Liz Cass is a producer, educator, arts leader, and active operatic performer. As if that’s not enough, she’s also the founder and the Executive Producer of the award-winning LOLA (Local Opera Local Artists) and serves as the Executive Director of the Armstrong Community Music School. Wow! So we were honored to get to spend some time geeking out with her about all things opera, running a business, education, and more! Liz is simply a delight and we were inspired by her optimism, goofiness, creativity, and sincerity. We are officially fans and we’re sure you’ll be too!
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Rachel: Hello, Felicia.
Felicia: Hello, Rachel.
Rachel: How you doing?
Felicia: You know, hanging in there like everyone else.
Rachel: Hanging in there, virtually like everyone else’s for sure. Same on my end. I am so excited though because we are here with the lovely amazing Liz Cass. Liz is not only a personal friend of mine but it’s also a producer educator, arts leader opera singer and founder of the amazing Lola, which stands for local opera local artists in the lovely Austin, Texas. And as if that’s not enough, the Executive Director of the Armstrong community music school so Hi, and welcome. And thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy, busy life to hang with us.
Liz: Oh my gosh. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Rachel: Yay. So let’s just get right into it. I want to hear because I, you know, even though we’ve been friends for a while. I don’t know your journey. Let’s get you all these things.
Felicia: Now, and I feel like Rachel has shared only good things. I’m excited to learn more directly from the source.
Liz: Oh, thanks. Well, it’s, it’s been quite a journey. I got into this whole music thing when I was really young. I was drawn to singing in particular. And so I started singing taking voice lessons. I’ve stayed on that track for a while to become a professional opera singer and as time has gone by, as you’re if you’re a musician out there, then you know that you kind of piece your life together. So, you know, you’ll have gigs. But then you might do some teaching and then you might be like, oh, I kind of like teaching. So I was really, really into teaching and started teaching at the Armstrong community music school 16 years ago when I moved to Austin and at the time. The school was part of the opera company here in town. So it’s really cool because I would perform with the opera company I would teach with the school. And then I started doing some ARTS ADMINISTRATION AS WELL AND THAT. Started to progress since I was in the environment of being in a music school and an opera company. I started to learn all the different things that it took to run an opera company and a nonprofit. You know, in terms of marketing and fundraising and promotion. All of that stuff. And production budgets and things like that. And so then when after I’ve been awesome for 10 years and I thought you know the great to start an opera company like a smaller opera company here in town. To fulfill some of this vision that I had that opera could be more than just the traditional opera stuff. And so when I had the impetus to do that. I also had some some foundation in having worked with the opera company and the music school and understanding what it would take to start an organization so yeah, I think, like all of those that whole pathway gave me the skills to be able to do the things that I needed to do to start the Opera Company and then that has given me a foundation to be able to do some executive leadership for a music school as well. I mean it’s, you know, these life find you. Right. You just need you to take one step one direction and you know, another door opens up, etc, etc. So now instead of quitting singing and starting teaching and then quitting teaching and starting administration. I don’t quit anything. I just keep adding more things on the plate. And it’s been met with them, you know, mostly success. I would say, but a lot of things. I’ve had to learn through failure as well.
Rachel: Are there things that you find yourself liking more than others. As part of this work because there’s so much that you’re doing.
Liz: At times, yeah. It just depends, you know, I’ve been able to do some really fun shows that have toured to different places and sort of alternative operatic experiences as a performer. I mean, I just love love love that. But, but it also there are these other skills that I have now. And I’d be sad if I wasn’t able to put some of these other skills to practice. And sometimes, sometimes every, every bit of it is a pain, but mostly I find joy in all of it. And it’s just a matter of shifting the focus around here and there, you know, between all the different things.
Rachel: It’s wild because it’s like you’re really using both sides of your brain a lot like it’s you know you’re using so much creativity but there’s so much on the operational business side of things as well. It seems like it’s rare. It’s a rare person to really enjoy both.
Liz: Yeah, well, and I have to say that. It’s a real gift to be able to assemble the right people on your team and to work with the right people. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to assemble good folks. And to be able to walk into situations where there were already capable people in their positions. I mean, nobody can do it alone. I couldn’t do any of this stuff alone. I mean I have to know like okay, there’s certain things that are learning skills right like any of the administrative stuff is really learning. It’s just like, do you want to spend the time learning it. And so I would say I have like a basic working knowledge of all the administrative stuff. But I also know, like, okay, that I know a little bit about that and I know enough to know that I need to find somebody else who wants to do that and is a real expert at that right on.
