answer it.
<Morris Robinson> I'm 51 years old and I've never seen it. So, I don't know what it’d look like but you all could talk about it.
<Russell Thomas> I tell all my colleagues on this thing that I speak to on a regular basis. I don't want an ally. I'm sorry. You don't need to be my ally. I don't want you to be my ally. I want you to do what's right. You don't feel like it's right? Leave it alone. But don't feel like you're doing me a favor. I don't want your favor. I want you... Right. You know what? And it shouldn't…the onus should not be on any one of us on this panel to tell you what's right, because we all know what's right. We all see the injustice. We all see it.
<Lawrence Brownlee> We talked about it this week. We've talked about it. Like I said, I talked to some of these people on here every day. We've talked about it and all of us have been reached out to by, at least, probably 50 people each. Some of our white colleagues and friends that I truly, genuinely believe they care about us and they want to do something but right now, at this moment, it seems all too convenient for them to do it. And sometimes it can even come off a bit flat. I don't think they intend for it to be flat, but it doesn't come off as genuine. Because it’s, I don't want to say opportunistic, but the timing is just a little bit fishy. And so it was funny because I started something today. I'm not trying... I said, you know, if you're saying this, you want to be an ally, let's get off the fence. And so I'm actually doing this thing where we're going to read books together and have real discussions and let people not sit on the sidelines.
There's a book that we're going to read, and I talked to my guys about it last night, it is called “White Fragility.” This is just a talk, a beginning of a conversation about racism that a lot of people just don't identify with. They're like racism. What is that? But somebody needs to have an honest conversation and this is going to go beyond you pushing a like on Russell's page from something he said, or sharing a video that Morris did or commenting on something that Julia wrote on Instagram. You know, it's got to go beyond that. You have to be active in trying to change yourself because you're getting information that you cannot... if you're going to be a part of this you cannot avoid. So that's one of the ways then. Okay. You want to be nice and send messages and that's nice, but go beyond that. Take another step and educate yourself about what it is we deal with in this country.
<Julia Bullock> Yeah. Because I would say we have had to educate ourselves so intensely on how to just survive up until this point. And I mean, every single arts organization has their own issues. Right. Every school. And one thing I've just… I think because I grew up in a, raised by a white mother and a white stepdad at a critical time in my life when I was developing my identity, it’s like I developed a skill to navigate white spaces. And so…what I have encountered is even just being raised by white parents, it doesn't mean that they are sensitive all the time to the realities of what I'm dealing with.
And so, I had to find ways, methods, I guess, in order to communicate clearly about why, like how this…how a statement or a behavior impacted me. And it's like. And the emotional connection was real. So, and then maybe a shift in thinking started to happen. So I have been just trying to think of ways in which, like… I don't know if audiences, organizations really know the patterns that exist. I don't know if they have read the stories. I don't know if and that if we could collect …and then I'm not talking about us like explaining sitting one on one explaining our experiences to people.
And I was talking to Golda Schultz earlier today and she's like, “I cannot relive my trauma and keep explaining my trauma over and over again in order for somebody else to learn something.” I was like, well, exactly. But sharing it in a, I don't know, needs to be anonymous or what…sharing your every single experience. And for all of us. Oh, my God. It would be so interesting to track all of our experiences and to lay them out and then to hire either through AGMA or the arts organizations could hire somebody from the outside to compile all this data, see what the patterning is. And then we could take it into. I don't know, we could do trials of one arts organization and maybe one school and see like can we look at the cycling of the systemic shit that has been going on and every single place may be a little bit different but there will certainly be some commonalities across every single platform and in every country. Like, right?
