Laura Sallade: “You need discipline.”

There was never any doubt in Laura Sallade’s mind about becoming an artist.

Eight years after moving to Philadelphia, she’s renting additional space for the studio she’s had for the past six years, she has representation at Seraphin Gallery in  Philadelphia and MasseyLyuben Gallery in NYC, and she’s about to show 34 pieces.

Sallade creates two-dimensional sculptures, using a combination of glass, silver, epoxy, and watercolor to build complex patterns and layered works that are wall hung. She utilizes her sculpture, chemistry, and printmaking knowledge to explore and experiment.

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Sallade’s pieces consist of glass, silver, epoxy, and watercolor.

The foundation of each piece always consists of glass, and Sallade uses her other materials to explore the glass and create patterns. “I’m drawn to patterns because I find them everywhere in nature,” Sallade explained. “I enjoy the feeling of discovery and pursue it on a daily basis, and as the work evolves, it can go through a process of appearing like many different natural formations.”

The complexity of each piece can require help from others, since quick movements for large pieces can be needed as glass is lifted, chemicals poured and sealing conducted. While her largest piece to date was a sculpture created for a Nantucket home, the largest artwork she created for her upcoming show required the help of two friends.

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Sallade’s largest piece, hung in Nantucket. Photo courtesy of Laura Sallade.

Originally intended as a door for the Comcast Center, the piece is one of the 34 works in Sallade’s show at Massey Lyuben in Chelsea, opening on November 16. “I really wanted to make something this size where I didn’t have anyone else telling me what they wanted,” Sallade explained. “I’m really glad I trusted my gut with this piece.”

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Sallade with her upcoming show’s largest piece.

The holes for a doorknob and hinges are still visible through the transformation that Sallade provided. “I love that it was meant to have this other life and it got miscast,” she said.

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Originally meant as a door, the holes meant for hinges and a doorknob are still visible.

Now, it is what Sallade refers to as a vessel of contemplation. “The purpose of these objects is to make a place for contemplation and people can put their thoughts in,” explained Sallade. “For one person, it might be the joy of becoming a parent, while someone else is grieving the loss of someone dear. Art is this space to contain all of these thoughts. I’m glad I got a door. I was able to take something that otherwise would have been thrown out and give it life.”

Even with the beauty that comes with giving discarded pieces new life, there’s challenge in creating. “The difficulty isn’t in the physical putting together of elements,” Sallade explained. “It’s facing your fear of manifesting an expression of yourself. Doing that takes courage. Putting yourself out there to be criticized is the hard part. I think our battles are more invisible than we realize.”

Sallade has fought her own share of battles, working hard over the years. “I like when people are cautious to own the title of ‘artist’ because it shows they revere it,” Sallade said. “Everyone has creativity and I always strive to encourage that in everyone, but to be a fully committed artist you need discipline. To say everyone is an artist is not letting artists have their own space and category and a lot of artists fight to be in that space. I have definitely sacrificed a lot to be here and that serves as motivation because the stakes are higher due to the sacrifices I’ve made.”

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Sallade’s studio space, with elements that will become part of a sculpture.

Sallade’s own journey started in childhood, growing up in the suburbs of Reading, PA. “I didn’t really ever consider anything else as a career,” she explained. “When it was time to go to school, it was, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do.’”

Her parents were supportive, and Sallade found that she really enjoyed building things and working with material. She uses colors, lines, and composition as part of her process, but not the goal. “I make things that look like paintings,” Sallade said. “Everything I make has sculptural content to it. I like the challenge of 2D because it’s figuring out how well I can investigate on a two-dimensional surface. There’s so much much more that goes into my process than applying paint to a surface, so describing these works simply as paintings doesn’t feel quite accurate.”

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She went to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Center City, earning a Certification in Sculpture, and stayed in Philadelphia when her career began even before graduation. Needing a second studio for a large commission, she found her current space with an affordable rent, and recently expanded to a larger studio in the same building. Conveniently near New York City, where most of her sales occur, Sallade has found herself in a good location while building her career and even traveling for inspiration.

She was able to travel throughout Europe for two months on a travel grant and spent time in the south of France earlier this year. “The change that happens is internal and indirect,” Sallade explained. “You go and travel and realize what things fall away and what things remain when out of the context of your normal life.”

While in France, she spent time exploring nature, examining the light. “It’s a really wild spacial experience,” Sallade said. “The mountains are right up against the ocean and it’s really beautiful.”

She decided to paint in nature, bringing her watercolor supplies, where were easy to bring along. When she lost her large brush, she only had a small one to recreate the patterns she found, and she discovered new inspiration in the process. “You walk a couple of meters and everything changes,” Sallade shared. “Five watercolors came out of that experience of what it felt like to be on the mountain.”