Felicia: I think that’s such a hard thing to do. Sometimes when you just dive in, especially leading nonprofits leading small organizations. When you don’t have the resources to bring on staff or get help. You’re like, I’ll just do it all and then realize that there are things that either. You don’t know that you should bring in people, or that there are things. And this is something that Rachel and I deal with a lot that we love. But we shouldn’t be doing it because we should just pay other people to do it for us.
Felicia: We’re both
Rachel: In a perfect world.
Felicia: Data Sheet Excel lover’s data entry lovers. So yes, in a perfect world, but I want to go back to sort of talk a little bit more about really, what kind of motivated you to start the nonprofit. Like, what was that impetus to kind of like dig into that and create something when you were, you know, doing more on the performance side.
Liz: Well, there were a couple things that happened. It’s a confluence of events, you know, the housing situation of 2008 causing a recession really affected performing arts organizations and you know opera companies, a lot of regional opera companies, especially in the United States felt that opened up this kind of opportunity for smaller companies. I hate to use the word scrappier because it’s not that it’s a less quality Opera Company experience but it opened that situation, opened the door for smaller companies that did have a little bit, maybe more grit or desire to really get people to get their hands dirty. There were several singers like me across the United States that started opera companies. Well opera companies at this time. And so like we didn’t know each other, necessarily. Now there are some networks for smaller opera companies, but yeah, it was interesting that all happen at the same time, which is why I think it had something to do with the housing crisis. There was less opera. Opera, the opera companies. We knew and on a regional level really scaling back. So this opened the door for more opportunities and people I think were interested in seeing opera in a different way. And like myself there a lot of other singers out there who did want to experience opera in more than just the traditional setting like I’ve always had a desire to bring opera to people. In bars or just where they were so that everybody can understand the opera is for them opera is about the human experience. And there’s, you know, it can oftentimes be like a really. It can feel like a big class separator that art form can and yeah this is kind of my, my goal forever to bring people together through opera. So this opportunity presented itself. I had the right skill set at the time and I had never raised money before but I contacted a friend of mine who’s a stage director and who knows how to put together a budget. Production budgets and she’d done some for the Opera Company, the Austin Opera Company, and I’d worked with her on that. And I said, what will it take, and she said, it’ll take $20,000 for this first show together. And I was like, great going to crowdfund that money and that’s that’s what we did. And so we were already like a year out assembling the team and trying to do it. Correctly. I also from a creative standpoint, had a lot of friends who were a lot of women friends who were kind of not singing and not exploring who they were as artists and they were fabulous artists, but because they had made some different decisions in their life. Rather than following the typical trajectory of an opera singer and going to do these certain programs going to Germany or going to get management, some of them decided to teach or have children or start like a life and they didn’t want to live out of a suitcase.
And I thought it would. It was a real shame If the only option they had was this path that had already been paid you know carved out and paved over and over and over again. And so I had this idea to do an all female version of the opera Lobo him, and we call it La Femme Bo em.
And it was really, really extraordinary. And we met with my stage director friend Rebecca and artistic partner in Lola. She’s the artistic director, she decided to stage it as all of the women were living as people born as women, but across a wide gender spectrum. And this was in 2014 and so the Trans stuff wasn’t talked about as much then like it’s just getting going. I mean, it’s always been talked about right. It’s always been there but the world started to really pay attention to it more. And so the timing of that was really extraordinary. And yeah, that answers your question, I feel like I took a road in a curvy.
Felicia: That’s how life is. Right.
Rachel: Yeah, and it Foster like 10 more questions in my brain as you were talking. Well, one just for the most recent one is, can you just talk about the story of level em and how you translate it into left them. The one. How did that happen?
Liz: So that fits really well for like anybody because anybody who’s in the arts because lava Wim is about the Bohemians is about the original opera is about these guys who are all living in this apartment in Paris, and it’s a beautifully romantic apartment. Usually, it has a, you know, they’re like on the top of the building with a beautiful skylight or something, you know, but they’re very poor. And there you know just just scraping by there’s a poet and a musician and a painter and then these two women kind of enter their lives. Mimi is a seamstress and she’s also poor and kind of Bohemian and it tends to that actually, it’s pretty blatant later on in the opera that she’s also like a core design. So she’s a, like you know a prostitute, as all good women and operas are.
