The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Homeless and Artists Working Together  Streetwise Opera
Homeless and Artists Working Together  Streetwise Opera
Streetwise Opera
My Secret Heart

My Secret Heart
My Secret Heart
©Rob Slater/
Could you tell us about the Evaluation Tree you use to quantify the progress of workshop participants?
First I would like to talk about how we came to construct our evaluation model. I felt that the arts did a very poor job of showing its results. You can understand how important it is society some way of expressing themselves and the joys and emotions that art brings. But when it comes to helping people who are disadvantaged, I just didn’t come across any model that explained that very well. And we were having funders ask us things like, “If we give you £50,000 (approx. 82,000 USD) what results are we going to see? Are people just going to having a good time?” It’s a really good point actually.
 So I did a lot of work with an evaluation consultant and she asked some really interesting questions. She asked if we were finding any patterns with our work. Because we were doing some evaluations and interviewing people before and we knew that there were transitions happening in people’s lives but we couldn’t see any patterns. In our talks with the consultant, she asked us to go through our interviews again and look for key words, and the patterns that emerged became the roots of the Evaluation Tree method.
 We found that there were a number of common results that came out. The participants were feeling more confident, feeling that they had more skills, that their social networks were expanding, they had new self-esteem, and there was enjoyment and the creativity.
 Beyond that the words became quite diverse and individual. There was the man who was able to take off his jacket, and there were ones who reduced their drug intake. In one project there was a participant who reduced his drug intake 70% and now he’s going to university. And there are workshop participants who have progressed to the point where they are now singing solos on stage in front of a 1,000 people. It is quite varied. In the Evaluation Tree, the workshop leader and support workers involved work together to create a Personal Development Plan for participants who have been with us for at least six sessions. We don’t evaluate before that. But after that we use the plan and continue to evaluate the participant based on observation and interviews.

Now I would like to ask you about the once-a-year performances that you have mounted since 2002. Up until 2005 you used existing music by Britten, Mahler, Handel and Jimi Hendrix to stage operas. However, since 2006 you have commissioned living composers to for music to create new operas. How do you choose the artists you work with?
Fortunately this work has given me opportunities to go to the theaters often. That allows me to get early information about talented artists. I want to do things experimental. We do popular things like La Boheme and Carmen in our workshops, but I am not interested in doing popular things in our performances just because they are popular. People would expect us to do La Boheme, but they would never expect us to do Mahler, or to work with a young avant-garde composer like Mira Calix who wrote the music for our most recent production, My Secret Heart. And as in My Secret Heart I want to use more film, because film is a great format that allows us to show our participant’s work around the world. In the next production I am choosing six composers and six film directors and saying the only thing that I want this project to be about is “fables.” Then I leave it completely up to the artists. I really believe that the job of the artists should just do the art. I can provide the framework and the infrastructure and the workshop leaders and the participants and then the artists can come in and work freely. I want the artist to be able to concentrate on inspiring the participants with their talent.

What is the actual process of collaboration when the artists work with the homeless participants to create a work for the stage? Could you use the example of your latest work My Secret Heart as an example to explain the process?
First I had a meeting with the composer Mira Calix and the video artist Flat-e. From that I proposed that I wanted to use Allegri’s Miserere and I want to use film. And then I left it completely up to them. So right away Flat-e said that he wanted to an immense installation with 360-degree wrap-around screen and have the participants doing this and that. And I said yes, great. Then once the general vision emerged we took the score to the different workshop leaders to have them get the participants practice singing this Allegri music in Latin, which is difficult. Then three months later, starting in June in all the centers, Mira and Flat-e come to the workshops and begin the process of recording parts of it. Then we did three weeks of rehearsals, one week in Newcastle, one week in London and one week in the Midlands, and I made sure that the participants went to all those rehearsals during the summer. Then we previewed it in Switzerland in October at a small festival with just ten participants. We sort of tested it. And then we had the world premiere [at Royal Festival Hall] in December with 100 people.

My last question is what your vision is for SWO in 15 years time?
The first thing is to raise enough money to continue. It is really difficult, so we can’t be confident that we’ll still be there in five year’s time. I really hope we will be, and of course I will do everything I can to make that possible. And then I think we have to look at the way we grow in the future. Of course, I’m really happy with the achievements of SWO. And I think we have a very good balance between our workshop and our yearly performances. I am also happy with the quality of the workshops and the performances. But I am also interested in a larger geographical spread. In the future I want to work in Scotland and Wales and Southwest England. We are also looking into accreditation, so that in the future all the participants who come through our program will get some kind of qualification for it.
 But all this is undecided. We don’t know what the future will bring, but I just want to be able to help as many homeless people as I can.
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |