Finding my super hero cape

Author: Alison Buchanan

Finding my Super hero cape and practical responses!

I started CULTURE RESET feeling like a fish out of water, berating myself for what I saw as my inability to speak like the others or think like the others… but then I had this big “aha” moment and I realized I don’t have to speak and think like anybody else, in fact I realized people need to talk a little more like me. You see when it comes to diversity which you all spend a lot of time talking about, I am the diversity!  As an opera singer I have spent my working life trying to get a seat at the table, I have been on that table many times, but mostly just for take away… People like me don’t have the luxury of waiting for infrequent invitations so we create our own table, and like every black family I know, we have overcooked, so we now invite others to come and eat and some of them are bringing food to our table. Once I had that realization I was emboldened and felt empowered – like I had found and put on my superhero cape!

At Pegasus Opera we actively answer the questions and create real and tangible change..

Let me tell you the things we have been doing since the pandemic

  1. We started a mentorship scheme where we gave bursaries to black and brown classical/opera singers of varying experience and ability to have sessions with seasoned black opera professionals, they had access to an agent and then Sir Willard White meets with them. They can get vocal coaching and lessons, career advice and can have a candid conversation with their mentor.
  2. We have launched a talent development agency, where we seek job opportunities for the singers we champion, where they can continue developing their skills, schedule show cases and be a place where other companies can come to source black artists.
  3. We have started developing our Windrush Opera, we are excited that Shirley Thompson and Winsome Pinnock are currently on board and have had much interest from other companies who want to partner with us… we intend to tour this opera which will have educational modules and it will be accompanied by an exhibition.
  4. When George Floyd was murdered we brought together singers from the UK, from America and a few other countries to sing a piece from ragtime called Make them you hear you (here it is on you tube) further more we tweeted asking British opera companies to stand with us, which of course they said they did then we took it a step further. We tweeted saying “nothing will change unless we start to have uncomfortable conversations and you start hearing our truth from our perspective… we are tired of the lip service, this is where you are failing”. We laid it all out. Inviting companies to come and have a real and open dialogues with us.

As a consequence we have been having amazing conversations with companies like Glyndebourne, ROH and Neville Holt and we are busy creating partnerships, developing practical and tangible things that they can do to help our artists… On a side note the conversations I have been having since I put on my superhero cape are very different to the ones I had at the beginning of Culture Reset,  you see I no longer feel the need to posture and to try to measure what I say for other peoples’ comfort… Which is very liberating.

  1. Then there’s the Rule Britannia debate, I have sung Rule Britannia many times in many a proms in the park around the country… I dislike the slave line, but not enough to NOT sing it and forfeit my fee, let’s call it reparations! Pegasus decided to have an artistic response to this debate. I am going to put on one of union jack gowns, sing Rule  Britannia and then we’ll create a mashed up, reimagined version and open it up for other reimagining.
  2. Lastly I hate that BAME word and refuse to be put into a box that is convenient for white people and their agendas. Growing up I had never heard this term that makes me feel ‘less than’… and let’s be honest black and brown people are not the minority ethnic of the world.. we are the global majority. Another “aha” moment that was very empowering.

I find that there is too much pontificating, data collecting and theorizing. One of my team found an article written 16 years ago where I was talking about various frustrations about being a black opera singer in England, the same frustrations the new generation face. Why are we having the same conversations today that I had and Lloyd had 20 years ago? It makes no sense. It’s not that complicated. I am actually going to give you my take… The people who had the conversations 20 years ago didn’t really care about diversity, they didn’t really see the need – it was a ‘ticking the box’ exercise or a funding opportunity – a chance to be seen to make the right noises and once that particular furor died down they could go safely go back to normal until the next time (a bit like the NRA in America)

So now it’s time to have these dialogues with this generation. How much do you really care, when BLM stops trending where do you stand, will you still be committed to making change? Is this an opportunity to be seen to be radical or are you really radical? Why is being inclusive even radical, shouldn’t it just be how it is?  I believe that there is a hunger for change and I believe that you, reading this, will make the difference, I believe that you care very much.

When I was younger I would come up with elaborate excuses to get out of homework and chores, my mother would say, “stop talking… and get on with it” so I will end my contribution to this final assembly by thanking CULTURE RESET for giving me the space to find my superhero cape, and with urging you to stop talking, and get on with it, invite more people that don’t look like you, to your table and if you want to come and share the food on my table you are more than welcome, but we are the main dish.

Alison Buchanan

Artist Director

Pegasus Opera Company