I mean, I will say, like the realities in the music business or in our business. It's not the same as the police brutality that we're facing outside. I do feel that we don't have to solely focus on the black experiences. I think there are a lot of people who are dealing with racism. A lot of people are dealing with racism, sexism. Like, it's …there's so much oppression and insane behavior, cultural behavior happening within rehearsal rooms…before we even get to rehearsal. It's like, why have we just accepted and somehow just said, Oh, well, I've learned how to work this system and I broke through. Here are six people here who, yes, in our ways, we've each kind of broke through. Man, it is heartbreaking talking to some younger generations of artists and they can't even imagine speaking. They're terrified to even speak about what they experienced because they have no idea if anyone will listen, care or understand it.
<Karen Slack> Can I speak? I didn't get a...
<J’Nai Bridges> Please, please, please. Karen, I'm sorry
<Karen Slack> I didn't get a chance to talk about my own experience with learning how to navigate through the system. Right, learning how to navigate you know, oftentimes I've not been as fortunate to work in some of the places that you guys work. I've been working long and hard, you know, and I sacrificed a lot to do this, to do this business, to do this. You know, to make my art and you know, carrying the bags, the weight of… as being a woman, being a black woman, being a full-figured black woman in this industry. Which everyone might think, oh, it makes sense but it's somewhere along the line, things shifted. You know, the bar got shifted in different ways. You know, sometimes, you know, you carry that weight into a rehearsal space. You carry that weight on the stage. I mean, the weight of all of the bags that you have to carry, you know. And I think that the lack of compassion and understanding is a lack of humanity. A lack of understanding that the same stuff that you're dealing with, a director, the conductor, oftentimes the people that you're working with, you know, that we're dealing with the same things you get on top of the other bags. And it is a heavy weight. It's a heavy load. And I ask for empathy and understanding, you know, and humanity like moving forward that's got to be my demand. That's my expectation. I now will not allow anything less than that. I will not accept anything less than what I worked for and I deserve.
For me, allyship means that people understand that I'm not asking for your seat. I'm asking you to move over so I can sit in mine and you be okay with that, and you be okay with that. I don't want your fee, I don't want your job. I want what I worked for and I want you to be comfortable with that, because I'm here to do it together. I'm not here to, you know, outsing somebody, outdo somebody, outshine. That’s gonna happen naturally, if it is what it is, you know. We can really talk. Let's talk. Know what I mean? I'm not trying to do anything. But if you allow me that space, I'm going to do what I do because that's what you paid me to do. Be on the stage or in a leadership position. So that needs to be the understanding and my plan and I will not accept anything less than that.
<J’Nai Bridges> Wow.
<Russell Thomas> I want to add one more thing before we move on to the conversation. Morris, I don't know if you remember this. I'll just tell the story and you let me know. We were doing “Trovatore” in a summer place, and we were at a board party or at a party of leadership people and people on the board. We were on one side of a river and then there was another side of a river. And a white man, I'm sure he was well-meaning, he was a sweet guy but he walks up and put his arms around me, you know, over my shoulder. I think he had his other arm around Morris’s shoulder. And he said, “You see that bridge right there? My daddy built that bridge.” And I said, “okay.” And I knew where this story was going. Then there was the older bridge that they hadn't torn down and he said, “You see that bridge right there? You boys wouldn’t been able to cross that bridge.”
<Morris Robinson> Sure did. I was right there.
<Russell Thomas> "You boys wouldn’t be able to cross that bridge."
<J’Nai Bridges> “Boys”?
<Russell Thomas> Oh, yes. I looked at Morris and he said, “Man let’s go.” Because where I'm from, that would have gotten a very visceral reaction from me. You can't say things like that to people and think it's okay.
<Morris Robinson> Well, we’ve still got to sing for them, too. That's the crazy part.