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Sallade incorporates patterns into her work, using nature as inspiration.

These days, as her commissions became more consistent, Sallade moved from bartending to driving for supplemental income. She drives for Lyft a few hours in the morning before working a full day at the studio. She usually creates more than 40 hours a week, and having the ability to pick up hours when she needs gives her the freedom to work on her pieces without interruptions. “It’s a little bit of stability and if I need to drop it, no one is harassing me,” she shared.

She’s also able to focus on experimenting more and has found that imagery becomes more beautiful when she gives up control. The pieces that look the most organic are the ones where Sallade allows the work to flow. She can engineer the process to get a certain look, using gestures to build complementary patterns. “If there’s too much control, it’ll look contrived,” Sallade added. “I’ll always try to tweak it a bit. I pay attention. You have to be willing to sacrifice your own plans. You have to make plans. Then you have to let go of them.”

Sallade often shows behind-the-scenes video of her work in the studio on her Instagram, and her website holds more information about her process and representation.

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Phil Roberts: “There is no shortcut.”

Phil Roberts likes a challenge. As he’s developing his second wood-based company in five years and his third company in eight years, he’s realized he has selected a big one.

Roberts grew up in Southampton as one of five kids, with a creatively-minded mother, Carol, and an engineering-orientated father, Sid. Spending a lot of time with his grandfathers, a farmer and a carpenter, provided more exposure to skill-based careers. Sid, a software/electrical engineer, encouraged Roberts to pursue engineering. “So I got an art degree,” said Roberts. “It wasn’t a direct rebellion — maybe subconsciously. His work seemed really interesting but also boring. Sitting at a computer didn’t seem like a good option.”

Roberts earned his B.S. Digital Media Arts with an emphasis on cinematography from John Brown University in NW Arkansas. After graduation, he started work as a freelance photographer and videographer. While the travel was fun, the unpredictability of the work took its toll. “I would spend two weeks in St. Louis and then have three weeks with no job,” Roberts said.

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

Looking for a hobby, Roberts began to build custom farm tables in 2012. “I would sell a table, then spend money to buy more equipment, and make another table. It was a slow process,” Roberts shared.

But it was a process that worked. Using sustainably sourced wood to make customizable tables at a good price, Roberts was able to build the business from a one-man show to a ten-man team. He also brought his wife, Melinda, on staff in 2015. “Marketing was easy because it was a product I would want to buy,” explained Roberts. “We built a really good product, sold one table and asked the customer to tell one friend. It was a snowball.”

His digital media experience was also a huge benefit when building the business. “If you have to hire someone for every single process, it’s impossible,” Roberts said. “I grew that company until I realized I wasn’t the best person for the job anymore. I wanted to be designing, not building the company. … Once I realized I was just the email guy, I realized someone else could do this better than me. Someone with business, marketing experience.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

He and Melinda decided to take a step back. In June 2016, they sold most of Emmor Works. A few months later, they traveled across the United States in an old VW van they called Benjy, documenting their journey through their Instagram account, @tires2fires. During their trip, with a stop in Boulder, Colorado, the couple ran into an old friend at a public library makerspace. They toured the location, which included a laser cutter that caught Roberts’ eye. After a brief discussion, they moved on.

They didn’t know when they were getting home or what they would do when they did, and the stress of needing to pay bills was starting to build. Melinda had always wanted to return to library science, the field she had left temporarily to join Emmor Works. “She was really good at her job, but she’s great wherever she goes,” Roberts explained. “It was great to have her at Emmor Works.”

When they got home, Melinda found a job as the school librarian at the Maple Shades High School, while Roberts intended to return to Emmor Works, where he planned on designing and building furniture without having to run the team or manage the business side of the company. “In my fantasy land of my mind, I wanted to separate from Emmor Works while designing products for them,” he shared. “That seemed like the best of both worlds. Hopefully, it’s still possible.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

But there were creative differences and mismatched expectations. After several months, Roberts decided instead to combine his love of technical woodworking and design ability into an entirely new company, Art by Philip Roberts. He remembered that laser cutter and the brief conversation they’d had in Colorado, and he decided to invest in his own machine. “I knew I wanted to be in a design-orientated business,” explained Roberts. “and what attracted me to this was the technical and creative aspect. I still get to work with wood.”

Roberts designs his pieces digitally, converts the files into a format the laser can process, and then allows the laser to cut out the pieces. Each art piece consists of 12 layers built from mahogany, and the laser can take up to 9.5 hours to complete all of the layers. The design work itself can take countless hours to plan and execute. And it took some months to figure out. “You hope when it’s all done and you spent hours doing it that it looks okay,” said Roberts.