Rachel: True truth.
Liz: I roll and then there’s also. Then there’s the fiery me who is
Felicia: Very sorry
Felicia: I was like, I know I’ve seen lava when but they have the same name. Oh my. Sorry, me, me, me. Yeah.
Liz: All the women are
Felicia: Accent just slightly different
Liz: Good catch.
Rachel: On it.
Liz: Means that that is another woman in the show as well. And she’s Marcelo scrolling on again off again girlfriend. They have a tumultuous relationship with me. Me and Rodolfo super duper phone love and then Mimi has this cold. That seems like. But really, it’s like tuberculosis or something and she and Rodolfo are like breaking up and it’s kind of, it’s unclear, but maybe she wants to break up because she doesn’t want to put him through the pain of having to deal with it. He doesn’t want to have to deal with it. So they’re, they’re all young. This is the first time they’ve ever really experienced liken oh, the world is, you know, real harsh. Yeah, we can make our art and the world can seem unfair. So we don’t have money all the time. But this is the moment when Mimi’s sick for real that it’s a, you know, one of those moments that your life changes forever that you can’t. It’s like you can’t see that you can’t not experienced that, so that’s the theme. And the story is very universal and changing it over to being all women was like, no problem. I mean, the Opera is written, you know, there. There’s a it’s written in the trouble class on the base class. And so any of us like I was singing a man’s role. And so I just saying in an octave up that in the bass clef still and nothing had to be transposed is great.
Rachel: Easy, easy.
Felicia: So sorry. Just a quick side question. What are your thoughts on rent?
Liz: Oh, I mean,
Felicia: Because it’s like that’s a translation of the story for like a more modern quote unquote generation. And I’m curious if you know, like how stuff like that may or may not impact this whole thinking around like bringing opera to the masses or bringing opera to people who might not access it normally. Just curious about conversations like movies versus or like stage shows versus opera ever comes into play.
Rachel: And by the way, I was thinking like, as you were telling describing the story. I was like, oh, what is it like Avenue. Q But like just darker. So I’m glad we went to rent.
Felicia: Know puppets.
Liz: Know puppet. I mean, that’s great and rent is rent. Great. Right. It’s great. But it’s not the same thing. It is because opera, it’s the voice. I mean, that specific type of singing and also like if you’re sitting in a room experiencing that type of singing and like when we did the production. It was really you’re really up close to your like in a bar. So, it can still be powerful in its own way. I mean, I found rent to be really powerful. The story is so sad. I liked that they updated it though.
And just an opera in general, you know, trying to look at these classic themes and change how the woman always comes off. I don’t know if she’s got to die or something and I don’t know. There are a lot of stories too, like, there’s the opera Carmen where it doesn’t show a killer. In the end, and then he’s left on stage crying. And I’m like, well, what she had a comment. You know, like, all that kind of so we like to really look at the art form and think of new ways to reimagine traditional works. And so I guess that’s kind of like rent and we also want to make sure that we’re exploring the themes and if there are those themes. We’re not just taking it for granted, like oh, you know, the woman always eyes. It’s like, well, why are we looking at it that way. Why are we, why were female characters portrayed that way. Like, let’s explore that, and see if we have something to say about that.
Rachel: You and you mentioned that opera. There’s like a class divide. For the people who tend to listen to it. Do you find that your audience has skewed differently than the traditional opera goer, and how is that going?
Liz: Yeah, it’s going really well, actually, we’ve had experiences. On both sides of that coin, that is great. So folks who have experienced opera a lot in their lives, because let’s face it, like opera takes a little bit of time. And a little bit for your ear to get used to, you know, classical music. Typically even modern operas tend to be challenging musically. And then there’s the language, oftentimes, the classic offers are written in another language. So if you have spent your life working and you don’t have a lot of leisure time to invest in understanding opera, it can feel like it’s not for you, but you know, my goal is to really make sure that people know that there’s an immediacy to it. It’s a theater. It’s the human experience. So we’ve had folks who have traditionally been to, you know, like, opposite the met and that they go to Santa Fe. Every summer to see the opera and they come experience our operas in like a bar setting and it’s
awesome. I’m so glad that they get that experience. And then we’ve had people who would never dream of like attending an opera at the long center. Maybe that’s sorry the long center is the Performing Arts Center here in Austin. So they might not feel like that’s for them. And then if they come to something that we do, you know, hopefully they’ll feel inclined to go see something else as well. But even if not they’ve made the effort to come and share their time with us. And we’ve definitely had a lot of people attend our shows who have never attended an offer before. So that is like a gold star in my book.
