Lewisham Community Opera

drawing of puppets

As part of Lewisham being awarded the London Borough of culture for 2022, Music and Theatre for All put together a site-specific opera that was co-created by the community and professionals. Part of this project involved engaging local schools from the Lewisham Area. Engage Here was responsible for delivering ten workshops to Special Education Needs (SEN) classes at Brent Knoll School.

student with puppet and man with violin
A student using their puppet in response to Tom's violin

As with the main Urban Opera, we were keen for this version to go through a similar process of creative development. This meant working with the students to build a world of characters, colours, sets and emotions that reflected their version of Lewisham. These ideas would form the basis of a carnival-like performance at the finale of the project.

Drawing of stage set
Stage set imagined by one of the students

Week 1 therefore saw us discuss and explore questions like: What is the sound of Lewisham? How can sound and design overlap? What do you love? And what do you worry about? While week 2 saw us develop these into figurative and abstract interpretations through drawing. We started off with mark-making to sounds, but moved further into the development of the opera by drawing environments that could act as sets and characters we would like to see on stage.

a print of some foliage
Props imagined by one of the students

In weeks 4 and 5 we set about creating puppets. Each student had a similar base, made from twisted paper, which they were able to dress with fabric inspired by costumes and colours discussed in previous weeks. Some students painted the bodies or heads of the puppets to give them a sense of identity. Movement was an important part of every workshop,we regularly engaged in dancing and playing music, and with the puppets involved, the students had a new outlet, that was an extension of themselves, that they could consider how it might move to sound. We filmed and photographed throughout the project, which added a level of performance that the students enjoyed, though we have been sensitive not to show faces of the students on this page. 100 Strings performing

A drawing interpreted as a puppet

In the final week, both classed performed their version of the carnival. Accompanying the puppets, we had use of maracas and tambourines, while we were also supported by Tom Gutherie, Artistic Director of Music and Theatre for All on the Violin and local pianist Jack, from St John's Music. It was a hugely expressive session with the students singing, dancing and inventively using the corridors as points of entry and exit to the classroom acting as their stage.

Child with puppet