Roberts sold his first piece in July 2017. “I’d forgotten how much work it took to build a company from scratch,” Roberts shared. “You remember it’s exciting and difficult, but the amount of work is crazy.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

Even before marketing, Roberts invested the time in building his process for building the pieces. “It took a couple months alone to master the actual construction of these complicated pieces,” Roberts explained. “Obviously the designs are essential to the art but if the physical piece in your hands doesn’t feel right, it ruins the experience. Emmor Works was the opposite. I believe we created a great product but it came at the cost of sleepless nights and unmanageable hours. The shop was peddle-to-metal at all times to keep up with orders. If we had slowed down to improve our production design, we could have produced just as much with so much less stress.”

Then there was the difficulty of building trust with his customers. “There is no shortcut,” Roberts said, “and the only way to build a strong reputation is putting in the work to prove that trust and reliability. However, it is amazing what customers will do once that trust is established.”

The beginning of October brought a wave of orders, and the reviews and feedback have been positive. “This was an opportunity to jump in and make it work because I have no choice but to make it work,” Roberts said. “That stress and anxiety is a good motivator.”

Even as the business continues to build, Roberts is hesitant to call himself an artist. To build tables was to make a functional piece of furniture, and now, he is making something completely different. He explained, “It’s a very weird thing to be like, ‘I make art.’ It’s so pretentious, and not something I aspired to do. I’m more comfortable saying I produce home decor.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

It’s the respect for the craft that makes Roberts hesitant to define himself as an artist. “I went to school with talented artists,” Roberts added. “I know what talent looks like. I would never put myself in the same caliber as those guys.”

That discomfort is also a draw for Roberts. “You should be doing something uncomfortable every day,” he said. “I enjoy doing it. And I think there’s a place for it. When you’re selling art, you’re selling yourself. If I could sell all day and not tell anyone I’m doing it, that would be great.”

And of course, there’s the challenge. “If you pick a really big challenge, it will entertain you for a long time,” Roberts shared. “I can’t escape now. I’m too far in now. I either have to make it work or bail. The challenge is I’m attracted to challenge. It’s satisfying — you had an idea and now it’s real life. Taking it from your head to real life is really cool. It’s difficult, too. It’s not like I have cold feet, but if I were to look for a ‘real’ job now, I don’t think I’d be an attractive candidate to HR. How does starting three different weird companies convert to finding some desk job? I have no idea so, yeah, we have to make this work.”

As the word gets out and Roberts continues to design, he just wants to improve. “I hope that three months from now I look at what I’m doing now and think it’s terrible,” Roberts said. “As soon as you stop progressing, what’s the point? Why keep doing stuff if you’re not getting better? I feel the things I made that I love the most were things I never sold. It would be great to sell something someday that I absolutely think is the best. I need to develop a style. Seeing other people doing amazing stuff is inspiring but also frightening. Again, good motivation to keep going.”

Visit Phil’s website, Instagram, and Facebook to see what else he is working on and to nab one of his pieces.

Mark S. Doss: Performing Opera, the Culmination of All the Arts

Mark S. Doss grew up next to a church rectory and was able to observe the kindness of the priests who lived there firsthand. He combined his childhood love of baseball with his desire to enter the ministry, and settled on being a baseball-playing priest.

But another interest crept into view when he was young–he watched a movie that featured an operatic feat of breaking a glass singing a high note. He asked his chorus teacher, Mrs. Hilton, how he could find the music the baritone was singing. She directed him to the library, and then arranged an opportunity for Doss to have a non-singing part in Aida, a Metropolitan Opera touring production.

That day in April 1976 was Doss’s first exposure to a live opera performance.

He then took drama and chorus classes in high school, and performed in Godspell. That led to a city-sponsored arts training program, where Doss performed in The Wiz That Is as Daniel Galein. After that, he acted in The Man of La Mancha.

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Photo from www.marksdoss.com.

Finishing a summer of performing, he entered the seminary program at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, IN, still intent on the priesthood. He ended up ministering through a different means. “My goal was to become a priest, and declaring my minor to be music was certainly a way (I thought) to continue my study of voice and to use that to the best of my ability in my ministry,” said Doss. “The comments I received early on did give me something to consider, but ultimately I knew that I wanted to use my singing to inspire others in a way that I, myself, am inspired, knowing that when one sings one does indeed pray twice. Certainly when I sing the words of Zaccaria in Nabucco, Jochanaan (John the Baptist) in Salome, or even Méphiso in Faust–the devil was once an angel–I am celebrating the gifts I have been given from God, and I am presenting back to God the fruits of those gifts, borne out through my hard work and dedication.”

