How does attending a party on the actual set of a major opera like the Edmonton Opera’s current performance, Aida, sound to you? Pretty swanky? Not to be missed? That’s what I thought too, so I jumped at the chance to attend the Opera’s fifth annual “Storm the Stage” on Saturday night. However, also in attendance was some super pesky awkwardness that nobody invited yet which was nevertheless determined to participate in the event. The awkwardness hanging in the air played such a prominent role throughout the evening and really affected my overall experience there.
Upon walking onto the stage, I heard the music bumping and saw the party lights going. This’ll be sweet!, I thought. Casting an eye to my left, I saw the huge head of the goddess Isis, the backdrop for Acts 1 and 2 of Aida, as well as the ornate temple set pieces from Act 3 beside it. In front of these was a small stage, where pop/folk/rock trio F&M, the first act, had already set up their equipment. I hung up my jacket and looked around trying to find a place to stand. Then I realized: there wasn’t a good place to stand. Having all of the aforementioned set pieces on the stage really ate up a lot of the stage space, so we party-goers were limited to arranging ourselves in one long row stretching the entire length of the stage. I squeezed myself in between two couples right in the middle of the stage and hoped F&M would start soon. Nobody was really talking to each other, and I prayed that some music would quash the stifling awkwardness that hung in the air. The trio came on stage, and began to play. I mentally remarked at how magnificent the backdrop was. I really wished I had brought a better camera than my iPhone, but this is the best I could do!
“Feel free to talk over us, or just listen,” Ryan Anderson, on the right, said after their first song. It’s nice that he said that, but the reality is, because we were all packed in there in such a small space, that to talk over someone who is performing right in front of you is just plain rude. It seems like a lot of other people felt this way too, and still nobody mingled, contributing to that awkward air that seemed determined to plague the evening. So, I stood there wondering what I was supposed to do with myself: Should I awkwardly stand here right in front of the band, talk to my neighbors, and be blatantly not listening? Or should I actually listen to the band that has come here to perform for us? I ended up listening, and good thing too! F&M’s sound is extremely unique; I liked them immediately. As a blend of accordion, guitar, and keyboards, their music is intriguing, gentle and sincere. Rebecca Anderson (in the middle) has one powerhouse of a voice. I’m glad I didn’t decide to talk to my neighbor because I wouldn’t have been able (nor would I have wanted) to talk over that. Their set was widely varied, however I do feel like it went on for a bit too long and the awkwardness began to blanket us again as the group grew steady more restless.
I increasingly began to wish that I hadn’t worn heels and that I hadn’t driven so that I could have a drink to help me feel less awkward. Soon though, F&M’s set concluded and shortly a fashion show created by Thread Hill began. Now, this is the point of the evening that I really didn’t understand: Why was there a fashion show? It seemed to come totally out of the blue. A lot of the models looked painfully hesitant to traverse the stair-filled set in their very high heels, which was (once again!) awkward to behold. After all of the models left the stage, the last two women out sang a duet. It was beautiful, but it felt strange in the context of what it just followed: this fairly random fashion show. I liked the presence of the opera music, but I believe that it didn’t really add anything to the evening and was just there for the sake of being opera at the Opera. If the Opera really wanted to have actual opera music represented, which I would have fully supported, then I feel that there should have been more opera music there. Just having the one little snippet as a way of representing the entire genre simply felt disjointed and forced.
By the time Mitchmatic began, I was really looking forward to him getting the party going again. And he did. He busted out the turntables, the sax, and the keyboards, showing how talented he is. He sang, he rapped, and he bantered in between his songs. “How do you guys feel about audience participation?” he asked, and got us to sing along with a few tracks.
Really, I must say: thank heavens. Mitchmatic was able to end the night on a fantastic note, successfully quashing (once and for all!) that pesky awkward vibe.
I left with a smile on my face, I really did. F&M were amazing and intriguing, and Mitchmatic was awesome as always, and for that I thank these artists wholeheartedly. It’s just really a shame that the set-up of the event wasn’t conducive to full enjoyment of the performances; this was the real pitfall of the night. The concept of a party such as this is really cool, but somewhere in between the conception of the idea and actually putting it on, I feel that something went wrong. If the goal of the evening was to put a bunch of people in a room, wherein they are clearly supposed to mingle with each other, then this requires two main things: music that is easy to talk over or ignore completely, and enough space to move around. “Storm the Stage” had neither. Alternatively, if the goal of the evening was actually to come and enjoy some music, then there should be room to sit down or spread out. The set-up that was actually given ultimately created a weird limbo state. It seemed that nobody knew how they were supposed to act in this space: a scenario in which awkwardness breeds and eventually runs amuck.