<Russell Thomas> Yes, I still have to do it because I still have to come and I still have to do my job because I still want to get that check because I've got family, mouths to feed, mortgages to pay. I have responsibilities. Again, Russell Thomas likes to pop off, but I can’t because I know that will interfere with my responsibilities. But here is where we go. Here's where the ally shit comes in. If you want to be an ally, I don't want you to be my ally. I want you to do what's right. The right thing to do is to tell that white man, “You can't speak to my artist that way. Thank you for your donation of how ever much it was. Thank you for sponsoring whoever you sponsor. But if we have to take that sponsorship and deal with that. Keep your money.” I don't think anybody's brave enough to do it. I don't think they are brave enough to do. But that's what allyship is.
And for the singers that say “what can I do?” Well, first thing you can do if you want to really do something serious. This is serious. Let's not talk about blackface or anything else. Want to do something serious? Any company whose leadership or staff does not look like the community that they're building sits in, refuse to sing there. Refuse to sing there. Do you want to do something? Do that. Refuse to sing there. They're putting black bodies on stage and I'm sure all of us are appreciative of that. But if you really want to make a difference, if you really want to do something. And I don't….again, it's a hard ask. I don't want to make anybody do anything that they don't want to do. But if you're asking me what you should do, this is what you should do. Go look at these companies that have one Asian man, maybe one black woman, maybe one black woman working there in their staff of 30 people, maybe. But, you know, but look, you see the people who are cleaning up, the janitorial staff, they all black. They all black.
What about those other people in those arts positions? Those leadership positions? Come on. What about those people asking and raising money? What about those people? This is action. If you want to do something actionable instead of asking if this person wears blackface or not, say I refuse to work at a company that does not hire black people. That does not make a concerted effort to place ...to get black board members. Because if the money is there, the money is there. The spirit of giving is there. But who's asking them for the money is very important because if somebody that doesn't look like me, comes and asks me, then I go and see show and then nobody on that stage looks like me. Then am I going to give you my ten thousand, twenty thousand, hundred thousand dollars?
<Julia Bullock> Yes, and representation is super important, right? It is. But what are we representing exactly, how and what is being represented?
<Morris Robinson> You know, what Russell said hits the nail on the head. And I've gotten the reputation for the guy that’s articulate, knows how to say the right thing about... So I've edited about 400 statements from companies and individuals trying to make sure we say the right thing. But if you had Tamika Johnson on your staff, you might not have to ask me, right?
I’ve said this before, I never, I've never...because I never worked in Michigan Opera Theater... and I've been blessed to work at every “A house” in America, I've never been hired by a black person. I've never been directed by a black person. I've never had a black CEO of a company. I never had a black president of the board. I never had a black conductor. I never had a black director. I haven’t even had black stage managers. None, not ever for 20 years. So, we have companies now trying to address the issue that don't have the personnel that make decisions that are in my best interest. My interests aren’t their interests at all. No one thinks about the things that they don't think about. So it doesn't affect us. You know, we were just lucky that we got our number called. And we are lucky. We are blessed because for a myriad of reasons. First of all, everybody on here is immensely talented, or else we wouldn’t get the job in the first place. So that kind of goes back to the regular world you have be better than great. Just to be average. So that's that part. But, you know, it doesn't just reflect that. Also, what you're saying, Julia, what you're saying is representation on the staff will help feed representation on the stage, the stage will also help feed the audience.
<J’Nai Bridges> Yes, exactly. And that really is, it's tying into my next question. Julia, anything you want to say?
<Karen Slack> I just want to say, I'm a little bit tickled by the frantic…I'm sure the offices of opera companies were going crazy trying to figure out... arts organizations. What in the hell are we going to do when there's no one, not even one black body? And I'm a little bit tickled by that.
<Morris Robinson> They’re all calling Morris! “Who do we turn to?”
<Karen Slack> They don’t even have Tamika! You know what I mean?
<Julia Bullock> Talk about representation. It's like there is a scramble right now also to have, okay, platforms like this to put a lot of black faces up on screens because, you know, even when COVID hit people worried about how are we going to get content, how are we going to stay relevant, how do we let people know that we're in the space. We're sharing. We're sharing in the moment. Representation. Black people have been representing themselves on stage for a long time. We have not necessarily been represented the way that we want to or been represented the way….yeah, anyway…
I have to ask us also. It's like, what are we even doing here? A reason why I'm here, J’Nai ,as you said, I wanted to see you all today. It is so hard being apart from you all right now. It is so weird and hard. But that is why I'm here. I'm here to, like, listen and be a part and laugh and cry. But I am not actually here for a platform of promoting anything right now or being positioned to do any, one more thing right now. When you think of representation, we've had that conversation. We've had it.
<J’Nai Bridges> We have and we need action.
<Russell Thomas> And when does that representation of this ask, this is going to be a hard one, stop becoming representation and start becoming tokenism. When does that line come? You know what I mean?
<Morris Robinson> We don’t even have tokenism yet, though, so I mean…we don’t even have that yet, brother.
<Russell Thomas> We have to think about these asks, how we deal with these asks. Like Julia said, are we here promoting LA Opera? I love the people at LA Opera. They've been great to me, they've been great to me. What are we doing here?
<Karen Slack> I’m here because J’Nai invited me.
<Russell Thomas> There you go. Amen. My sister friend asked me to do something and me, Russell Thomas, being the guy that I am, I'm here to support her. You understand what I mean? Not…Again, like I said, LA Opera has been good to me. Josh and Christopher have been good to me. That chorus, that orchestra, Jim has been good to me. But in this moment right now. I'm worried about how I'm gonna feed my family. I'm worried about can I go outside and not get sick? I'm worried about can I go outside and not get killed? You know what I mean? These are the things that we as black people have to always have in the forefront of our minds. And we have to think, am I doing this? And is it being done for the right reasons? And are we being representative or are we just here shooting the shit?
<J’Nai Bridges> Right. And I hesitated doing this because of that exact idea. You know. We're putting our necks on the line potentially. You're my friends, I love you. I wanted to do this, though, because I'm tired of having these conversations with you guys. I'm tired of having them at all. But if we're gonna have them, why not here? Everybody can just hear us, see us do what you want with this information. I hope and pray that it moves you as much as that video did of that cop murdering that man. But that's why I gathered us here today. Not to teach, but to be with my family and stop talking about this so privately, I can't do it anymore.
<Morris Robinson> It's almost a shame that we have to, even in this type of environment. We don't know who's listening and watching. And that's always in the back of our mind. Because, you know, for us, at least in my mentality and I believe this to be 100 percent true. All it takes is one mistake. To say one wrong word and all of a sudden Russell is an angry black man. I don't feel comfortable with him being in this environment. You know, I used to like Morris, but he's a little too radical now with this whole black thing. Maybe we can hire another guy that’s safer. I'm like on the edge of that all the time because I came into this business saying I'm not going to alter who I am. I've been…for 30 years I was myself. So why am I going to try to act and be something else? I can't act on stage, act at home, act in settings. There’s always something… so we're always this close, we are carrying that weight as well. We have vested interests. We have careers to protect. You know, we got families to feed, mouths to feed. And so one wrong word taken by anybody the wrong way and now my career is over. I don’t know if everyone has to live with that type of thing. But I know we certainly do.
<J’Nai Bridges> We certainly do and it's wrong, it's not natural and it's not our job to fix, you know. And going back to I will kind of answer for me. The question of what solidarity looks like. It's and this might trigger some people but I think that this… you need to educate yourselves and look up what privilege actually means, what white privilege means.
Because I feel like when people hear terms like racism, white privilege, what else is something that I'm… entitlement. That they just get offended, but actually look up the terms and see if you fall under that in any way. You know, it's not…Don't take it personally, literally, just I feel like people can use this time, especially that we're all locked in. To heal yourselves. You know, I personally don't want to go to the theater and hear somebody sing and watch a production if you haven't done that work, you know, because it shows. It really does show.
<Julia Bullock> Oh, it does. It resonates loud, loud, loud.