At age 21, he won the second competition he had ever entered, mere months after the first competition, where he tried to sing after coming down with a cold. He placed in the District Competition of the Metropolitan Opera held at Valparaiso University in Indiana.

Still, Doss took his GRE exams in sociology and not music. Then things began to shift. “I auditioned at the University of Illinois and I was offered a full scholarship, and then I auditioned at Indiana University’s School of Music and received extremely enthusiastic responses from the faculty that heard me,” shared Doss. “I expected to be told I should just line up behind the other one hundred nice voices they had heard that day, but that did not happen.  Something just seemed to ‘click’ when I would sing, and this came to me profoundly at one of St. Joe’s glee club concerts, when I found myself feeling extremely ‘at home’ while on stage singing ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ from Fiddler on the Roof.”

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Photo from www.marksdoss.com.

Doss left seminary after his second year, graduating with a Bachelor’s of Arts from Saint Joseph’s. He earned his Master degree at Indiana University, during which he sang in his first opera role as Khan Konchak in Borodin’s Prince Igor. This is also where he first performed his signature role, as Méphistophélès in Faust.

As much as the world of opera pulled Doss in, it has not been without its struggles. Without a large amount of musical training, Doss has had to be creative. “I have worked to develop many different techniques to compensate for what I consider a musical handicap,” said Doss. “My brain seems to initially put words and music on two different tracks, so I am constantly trying analyze each of them separately and then to bring them back together.”

In the years since he experienced his first live opera, Doss has performed all over the world in over 120 roles with more than 60 major opera companies, singing in 10 languages. He refers to opera as a “culmination of all the arts”, and has found that the art form fits his desire to have a hand in everything. “The word ‘opus’ means work,” explained Doss, “and the plural of that word is ‘opera’ (works). You have singing, acting, languages, dancing (ballet), scenery, makeup, wardrobe, the orchestra, and a number of other visual arts that are now incorporated into what we call opera. If you just want to sing, then you can do that with a piano or even a cappella, but it’s not opera because you are always going to be missing five or six elements of the art form that can only happen when you bring all of them together. ‘It takes a village.’ When you bring so many people together and have them working together on a single operatic project it can be a thing of great beauty!”

Doss won a Grammy in 1993, on the Deutsche Grammophon recording of Handel’s Semele, conducted by John Nelson. He was also honored with the Entertainment Award from Planet Africa for his artistic achievements while being a positive role model. He presents a Role Preparation Masterclass and continues to fundraise through Opera Susquehanna and the Bozeman Symphony. “Through my Role Preparation Masterclass I have presented as many elements of opera as I possibly can,” explained Doss who splits his time between Erie, PA and Toronto, ON when not performing. “I offer them a smorgasbord of what opera encompasses, and so I encourage people to study every aspect of history, culture, literature, music, languages that let them be encouraged to let the art more choose them, if they have the gifts that should be showcased for the world to see.”

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Photo from www.marksdoss.com.

Doss also willingly and eagerly provides advice to those who ask. “Whenever I am asked to offer suggestions on singing, starting a career or my thoughts on a certain character, I am very enthusiastic,” Doss said. “Some of the conversations after performances have been very enlightening, when I get a chance to hear people telling me how many times they’ve seen me perform in other operas, or how many performances they’ve attended of the opera I am doing at the time. Some fans don’t like certain productions, and I often share their feelings or I try to explain the director’s concept in a way that might help them become more comfortable with different ideas. Primarily I want them to know that I am always more interested in playing a character on stage, than just being Mark S. Doss singing a few lines of music.”

The efforts Doss puts into fundraising are to not only raise awareness and encourage attendance, but also reach those who don’t have easy access to the art form. “I think there should always be private funding for opera, but also a balance of public funding because it really does allow so many people to be involved and employed, giving them a sense of worth and high self esteem,” shared Doss. “I think the funding issues are difficult, but not impossible to overcome with more innovative ideas. When the economic times are difficult, I think it’s very hard for people to attend performances of any type. My fundraising efforts have been to primarily help that situation and to constantly reach out to those in communities who might not be exposed to opera, inspiring them to see the possibilities the art form can offer them in its need to have a village to keep it going. Through the HD performances of opera, people have gone to theaters to enjoy the art form, when getting to the actual Opera House might be more difficult. This could be taking some people out of the seats, but it can also be inspiring more people to get their chance in the Opera House for the first time, and many times afterwards.”

Mark Doss performed as Méphistophélès at the The Coade Theatre during the Dorset Opera Festival until July 29, and graciously took the time to answer my questions between staging and videotaping sessions. His next performance, starting on October 7, will be as a soloist at the Wyoming Symphony in Casper, Wyoming. Doss will also perform as a soloist October 28 & 29 in Bozeman, Montana at the Bozeman Symphony.