Felicia: That’s awesome. Are there any ways that you found that you’d be willing to share that have been effective in terms of marketing. So I feel like that part is probably such a key piece of the puzzle in that sort of bridging that divide from, you know, getting people actually coming so they can then access and engage with the music in that different way. But if they’ve never done it and they’re hesitant or there’s fear or there’s other stuff going on like what’s worked in terms of actually bringing people in, I asked us, because here in Boston. A couple years ago.
I actually attended an opera and around, and this really small theater. And the reason I went with my friends is because we got really cheap tickets, because there was a whole marketing push or they’re like young people coming to the opera were like $10 sure like we got nothing better to do on a Friday night, and we had a great time. And I remember it was challenging because it was sung in I forget what language, maybe German but you know we like to read the story we went there. It was up and you know personally in our faces. And we were like, yeah, this was a good night out. But I’m just curious like that stuff that you’ve been, you know, kind of thinking about or other things that may have been impactful.
Liz: Yeah, totally. The ticket sales are huge one. So we really try to keep it low or do a pay what you can. Um, and the first software that we did was $10 of court like $10 right. So interesting you say that because that’s the idea. It’s like well for $10. I mean, people kind of do anything for $10.
Felicia: Like I can buy a coffee for $10.
Liz: And this brute, we do a brewery series, we have a concert series of local breweries. And it’s always 10 bucks, straight up, you know, and so I think that ticketing makes a difference. We have a great network. A great PR network and nice press contacts in town that help us with
the publications in and around Austin word of mouth. I think probably word of mouth is the biggest one. And keeping it fresh and fun. I mean, even when folks are trying to make opera fun and accessible, there is still some pressure to make it this very highbrow intellectual experience. Because some people do appreciate that part of opera. But if you’re trying to make it accessible for everyone and you throw around terms that people don’t know if you’re like, oh, this offer doesn’t have any recitatives and you move on, you know, people will be like, Well, what I’m sorry you’ve already lost me gone that apparently that’s not in my sphere. You know, so like breaking it down and making it as friendly and as regular as possible. I think it has been effective for us. I think our social media is pretty fun and fresh. We can always improve and Opera is always I think going to be a little bit of a hard sell. But I’m pretty proud of our communication so far. We are we are lucky enough to live in Austin, where it is a place that people do try things, they’ll, they’ll try new things like I know it’s different in different places, different, different cities, you really have to like prove yourself and not that as an artist, you shouldn’t be trying to up your game all the time, right. But in Austin, people really are like, great. You want to do something, go do it. They’re there. The attitude is always very encouraging. And I think that that is huge. That’s just the culture here. So it’s a great place to start things.
Rachel: That, that reminds me of a question that I should have asked earlier on is how did you get into opera. Specifically, you mentioned music, but it’s since it’s not something that is, you know, rent.
Liz: I wish I knew. You know, I get asked that question a lot and there’s not like this moment where I was like, yes, opera is for me. Who was listening to, you know, Dino Glennon Doyle?
Yeah, so I was like, watch a little video that she posted on Facebook and she was talking about writing and how people like how you know if you’re a writer. And one way you can tell us if you’re envious. Or it’s like, you know, kind of like a four letter word but if somebody if you’re
watching somebody do something and you’re envious like that’s one way for you to tell like oh well. Maybe I should be doing that until like I remember being really young and watching people on stage and performing and it was torture, like if I went to a live performance. Doesn’t matter what it was like Nutcracker anything and I should also back up and say that my parents are classical musicians. So my dad’s car.
Felicia: But the ass says like, How are you even as?
Liz: I know. I was at concerts. I grew up going to concerts, all the time, I was at pn there Canis. So is it piano concerts. I mean, I was exposed to this fabulous music from the get go, and also my dad’s mother was a singer. She was an opera singer, but or classical singer, I should say, I don’t know that she was ever, particularly in an opera, but she was a classical singer. But by the time I knew her. She was definitely not singing anymore. So I never really got to hear her saying, but apparently her voice is legendary. So it’s kind of like in the genes and cultures and my family so you know, it’s a nap. It’s a natural fit. But I also know that from a time I was very young being anywhere and watching anyone on stage. Just, just just made me so mad. And it was interesting because I didn’t like that I couldn’t put a label on it. I
Felicia: Were you mad because you wanted to also be doing it, or were you mad because you’re like, I don’t like this get me out.
