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The Backyard Bash: A Buried Lede


Aliana de la Guardis (by Timothy Gurzak)

Guerilla Opera, a Boston experimental presence for 18 years, began performing in The Zack Box at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and now has national recognition for innovation, having toured to multiple states and with live streams, films, and virtual performance festivals.

This “punk” organization embodies art that emerges from those who challenge the status quo. For them, “opera” is any work where the music acts as the catalyst for the drama and action of a story. With this spirit they now shift their focus to their community and the creative process by reviving their virtual libretto writing labs with the goal that by examining this definition in their libretto labs, they encourage artists with unique voices to tell progressive stories in new and creative ways starting with the text.

Aliana de la Guardia, Executive Director of Guerilla Opera writes: “There are only so many works we can produce. We’re still small, after all. Yet, there is still a need in the community to gather and develop stories. The LIbretto Labs and Writing Collective are our way to serve more of the community and help get their ideas into the world.” The company offers two courses to artists who are interested in exploring the art of writing through the lens of opera. The first is the “Guerilla Lab: Libretto Writing”, a short summer course that serves as an introductory-level exploration into writing for opera. Writers new to opera or writing for opera will explore techniques to generate ideas for stories.

The “Guerilla Writing Collective” is geared toward artists whose goal is to complete a draft of a new work. At the end of the nine-month program, each participant will have a full reading of their completed text. Susan Bywaters is an alumnus of Guerilla Opera’s Writing Collective and the librettist of Guerilla Opera’s latest project, The Windows. She comments that writing can be so isolating. You’re in your little bubble and you hope that someday maybe someone will read it. Having that constant place for feedback and inspiration in the Writing Collective was so helpful in bringing out the creativity. It’s hard to do that on your own sometimes.”

Bywaters created a story based on o a local mystery. Barbara Newhall Follett, a true-life author and former child prodigy vanished from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1939, never to be seen again. Bywaters reinterprets the events preceding the disappearance with distorted realities and imaginary characters:

It’s a story that’s about the experience of being a young woman and having that sense of sitting inside, looking out the window, and watching the world go by. I wrote it during the pandemic, and it was really difficult to find your place and find your community. I think that’s something that Barbara really struggled with in her life, especially as she got older and there started to be these expectations of her as a woman to settle down, to start a family, to be happy in a marriage relationship, to be fulfilled in that way, but she never really did.

This year, Guerilla Opera’s courses are led by Kendra Preston Leonard, a writer, scholar, and musician with extensive experience writing opera libretti. According to de la Guardia, “Her warm and open approach to creative writing and interest in highlighting traditionally marginalized voices in the opera world makes her an ideal Guerilla collaborator. Leonard respond:

I’m excited to be working with Guerilla Opera in teaching and supporting writers in their creation of new libretti that explore and advocate for representation, equity, and equality.The company and I share a commitment to challenging the status quo in opera, addressing contemporary issues, and empowering marginalized performers and figures. These courses will be inclusive and encouraging environments for writers of all experience levels in which they can experiment, practice, and develop their skills in writing text that will be sung. I especially encourage women (cis and trans), nonbinary, LGBTQIA2S+, and BIPOC writers to apply.

This brings us to the “Guerilla Backyard Bash,” a new annual event supporting radical new works of opera theater and programs that support artists whose work challenges the status quo. This event largely supports Guerilla Opera’s libretto writing courses and raises funds to support subsidies and scholarships for artists to attend at lower costs. Our courses have real value, but we don’t want to add to the burden of debt that artists take on from higher ed or from generally living in the low to moderate income brackets,” says de la Guardia. We want to do everything we can to make these classes accessible. That means reaching out to our community for help.”

At 7:00 PM  on Wednesday, June 5th, with the help of local celebrity, Kennedy Elsey, co-host of the top morning show in Boston and lifelong fan of opera, the Guerillas take over Garage B at The Speedway in Brighton for their largest event of the year. In this large industrial warehouse, they treat their guests to a backyard grill feast, backyard games, raffle prizes, and music from DJ Why Sham. They also highlight the work of Bywaters and her creative partner, composer Elizabeth Gartmen, with a performance of new music from The Windows. “Susan’s libretto is incredibly evocative and poignant,” remarks Gartman.

Guerilla Opera’s commitment to challenging conventions and fostering creative expression continues to shine through its innovative programs and community engagement efforts. By offering courses like the Libretto Labs and Writing Collective, they empower new voices in the opera world, ensuring diverse and progressive stories are brought to life. Their upcoming “Guerilla Backyard Bash” exemplifies their dedication to accessibility and support for artists, promising a memorable evening that celebrates and sustains their mission. As they look to the future, Guerilla Opera remains a vital force in the artistic community, pushing the boundaries of what opera can be and nurturing the next generation of storytellers. Learn more about the Guerilla Backyard Bash HERE and about the libretto writing labs HERE.

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