Learn more about Doss, see what he’s performed previously and learn what’s upcoming at his website or Facebook page.

This is the third and final article about appreciating, studying, and performing opera.

Danielle Perrault: Studying Opera, That Stunningly Gorgeous Musical Expression

Danielle Perrault planned to be a psychologist.

In 2007, she finished her undergrad degree in psychology at Simpson University in Redding, CA, while maintaining a connection to music. “I had a lot of friends in the music department and I sang in the choirs,” said Perrault. “I was very interested in classical music even back then. There were times I considered switching my major to music, but at the time, I didn’t think I was good enough. I was afraid I would fail at it, so I never switched while I was at Simpson. I still really loved studying psychology, so I finished that. It wasn’t until I almost graduated that I realized I didn’t want to be a psychologist.”

Born in Queens, NY, but raised in San Diego, CA, Perrault returned to San Diego to be with her family while she figured out what to do next. “We’ve lived in the same house since we moved here when I was five,” shared Perrault, who has one younger sister named Kelsey. “After I graduated I thought I wanted to be a nurse. I moved back home and went to a community college to take prerequisites for nursing school, but the classes that I needed kept filling up. I ended up taking a music class to keep my schedule at full time.”

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Credit: Matt Haney

Then a class assignment required her to perform. “That was the first time I sang a solo by myself in front of people,” Perrault explained. “That was the beginning of my catching the performing bug. I started studying music about a year later and never went back to nursing.”

Perrault completed her degree in music and moved to Kansas in 2015 to study opera performance at the University of Kansas. She graduated this spring with her master’s degree. “I actually started out thinking I was going to go into musical theater,” admitted Perrault. “The two have a lot of similarities. Musical theater borrows a lot from opera, and it just kind of went off on its own track. But as I kept studying and taking voice lessons, my teacher and I both realized that my voice was well suited for classical singing. I still love musical theater and I’ve recently been honing my skills in that genre so that I can incorporate it into my career at some point. I went with opera as my primary focus because that’s where my voice was going and I ended up falling in love with it.”

Perrault sang in performances at the school and for the Chorus of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. “I’ve loved working there,” said Perrault. “The people are amazing. It’s always a fun experience with high production value. It’s a great place to sing.”

She also has had several opportunities to travel abroad. Currently in Italy for the month of July, Perrault also completed a choir tour in Spain while an undergrad and traveled to Germany after being selected by a panel to sing during the Eutin Summer Opera Festival in Eutin. “That was actually a tough experience for me,” admitted Perrault. “There were a lot of great things about it. Every time you get to go overseas and spend any amount of time in another culture is amazing, but it was also really interesting working in another country and experiencing a different work climate, a different work structure. It ended up being quite challenging. But I did get a lot of good things out of it as well, like cultural insights and learning how to deal with adversity.”

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Credit: Lauren di Matteo Images

Perrault is no stranger to tackling difficult roles and embracing learning experiences. “I think I’d have to say my favorite role so far has been Hansel in Hansel and Gretel,” Perrault shared. “I did that while I was in my undergrad. We had a music director at the time who was very demanding and gruff, and the rehearsal process was often a bit scary. But as a result, I learned a lot and I grew so much. … I got a better sense of what it actually takes to be well prepared for a role. And the role itself was such a blast. I was playing a pre-teen boy. I’m a mezzo-soprano, one of the lower female voice types, and we frequently get cast in the roles of young boys or young men. When I was first starting my vocal studies and found out about that, I was kind of upset. I had all these stereotypical ideas about playing tragic, romantic heroines. Why would I want to play a little boy? But I actually really love it. It’s intriguing to play someone who is completely different from myself. I love digging into the psyche and physicality of a boy and having a blast with it. I hope I can do that role again many times.”

Ultimately, Perrault would like to be accepted into a young artist program, which, she explained, is an apprenticeship for opera singers. Typically, aspiring opera singers apply to programs at opera houses around the country. “They’ll typically hire four singers or so, one per voice part,” Perrault added. “They’ll use those singers for outreach events and sometimes they get cast in small roles or cover (understudy) lead roles for the company’s main stage operas. They’re all a little bit different, but ideally, that’s a possible next step I’d like to take. It’s one of the few ways young singers have some stability. It’s typically a two-year contract with a regular paycheck, which doesn’t happen very often in this industry. It’s not much and it’s not for long, but it’s steady. And it’s a great training ground to learn from professionals who are further down the path than you are, and to focus on your craft without the distractions of worrying about your ‘day job,’ or where your next gig will be. There are a lot of ways to become a successful opera singer, and a young artist program is not a requirement, but that’s an experience I think I would enjoy and benefit from.”