Liz: Great. I was mad because I wanted to be doing it and I would go to these choir concerts.
At the university where my dad was teaching and they’d have all these singers up there that you know they were mature singers who could sing and I was like five years old and I’m like, I know I can do that. I know I can. And so then I started singing in the talent shows, but I would get really, really nervous. Like I would have the stage fright and so no one. And it’s interesting to me because my parents were performers, but nobody in my house ever talked about performance anxiety, no one that was ever like into leading a school choir that I was in, or anything. Nobody ever talked about performance anxiety. So I literally and I never asked so I was literally inside my little brain going like dying. So I wanted to be on stage so bad and also thinking that there was something terribly wrong with me and that I was obviously an imposter because I had stage fright.
Rachel: Interesting. Fascinating.
Rachel: So, next time somebody asks you, How did you get into it? I don’t think you have to say, I don’t know.
Felicia: Well, it’s so funny because you were sharing your story. It made me sort of flashback to my own childhood, because my parents were definitely not performers and not musicians at all, but because they didn’t have that growing up, they wanted their children to have access to that.
And so what they did with us all. I have a brother and sister with all three of us at various points when we were very young. They took us to a classical music concert and then they asked us, which instrument. Do you want to play? And so at like four or five years old, I was taken to this orchestra concert in Philadelphia. And I was like the violin. And so that’s how I got the violin. My brother plays the cello. My sister plays the piano, but it’s just so interesting hearing like it’s kind of similar path. I was like, oh, I want to do that. Like, that’s something I want to do at a very young age. Now, to be fair, I don’t play violin really anymore. But I do think that it’s, um, you know, this idea of access and giving people that possibility. Before you put in place those self imposed barriers, where you’re like, oh, this is not for me or I can’t do that, or I’m not going to be part of this scene or whatever it might be. It’s really interesting.
Liz: Yeah, absolutely. And there are lots of programs now that really get into the communities and make sure that these things are sustainable. So a kid. If a kid is drawn to something. And of course, how do you know you’re going to be drawn to something unless you’re exposed to it.
But when you’re drawn to something that there’s some sustainable, there’s a sustainable program in place to help support that. Because musicians come from all over and come from every single kind of background and to limit that you know, would be a real, real crime also to limit anybody to the access of just having the enriching experience, like you said you didn’t use you don’t play. Currently, but I’d be so interested to know if that opened up a world for you or connected you to humanity in a way that you wouldn’t have been if you didn’t have access to the violin for a time in your life.
Felicia: Absolutely. I mean, I was part of this, you know, this group, growing up pretty much I played all the way through college. And after but just getting getting to be able to meet different musicians like I i’ve met and play with Yo Yo Ma and Riccardo Muti and like all sorts of amazing
what some people back in the day.
Rachel: Wow, just like drop name drop those
Felicia: I know. I’ll have to ask my mom if she couldn’t find the picture. I had this hilarious picture of my little brother and myself. I must have been like five or six years old. He was probably three and we had met Ricardo Moody and so my parents were like taking a picture. And it’s just hilarious like black and white photo and I look so pissed off because I was very sick that day and they made me go anyway because obviously like how would you pass the buck chance to have your child play with this amazing renowned international, you know, composer and amazing musician and so I look so angry and then my little brother is like super happy. But yeah, no. Yeah, I think music in general is like even just from the standpoint of, we’re talking earlier, I think you mentioned Rachel like left brain, right brain. Like being able to process information in a different way that if you don’t have access to thinking about this, you can apply that to things like math and you know musicality. And just like it’s not just about learning how to sing the notes or learning how to play something. It’s about expressing through that and how you can, you know, really convey that story or those feelings. Which I think is it’s a really valuable skill in general. So wow I feel like I’m just like tapped into this whole side of my life that I’ve like left.
Rachel: Wow, Liz. You just like you just opened a Pandora’s box.
Liz: It’s great that is a great example of how music is such a connector like you have music or art of any kind in your life, you’re more deeply connected to the human experience and makes you have to build skills in yourself like, you know, like you were just talking about. I definitely had to get over the stage fright. My desire to sing and I don’t know what was leading me. I honestly don’t know what was leading me because it was very painful. It was painful to watch others perform and then it was painful to get up and perform myself. Hmm. So it’s an i don’t know i don’t know what pushed me, but there was a driving force within me that just kept going.