<J’Nai Bridges> Yeah. It does. And as much as you think that you're hiding behind this big, beautiful set, the costumes and stuff. You hear it. You see it. So that's what I ask.
<Karen Slack> And in no way can any of us do that, go in without doing the work.
<J’Nai Bridges> Right, and I also wanna say this might be a trigger word, but white supremacy. I'm not talking about Ku Klux Klan and I think a lot of people automatically correlate white supremacy with the KKK. Yes, they are obviously white supremacists, but white supremacy comes in so many forms. It's overt, It's subtle. It's everywhere. And it's not enough to say that you're not racist and that you have black friends or a black uncle or a black family member. You have to be anti-racist and it's hard work. You know, it's hard work. It's uncomfortable, but it's okay to be uncomfortable. You need to be uncomfortable because we are, we could potentially be uncomfortable. Actually, I will say I am uncomfortable in some way every day of my life. And that's not to say that I'm giving power to the system, but to have to act in an opera, essentially in real life, to have to be an actress. That's not comfortable. So it's time for people to be uncomfortable that don’t just look like us, you know,
<Lawrence Brownlee> It's all too easy for them to stay in their comfortable place, though. That's the thing when we talk about doing the work. And actually, they have to be energized to do something. They have to say, I want to work on me. But the beginning, just like Alcoholics Anonymous or other things, you have to state and realize that you have a problem. And if you're not actively doing something, you're like, oh, I'm not actively, you know, projecting these things on black people so I'm not racist. But you're absolutely right, J’Nai, racism is clutching your purse a little bit tighter in, you know, when you're walking past a person of color having not met them.
I said something before that I remember walking down the street and I had worked really hard and I had bought a Rolex watch, right. I was walking down a street and I walked past a person that seemed to clutch up, you know, they’re watching their things. And I was like, my watch costs more, in my mind, cost more than everything you have on. But you're more afraid of me. You don't know that I've been fortunate to have seen almost 50 countries. And, you know have been blessed to do all the things I've done. You've reduced everything that I've accomplished in my life to being someone that can inflict harm upon you. Where the truth of the matter is, you're more of a threat to me than I am to you. And by looking at, you know, what your shoes look like. It's just like when. Yes. And so this is the thing that we find hard to deal with because everything that we've accomplished, it's amazing. We could go and have a huge success at the Metropolitan Opera or Covent Garden or La Scala or whatever it is. We could have that and that can all be ruined by someone walking down the street, walking past you, looking or talking to you like you don't belong. And the power in how they can reduce you to nothingness is really hurtful. You can have the accolades and then you're nothing. They rob you of things like that and that's the things that hurt really deeply.
<Karen Slack> You could have just sung on the stage. Someone could have just come to your performance and you walk out the stage door and you walk to wherever the car, the curb and be disrespected by the same person that was standing up applauding you.
<J’Nai Bridges> Now, that's a crazy one.
<Morris Robinson> You all heard my stories. First off, Larry, if you mention your Rolex watch again, I’m going to slap you. I can’t afford one, so that’s a tenor talking (It’s called tenor fees). If I weren’t on a public forum, I’d have a lot to say to you right now.
I'll say this because I said before, I was at the Metropolitan Opera. I was a young artist. I just sung the same broadcast that they just put on last week. I had just sung the final dress rehearsal for “Salome.” And I was standing in the lobby of the final dress rehearsal with my colleagues, with my backpack on I think I had my baseball cap on backwards and we chillin’, talking about the show. This little old white lady walked up to me and said "sir, sir.” I say “yes, ma’am?” I'm thinking she’s going to tell me how great I sounded as the First Nazarene because I smashed. She was like, I just want to let me know that the light is out on the third floor bathroom in the women's bathroom. And I was with my colleagues and they were all like, “What the hell?” But I was like, “Yes ma’am, I’ll look into it. Thank you very much.”