She’s aware of the personal challenges that the career holds. “I’m under no delusions that this isn’t a tough industry, and at the beginning, it’s especially hard,” Perrault said. “You have to do a lot of start up work yourself on the audition circuit. It’s a costly process in terms of time, money, and energy. Some people go the competition route, and if you’re good at that and win a lot, it can help with your many expenses. Application fees, recordings, accompanist fees, coaching, lessons, travel expenses… It adds up quickly. It’s really helpful if you can get management to represent you and open some of those doors for you. But the work never really stops. An opera career is still a business, and you still have to maintain relationships and connections and stay on the radar of producers, conductors, and company managers. I’m not quite there yet. They say you have to have something to manage before you can get a manager, and I’m still working on the ‘something’.”

Then there are difficulties with societal perceptions. “It seems like every few months, someone publishes a new article about how opera is dying,” said Perrault. “I can see how people come to that conclusion, especially with the culture we live in now. Everything is instantaneous. Opera is hard. It’s a difficult art form to consume. Even for people in it, it is challenging. For one, it often takes a lot longer to say things when they are sung. You have to be patient. The story takes a little longer to unfold. If you don’t know the language the opera is being sung in, or even if you do, you have to rely on translations projected above the stage. It takes a little more work than sitting in front of the TV. But because of all of that, it’s rewarding. Because things take longer to say and because the story takes longer to unfold, it builds a greater sense of dramatic tension, and the payoff is greater. You get to experience stunningly gorgeous musical expressions of human emotion that words alone can’t convey. I think opera has a lot to offer and I think it’s presented in a way that any human can identify with because it goes right to your soul. I don’t think the problem is that opera is irrelevant, I think people are reluctant to consume it because of the effort that it takes.”

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Credit: Villa Medicea di Lilliano Wine Estate

Perrault has noticed that opera houses are trying different series and offering music in different venues, like libraries, museums, and restaurants. “I think the new performance trends are helping people realize that opera doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring like they thought,” she said. “Is it for everyone? No. Nothing is, really. But I think it’s for a lot more people than those who realize it. Opera is fighting against culture notions of what opera is, but I think it can thrive. … I have a lot of hope for the future of opera. People can help by just trying it out. Companies are doing what they can to make it more accessible to more people. A lot of them are active on social media, so you can get regular updates on what they’re up to. Just find something that looks even slightly interesting and go! Worst case scenario, you don’t like it; there are worse things in life than not liking something. It’s no big loss. But then again, you might be surprised and enjoy yourself.”

Full opera performances are available on Spotify or Youtube, Perrault explained. “You don’t even have to leave your house. There are so many ways to learn about opera these days. Operas are even broadcast in movie theaters now, so you don’t even have to dress up. It’s best live though, so check out what your local opera house is doing and go support it. It’s such a beautiful art form that expresses humanity in such a beautiful way. I think it’s something that needs to stay, and it can if people are willing to take a second look at it.”

Perrault continued, “Another hindrance is a general lack of appreciation of opera as an art form and the people who do it. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into it. I’m not trying to tell a sob story. It’s just a reality that many people don’t know about. One of the biggest critiques I hear is that it’s too expensive and that’s why people don’t go. For one, that’s becoming less true. Yes, if you want orchestra seats you’re going to pay a lot. But a lot of opera houses now offer special rates for students and young professionals. And most of the time, balcony tickets are very reasonably priced.”

Finding the right venue for the right price can help. Sometimes, opera houses will offer tickets between $15 and $20 for great seats. “It’s financially accessible for a lot of people in different income brackets,” shared Perrault.

Perrault also explained the prices. “Opera is very expensive to produce. A lot of people are involved. You have the singers themselves, and you also have a whole orchestra of anywhere from 20 to 100 people. You have the people in the costume, wig, and scene shops, the stage managers and stagehands, the lighting technicians, everyone working in the main office, etc. It takes a huge village to put on a opera, and all of those people need to be compensated for their time and expertise. We don’t make a ton of money. Maybe international super stars make a good living, but most opera singers don’t. You may get a nice big check for a six-week performance and rehearsal run, but then you have to make that for last several months until your next gig.”

Perrault added, “When you think about supporting opera, it’s helpful to think about the people behind it. It’s not paying into some elitist thing that executives are using to line their pockets. It’s helping to support people who really love this, want to keep it around, and are already making a lot of sacrifices to do so.”

Follow Danielle’s adventures online at her website or on Instagram. She’s currently performing in Italy.

This is the second of three articles about appreciating, studying, and performing opera.

Christine Sacchi: Writing about Opera in a Way that’s Interesting to the Aficionado, Accessible to the Curious

Artistic talent and music appreciation runs in Christine Chase Sacchi’s family, but opera unexpectedly captured her heart a few years ago.