Rachel: So how did you overcome it? How do you overcome your own stage fright?
Liz: It’s easy.
Felicia: Like, share your secrets, please.
Liz: It’s so easy and simple. You won’t even believe it. You just put yourself in front of other people and you make music
Rachel: Over and over and over and over again.
Liz: And again and again and again and again and again and again there’s you’ve heard this a million times. There’s no way. There’s no way. There’s no way out, but through right so you just
Rachel: True. I will tell you. I just had. I just watched the voice and James Taylor is the coach. Currently, he actually gave advice. He said, Take 50 breaths, count 50 times backwards and as you take breaths like 5049 whatever and then by the time at some point in that period, you just start, you just relax. So there’s that tip. There’s that hot take producing performance anxiety.
Liz: If somebody can focus on that right before they perform, that’s great. Yeah, people have little tricks for calming down.
Rachel: That’s true.
Liz: But one of my things is like I’m getting ready to go on stage, like say it’s a big performance and it’s I’m doing it from memory, inevitably, the thought, I will have before walking out on stage.
I don’t know any of my words. I don’t know where all my words, what are all my words and all you have to remember the first word and then
Liz: We have that thought and then I follow it by this one. Imean, if I fall if I fall on my face and the whole thing crashes like nobody died. It’s gonna be fine and can be terrible.
Rachel: That’s totally the way I go down with all of this stuff is like just, you know what, no one’s dying is that that I’m not, I’m not a brain surgeon.So, it’s fine. But I am someone who’s seen you perform several times. I would never have known that at all nervous.
Liz: That’s the trick. You want people to feel comfortable and you want to share it, and it is a weird experience and it is exhilarating and then once those nerves do go away. You know, sometimes it’s like a second or sometimes a friend of mine was just talking about. He’s a pianist, and he was talking about the worst is if you’re totally calm and you go out to perform, which is really disorienting. And then all the sudden you get nervous in the middle of the thing. It can be unpredictable sometimes. And you know, I spent years performing where I was like this is great. I’m fine. I’m fine. And then I don’t know what it was about seven or it was like eight years ago I was in the middle of a performance. And I’m like, I have to stand up and sing in a minute. I don’t know if I can do this. Why is my head hot like freaking out and it was fine and I got this like awesome review in the paper and
Felicia: You’re like, I guess like chicken. More often
Liz: It’s so funny because it’s like, you know, you try to maybe it has something to do with control like like we try to master something and we try to control it and we’re in art, we’re dealing with the human human condition. So, how much can we really control anyway. And then, you know, your body and your mind sort of show you sometimes in the middle of performance like you better just speak from the heart because I might start freaking out right now.
Rachel: So real, so real. So last I saw you were, you were running a performance and starring in Largo weeping. Yeah, and which was incredible. I’m curious to know what is currently in the works.
Liz: So that was the first workshop performance of Florida. We’ve been and we are currently in the full production mode. So all of that has been composed and it’s this amazing piece of music composed by Peter suction ski and the original playwright who were working very closely with Terry Galloway and Donna know. They’re just unbelievable. People look them up. They’re doing incredible work, they’re based in Florida right now and they do really powerful, hilarious and tough theatrical work. And this piece is about a very large weeping. It’s about a very reclusive eccentric intelligent tortured woman Dinah Lafarge and the piece culminates she’s wearing a bodysuit and the piece culminates with her tearing off like there are different parts of her body that are Velcro and she tears them off. So there’s this real visceral moment where you can hear the body parts being torn off and where she has some jokes about them. But basically it’s the, it’s the common Terry tearing yourself apart and putting yourself back together every day. From the perspective of a woman. It’s a really interesting piece. So that will be in the spring, summer of 2021 the full production will go up. And so we’re working right now on getting the body suit designed and cutting part of the show because all together. It’s about two hours. And it’s a really a one woman show for the most part myself singing. t’s really hard to sing for two hours straight, without stopping. So we’re trying to truncate it to an hour and a half. And figure out those things so that it’s healthy for the voice because it’s a really great operatic piece. And I think the operatic voice fits it well, but there are some limits to how much somebody can sing at any given time. So that’s where we are with that piece.
Rachel: That’s incredible. How did you come to it? What’s your process like? What is that since you’re, you’re not just the performer. You’re everything or any built team.