Or when I was the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and I ain’t got no Rolex but I do have a black Cadillac Escalade. It was valet parked and after the show, I just got through singing “Madame Butterfly” with Russell. I'm standing, right, it’s very stereotypical… I'm standing at the valet spot waiting for my car to come up. This other white lady walks up to me and says, “Sir, sir, excuse me. Where'd you park the bus?” The bus? I had just gotten off stage.
So, you know, it's a mentality that is ingrained in our society that we are only capable of being certain things. And they see that your approach, no matter if you just got done singing in Italian or German onstage. And they paid $300 dollars to see you and they clap for you when you walk off that stage. They see you, they think that you're the help. It's a horrible feeling. You know, it really is.
<J’Nai Bridges> It is. I can tell stories but I'm just gonna move on to the next thing because it's just all exhausting, you know? But, you know, so many companies are lifting their voices and platforms in solidarity. It's hopeful. It's a start. However. What are ways that you would like to see companies really hold themselves accountable to black people?
<Russell Thomas> I was going to say, fix the problem that Morris has. That you've never been conducted by a black person. He's never been hired by a black administrator. He's never had a black stage manager on the stage. Fix that problem then…that's how you can be…show your solidarity. Again. I addressed this already, but that's the only way to me that anything meaningful is going to happen. And I'm not saying that we have to, again, have an affirmative action approach when it comes to casting, hiring or anything else. What I'm saying is we've all had colleagues that decided one day to stop singing for one reason or another. And the next day or the next week or the next month, they have a job in administration. We've all seen some black colleagues who've decided this career is not moving fast enough. I'm not really doing it. They apply and apply and apply. They have master's degrees, doctorate degrees. They apply for these jobs. They know the repertoire. They know the languages. They know all the stuff that could be beneficial to an opera company or symphony orchestra. They can't get an interview. Do we not see the problem here? Do we not see the problem?
But all of the opera companies say, we're very diverse. We have, you know, a gay man, and an Asian man, and, you know, this, this, this. We have people of color. I don't want to hear that. I'm sorry. It doesn't work for me. It doesn't work for me. I think that, you know, if you really want to show solidarity, put your money where your mouth is. Stop blocking people and you might not be doing it in a conscious way. I don't think many are…I'm going to give them an out and you know me, I don't give outs. I'm going to give them an out. You may not be doing it on purpose, but I assure you, you are doing it. You are doing it. I know some of us have really good friend: Afton Battle. Genius mind, she knows how to raise money, knows how to write grants. Does all of it. She's applied to every opera company in America in all of the big cities and has not been given an interview in most of them or have not been hired. And these are positions that have high turnover rates. Look on Opera America jobs, you'll see every couple of years. They're looking for, you know, major gifts officer, this person, this person, people who need to raise money, people who need to do work that this woman is uniquely qualified for. She doesn't get hired. She doesn't even get an interview. And this people it will be the fix, that's all.
<Morris Robinson> Look at the music staff. I mean, just about every other company in the country other than Howard Watkins. We have one black CEO in Michigan. We have no black artists in administration that hires talent. We have no black marketing agents, except for Dallas Opera, maybe. You know, if you want diversity, if you really want to embrace diversity, it starts really at the top. It doesn’t start at the bottom, it starts at the top. And I saw something today, the CEO of Reddit. I don't know much about them, but I think there are like a thing. He stepped down. Gave a million dollars to Colin Kaepernick’s charity fund and said, “I want you guys to replace me with an African-American candidate because we're going to start here. We're going to work our way down to make sure that we're doing everything we can to address the issues in a responsible way.” Now, I don't know if we take that drastic measure in the opera companies. But we certainly, as Russell said we certainly need to look at the administration. We need to look at the board because if you're not diversifying your offices how do you expect to really represent diversity on-stage and with your audiences.