In 2009, when Sacchi’s daughter traveled to Italy as part of her art education, Sacchi, a homeschooling mother of seven, wanted to hear music that evoked the experience of being in Italy. She found Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, an Italian bass-baritone opera singer, on Youtube, and got hooked. “I looked up everything I could on Youtube and starting buying CDs,” Sacchi said. “He sings a lot in Europe and not as much here.”

She started to watch for a chance to hear him on stage, and was eventually able to see D’Arcangelo on the stage in Los Angeles, and continued to pursue her appreciation of opera in other ways. “I started being more interested in opera in general through being his fan,” Sacchi shared. “I would get so full of words every time I would go to something. I would write and put it on Facebook. My girlfriends who were opera fans that I met through Facebook groups had an endless appetite for everything I wrote. They said, ‘You gotta write a blog.’ A girlfriend from Russia said, ‘I read all the opera blogs, and I like yours better than theirs.’ After a year, I got around to it.”

Sacchi launched her blog on January 1, 2014, and now, over three years later, has hundreds of daily visitors reading her posts. “I’m having so much fun with it,” Sacchi said. “I’m having people tell me on Facebook that they saw me at the opera.”

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Sacchi started adding interviews to her blog, in addition to her reviews. She interviewed two composers, Robert W. Butts and Marco Frisina, as well as bass baritone Mark S. Doss. Doss sings in twelve different languages, and flies around the world singing in many prominent opera houses. When Sacchi first reached out to Doss, he was singing in Italy. Doss is tall and strikingly handsome, and Sacchi was a bit nervous at first. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m kind of afraid, but my readers just love interviews,’ said Sacchi, who was able to complete the interview in writing and eventually met Doss in New York. “This interview was perfect for my readers, since my blog is focused on basses and baritones.”

While the opera blogosphere is full of good writing, Sacchi wants her niche to be writing for those who may not be musical experts or even opera fans.  She wants to discuss things in a way that’s interesting to the aficionado while accessible to the curious. “I’d like to be a bridge between normal people and the world of opera,” Sacchi shared. “I want to appeal to the avid fan as well as the first time opera goer.”

As she’s attended more performances, Sacchi has been able to verbalize what she finds particularly appealing about opera. “I have distilled for myself why the art form is very special to me and why I’d like to see it perpetuate instead of dying out,” shared Sacchi. “The human voice without amplification is a very beautiful instrument. The experience of it hitting not just your eardrums but your body can’t be reproduced outside a live performance. To be in the room with the music is an experience of the whole body, mind, and soul.”

Of course there’s a place for microphones and recordings, Sacchi agrees.  But hopefully through writing about opera she can reach people with the idea that live singing is a tradition well worth preserving in an electronic age.

In her quest to introduce more newcomers to opera, Sacchi admits encountering some familiar preconceived expectations. She responded, “Some people literally expect to see a large lady in Viking garb, horned helmet and all.”

This raises the question of body image and the pressure on singers today to not only sound great but conform to standards of beauty driven by film and television. As to whether a large frame is necessary to sing well–it’s not. “I’ve seen a lady five feet tall and slender fill an opera house with her voice,” said Sacchi. “It’s pretty amazing what they can do with professional training. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with size at all. In the meantime, they’re now dealing with being judged on how well they look, as well as how they sing. This modern standard of physical beauty is putting a lot of pressure on the opera world. The singers think, ‘If I’m overweight, I won’t get the role. And if I get the role, but I’m not someone’s idea of slim enough,  what will the critics say?’ The critics can be vicious.  Fans like me get nervous because I don’t want people to get hired just because they’re thin. I want them to be good singers.  If the balance tips too far toward movie star looks, we could end up hearing lesser voices.”

In addition to old stereotypes, technology has influenced how a potential audience views opera. “We can all hear the world’s best at the touch of a button,” Sacchi said. “What does this mean for audiences attending local shows? Will we become unrealistically demanding?”

When considering new material for her website, Sacchi looks for performances that revolve around a featured singer, a new opera, or a particular composer, especially if she’s featured a certain person on her blog. “Because I’m interested in new music in helping opera not die out,” explained Sacchi. “We need new opera. The old opera is very beautiful but I don’t think we were meant to watch the same shows over and over. There’s something stale there. Culture needs something of our own time.”

She is also aware of how music continues to evolve. “In the 20th century, some modern music got very hard to understand, very intellectual and technical,” Sacchi said. “Audiences became wary of new compositions. I think we’re finding our way forward now to music that’s very beautiful and relevant. Opera is just drama and music put together–people singing about their feelings and about life.”