Liz: Of my friend Peter the composer. He and I were talking about a commission piece for my opera company. And so that’s how this was born. It’s been years we’ve been working on this and my Maverick companies are six years old. And again, I should say, my partner is Rebecca Herman. She’s the artistic producer and I’m the executive producer. We do. We make a lot of the decisions together though. It’s really just mostly the two of us. So our friend and collaborator Peter has written this piece and we commissioned it from him, and it took a while to actually find the subject. And the story that we wanted to tell. And then he remembered he’d seen this show lata weeping and he’d met Terry Galloway through his girlfriend Lana Leslie, who’s one of the room mechanicals in Austin, Texas. It’s a really amazing theater organization. So all of these people connected to other people the right story, I think, is getting told and it seems like a perfect fit for the kind of art that we want to be producing and a really great piece to be our first commission for sure. Awesome.
Felicia: Awesome. I’m excited for this, although it’s coming out next you have to wait a little bit but I also want to talk a little bit about what’s currently happening because what you do is, so based around performance and audience people and you were talking a lot about that sort of in person aspect and getting people in bars and breweries and connecting. And so what’s been shifting if anything in terms of the spiritual world that we’re now living in.
Liz: Oh gosh, that’s so that’s just really such a deep dive. I’m glad you brought this up and that we’re talking about it so Um, we canceled. One of our brewery concerts in March and then we were also producing concert version of this new opera called good country which is written about an actual transgender stagecoach driver who was born a woman but lived as a man in the wild west. And The Great story. And the music’s wonderful composed by Keith ALEC ready and the playwright is Cecilia breaker. And anyway, we had to cancel that as well, so that we felt the burden of having to cancel two little, little small concert things. So it wasn’t like a huge production. So we’ve just been sitting tight. Because we’re such a small operation. Things are okay for us right now and it feels good to go ahead and start planning for something a year out
now with the music school. So it’s a community music school. We’re a nonprofit. Also, and we really are built on music for everyone, regardless of any barrier, similar to what we were talking about earlier. And excellence and instruction and listening to the community and offering programming, where it’s needed. So we have a lot of lessons to take the last lessons and classes that take place in the school. And then we also do a lot of community programs outside of the school. So all of our one on one private instruction lessons have been moved online and so teachers are teaching from their homes. All of our early childhood music classes. They’ve been moved online and also we have a little piano class that has been moved online. So everything is virtual and even our summer session or for summer session of early childhood. We’ve already planned to be virtual because of the zoom lessons and some things that we were already practicing that we’re doing okay there you know, of course, the big concern is the individual teachers and how they are faring in this. I mean, most of them, like all of us have lost several gigs, I myself as a performer have lost several gigs, because my
livelihood is greatly diversified. It’s not as much a concern for me. But some people, it’s really tough. Like if you can’t perform, you’re not you’re not making a paycheck at all. So we’re trying to give our teachers as many opportunities as possible to make money and to continue teaching, that’s the best we can do as far as performing at all, or like live streaming from homes. It’s done a little bit, you know, I think some things that are happening are really cool. But I think everybody gets a little tired of zoom also right like
Rachel: Why am I talking about
Felicia: I don’t understand.
Rachel: Are you talking about?
Felicia: I’m like, no, yes, of course.
Rachel: As we’re on our 5000 Zoom in the past. And I think today’s date is April 14,620 second.
Liz: Zoom fatigue is real. I think it’s something that we’re all going to be exploring
Felicia: Yeah, I was just, I was reading some articles earlier this week about this whole virtual fatigue and everything and how a lot of it ties back to the fact that when we’re in person. We can’t see ourselves but in a zoom or Google Hangout, or whatever. That awareness of yourself is always there. And so, your brain is actually working overtime, because it’s not like sitting around a table as if we were podcasting in person. You know, maybe Rachel and I would just be looking at you or you just be looking at one of us, but now we have all these different things. And all of this information that’s just like dumped on our brains and it’s, it is actually really exhausting.
Liz: I’ve got a light here and a microphone over here and I had to put lipstick on my face because I didn’t know you know I
Rachel: look gorgeous.
Felicia: We I guess we appreciate
Rachel: I gotta tell you it has been really funny with these we’re like maybe we’ll put them. Maybe we’ll make these YouTube videos. And then we’re like, nevermind. We’ll just keep it podcast and we’ll have our faces not shown, but then we don’t tell our lovely guests.