<Karen Slack> Like Julia said, there's money to do that. It's money to actively recruit. Now, also, I get calls from my friends who are administrators. You know we're looking for a woman, you know, to take this position we are specifically holding this position for a woman of color.
I'm like, go find a recruiter who’s screening everyone else and to actively seek in other arts communities because in dance, in theater, there is diversity in those other arts communities. And people who would cover our industry, our art form so beautifully well may not have even thought, well, opera really. And what the rich, you know, artistic value that they have that we can just flourish in our community. You know, we just don't do that. We don't actively go where we don't actually go into communities of color. But we don't actively go into other art forms. Listen, opera is the one thing that incorporates all the art forms, you know, orchestral, vocal, dance, theater, costume design, all of those things. Why aren't we…well, pulling out the table and inviting people to eat to see what they can bring into our community. I don't think that's done enough. And it's definitely damn sure, not done in black arts communities.
<Russell Thomas> At the bare minimum stop doing “Porgy and Bess” with a white director, a white conductor. At the bare minimum, bare minimum, and not allowing white people to tell black people about the black experience. At the bare minimum. I'm sorry. That's to me is outrageous. Don't let me come on a stage and you tell me about how I should feel to be black and how black people move, you know? Really?
<Morris Robinson> I had the same conversation. I was doing “Show Boat” at one of the many companies I've done it at. And I won't name the company because they know the person. But I had a female, I had a white lady from Iowa who was the English diction coach on “Show Boat”. And after the first rehearsal, she walked over to me with the score. Was trying to tell me that, you know, you don’t sound like what we're reading here in the score. And I'm like, you know I’m from Georgia.
So I get it. I mean, that was a funny epithet thrown in there. But you're right. Russell. I mean these things have to be addressed from the top down and we have to make some commonsense decisions. Now, one of the problems that we are gonna have here, and I'm a businessman also, that a lot of decisions that are being made in opera companies are business decisions before their artistic decisions. Right? And there are lots of mouths and hands you have to keep happy. And the people that write the checks have a lot of weight in this business. A lot of times they determine a lot of things. So I think we are up against that part of the establishment too. We are up against people that write checks, having a very strong influence over the company. And I don't know how to ward that off, but I think that if I'm running a company, you put it in my head, it's a public company. Let me do this part. We appreciate your donations but trust me to run the business. Again, the administration’s gotta make the right decisions. So, I think that's one of the drawbacks. Or at least is a cop out. I don’t know what it is, but I hope we take that into consideration and figure out how to get around that part of it as well.
<Lawrence Brownlee> I think companies are trying to be deliberate and that's the word you have to be deliberate when trying to make those changes. You have to say, I'm going to do this because it needs to be done. Forget affirmative action. We need to have black people in administration. We need to have black people on all this and do it on purpose.
I remember talking to a general director and this really impressed me. I was doing a show and I won’t mention the place. I was doing a show and the cast was very diverse. Well, I guess I can mention it was Houston Grand Opera. The conductor was a black man, Roderick Cox, a fantastic young conductor. The chorus, everything was so beautifully diverse. And so I remember that this General Director told me someone made a statement to him saying, you know, wow, is that what we're doing? Are we doing the diversity thing now? And he said, what do you mean? She said, I see that it's pretty diverse on stage as if she had a problem with it. He said the people that are on stage should be on stage. And that's why they are. You can call it whatever you want to be. I think it's just the right people doing the jobs they were meant to do.
So, you have to be deliberate. And you have the intestinal fortitude to say to some of these deep pockets who keep your seasons afloat, they have to trust you because they all appreciate the artistic experience. But you have to say to them, thank you for your contribution but this is my lane that I stay in, you know. And so, and let them know that your endeavors are what you want them to be. I want to have a very diverse, you know, equally acceptive of all genders and races and everything like that. That's what we're doing artistically. Your part is something else. So, either you can remain in your lane or we're still going to go on with our mission. So, I was happy that he did that and I was a part of that experience. So, it was beautiful to see that. And I hope more people will be intentional and deliberate in putting people in places and really making sure that their mission goes forward.