Sacchi writes in other forms as well and is working on her first novel, a murder mystery that revolves around a real-life church homicide. Catch the latest in her adventures on her blog.

This is the first of three articles about appreciating, studying, and singing opera.

Henna Blessings: “You Never Know if You Don’t Try”

Molly Arms saw a friend painting henna sixteen years ago, and on a whim, asked if she could try.  “I had seen it a little bit, traveling in India when I was 18, but I hadn’t thought about painting until I saw my friend doing it,” explained Arms. “I asked her if I could try it. She let me try and I really just enjoyed myself.”

Already an artist who enjoyed painting and drawing, Arms hadn’t tried to show any of her artwork publicly. Henna allowed her to create in low-pressure situations, using a method that connected with others. Six years after first painting henna, she realized she could work festivals herself. Living in California at the time, she started working parties, festivals, weddings, and baby showers with another artist.

The draw to the art form was deeper than something fun for her to try. Arms wasn’t interested in permanent tattoos, and henna provided a way she could wear her art constantly. “In the beginning, it was because I wanted to do henna on myself,” Arms shared. “I didn’t think about a business.”

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Photo by Brooke Schultheis

She also loved the culture henna stems from. Along with her travels to India, Arms knew the cultural expectations that comes with the art. “The way it is in those cultures,” She explained, “when you have henna for your wedding, you don’t have to do any chores while the henna is there. It’s also a really special event to get henna. They really pamper the bride. It’s not like that all the time.”

These days, Arms lives in Durango, Colo., sustaining herself working from May to October with her business, Henna Blessings, which uses 100% organic henna from Rajhastan. “In a different climate, I’d be able to do henna year-round,” she explained. “It makes enough money to live on during that season, which is great.”

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Arms ended up in Durango after the birth of her son. She was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at age 24 when she got pregnant. Her mother had been living in Bayfield, a town next to Durango, for a year at that point. Her son’s father left when the baby was four months old, and eight months later, Arms decided she needed more help. From there, she moved several more times, including back to California when her son was eight and Mexico, before she returned back to Durango about eight years ago. “It’s very lovely there,” Arms said, who is currently in Rhode Island for a month. “It’s very community feeling. It’s small enough but big enough. The college really helps with the concert hall. It’s been good. I like it there.”

When she first moved to Colorado, she started looking for festivals, since there weren’t as many parties as she was used to. Festivals weren’t cheap, costing anywhere from $50 to $1,500 for a booth, and she started with fairs. She worked her way up to the point where she can now make anywhere from $500 to $2,500 in one weekend. She also found that people often look for a henna booth, making the marketing aspect of working a festival quite easy.

She also found henna a way to become a self-employed paid artist. “That’s what really attracted me after a while, being able to be self employed,” admitted Arms. “I’ve been self employed for awhile, but was always a nanny or a private cook. To be able to do something I love, and be an artist and make my own career is really wonderful. I think everyone should go for it when they have something they’re passionate about. You have to keep sending it out. Even if you keep getting rejected, you can’t take no for answer. You have to keep sending it to shows and galleries.”

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She didn’t find henna to be as personal as her painting. “It’s more like doodling,” Arms said. “But with painting, it’s so subjective. A friend of mine is finally starting to sell work. She’s amazing. It’s taken awhile and she’s been entering into different shows. She’s finally having a couple of people buying her work consistently. She’s been really pushing me to do more with painting. The thing is, you never know if you don’t try. A lot of people don’t try because they think it won’t happen. That fear of rejection or failure. Do we really want to be in our sixties and seventies and think, why didn’t I try? You never know what your life will be like.”

There’s also the healing aspect of art that Arms finds comforting. “When I do henna or some other kind of art,” shared Arms, “like knitting or painting or whatever, and I can be having the worst day, but when I start making art, it goes away and it goes into the distance and I feel wonderful from it. It’s very therapeutic.”

Arms is attending Fort Lewis College, earning an art business degree and considering teaching overseas or offering art therapy. She’s been exploring different forms of art through classes that aren’t required for her degree, such as ceramics and printmaking. “When you start exploring the arts, you can find a lot of things you’re good at. A lot of people think they don’t know how to do art because they’re thinking of realism. I like to encourage people to pick up some form of art and not worry if someone else will like it. .. Even if you can’t make money from it, it’s still important. I like to make things and give them as gifts. If you think of all the artists out there in the world, who haven’t gotten their art out there, we’re all missing their contribution to society. They’re really important contributions to society.”

Check out Arms’ website at hennablessings.com and book her for a party if you’re in the Durango area. You can also friend Arms on Facebook to follow her business and see more designs.

This is the third in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.

Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”

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She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”

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MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”

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She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.