<Julia Bullock> I just want to bring up the education piece of…When we're talking about reaching out to the black community and putting the resources where your mouth is. I do not know the ins and outs of all of the education programs at these arts organizations, but I do feel that there can be more. There must be more that is done and honestly, like even just presented to the artists that come in. I know. Like for myself. I mean, when I come in for a production, my mind is in many, many places. The minute that somebody says to me, like, hey, do you have time to go to a school or would you like to give us some free lessons or whatever, like master classes. Yes, yes. Because it's not just about like dropping off a group of artists into schools and giving them like… and “here's a little, mini show of the bigger show, grand opera show. Please come join us.” Like that is not enough.
Again, I don’t know everybody’s story but how I got involved in the arts and classical music in particular is because somebody took interest and time with me to hear my voice. And invest. There was just like, and spark my imagination. But it's this one-on-one really committed, focused time that I know. We coming it’s so enriching for us. We are so desperate to get out into these communities. Also when we're traveling across the world, we don't know we don't know half the time the neighborhoods that we're entering into. So we need help as well. And to be presented with ideas right away. Here's many options of where your energy can go while you're here if this is something for you.
And also I am no longer interested in hearing the word like community outreach anymore. Honestly, it's like either you are engaged in your community or you are not. And words are really important. The language of it is really important.
<Karen Slack> I oftentimes talk about development directors being just as knowledgeable as an artistic administrator is when they're casting. And I think that is another key to community building, community development is having someone that understands. They can navigate the ins and outs of that.
<Russell Thomas> Of course, because there's money in the black community. There are CEOs and businesspeople that also want to get those tax breaks. But, you know, and you can tell them you don't have to give your money to this mega church, you know, give it to LA Opera you know. But it's okay. But who's making the ask? Who's asking them? And when you invite me to the show, who am I seeing on stage? And when I come into the room for these board meetings, sorry not board meetings but these donor events. Am I going to be treated like I don't belong there? These are things that they go through. These are things that happen regularly. I think it is important… and this my last statement about this... for the opera companies, the administrations to teach their board members and their donors how to interact with people who don't look like them.
<J’Nai Bridges> I think that's an excellent way to close this thing out. And for me, you know, it's just it's about being responsible. You all touched on that so beautifully. Thank you for your time, not only your time, but your energy. You know, once again, you're giving your energy. So. I just hope that this doesn't fall on deaf ears and that, you know, we see action.
<Karen Slack> Did people have questions? Are we not doing questions?
<J’Nai Bridges> Do you want to do questions? We don’t have to do questions. Let me see.
<Morris Robinson> I would just say this before we go, also. J’Nai, I have to commend you on how you hosted this. I've been involved in quite a few of these things, but this one was the realest, most informative. It was organized. It was very well attended. We have over a thousand viewers. Everyone got a chance to speak their piece and I think it was very informative. I think it was the most effective of all the ones I’ve been on. And so congratulations to you and LA Opera and everyone else on the panel. You brought up some wonderful knowledge and wisdom to the table. And I'm appreciative of that because I don't think it will fall on deaf ears.
<J’Nai Bridges> [01:25:24] Thank you so much. I mean, again, like I said, I was very nervous. This is really the first time I've done anything like this, especially of this magnitude. So thank you for your support. You know, I feel that from you guys. And I'm very thankful to LA Opera for providing this platform, your platform. Does anyone else have anything else to say?
<Russell Thomas> I love you all. I really do.
<J’Nai Bridges> I love you all. Yes. You all keep on keeping on.
<Lawrence Brownlee> My fam. Thank you. Thank you for having me on, J’Nai.
<J’Nai Bridges> Thank you, LA Opera.
<Lawrence Brownlee> Thank you, Christopher and Josh.