Felicia: So it’s, it’s how we should probably
Rachel: We should probably tell them, because we feel bad because you all look lovely and we’re like syllabi, so
Liz: Well, you know, take a picture for promo or anything, but we’re ready. We’re ready.
Rachel: So true. Well you are and Felicia looks great.
Felicia: I told my team earlier. I was like I actually showered this morning because I was going to video call with a client. And I was like, why am I showering like a video doesn’t. There’s no smell O vision like whatever
Liz: Well, you’re, you’re one step ahead of me. I’m sorry. But I didn’t see my face.
Rachel: You look lovely. Okay, real blessed too.
Felicia: I want to, I want to quickly go back to one thing that came to mind when you were talking about sort of the shift into zoom and virtual and everything. And I’m wondering if you’re seeing at all, or if you thought at all about how this could potentially open up clientele to beyond just Austin or sort of the neighborhood. Because now that we are virtual and your teachers are teaching you know I’m wondering if you’re seeing people who are outside of the region being like, Oh, I could totally sign up for a class or I want to, I want to work at this teacher
Has that gotten into the conversation at all?
Liz: It has. I mean, we’re all aware that this can really open up some of those opportunities and like when you’re in a physical space together to class size. Is really important managing the class size of that. But now it’s like well, everybody can sign up because they’re in their own homes participating. So that is a potential boost in some ways to the revenue stream or getting some revenue from other places. And of course, it really opens it up to folks outside of Austin totally and so it also with Lola, you know, going forward and exploring some video options. You know, I think that most performing organizations are probably working really hard to figure out how to create the best sound possible because this is in some way, shape, or form. This is our world forever, right like that. So this will stick
Felicia: Like like
Liz: For a very long time and I don’t think that it’s something like okay and now nobody uses zoom for all these millions of things we use zoom for for six months, like, now we’ll probably be using it for a while they’ll probably be lots of older patrons who will want to experience art from their homes and it’s especially if they’re like, higher, higher risk you know with this particular virus and grandparents at the school who live in other places. Maybe they want to take, you know, participate virtually with their families and this. You know that will be a good way for them to do that going on, going forward, but, uh, that’s that that’s really an important thing. How is this going to affect like a broader audience and what are the opportunities there, you know, maybe, maybe really investing in some marketing to folks outside of Austin and you know there are a lot of I’m so glad you about the satellite. Now I can brainstorm. Because there are a lot of rural areas in Texas that don’t necessarily have access to music or don’t even have music teachers in their school districts. You flush. I’m gonna write this
Rachel: Lady know
Felicia: HP is
Rachel: Will give
Liz: You a cut.
Rachel: You know. Well, it’s funny because we have the same way, it’s like, wow, we can actually reach people that we haven’t been able to reach before. So there is there that is the upside. Zoom fatigue aside. I like to switch gears, because I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, but I would love to know, looking ahead. What’s the, what’s the big vision for you. What’s it, what’s it look like?
Liz: Oh my gosh, the big vision for me is that everyone in the world has access to music that anyone who wants to explore opera feels like they deserve it. That they have the resources available to make that happen in their lives that they understand that they can commit as much time or as little time to the art form and still be enriched by it in their lives that they can have fun with it. And that goes for other music as well. That people don’t feel that there’s any barrier between them. And this art that they are beautiful works of art themselves and that their voice is something that the world needs to hear. So that’s kind of my big vision and that is music school.
Continues to provide these services that the music school continues to be a very steady rock in our community. So like even the day to day of just ensuring that an organization is healthy like that takes a lot of energy and a lot of thought. I would love for Lola. I would love to see us tour larder weeping in particular and some other shows. We did take left elbow him out and it was
fun, but it. That’s a lot of work, it’s, it’s a lot of people so I think some touring would be great. You know, you talk about engaging with other people in the world. And I think that that would be so much fun. Plus, I’m just like, ready to travel to all i mean I don’t know what I would find, but I would just like to be in another place with some new smells and sights and sounds and languages and just would be such a treat.
Rachel: Of that
Liz: I just, I’m enjoying this so much because I look delicious. Rachel speed.
Rachel: I know, and your cute little is not a good time it looks very tiny because I don’t know, but I’ve been rough, it’s like a spatial oh yeah it is very tiny. Okay.
Liz: See you.
Rachel: Later ukulele. Well, I couldn’t tell how far back.
Felicia: To walk very far from
Liz: An enormous room. It’s just you.
Felicia: Our last question which we always like to end with is to ask our guests. What are you currently eating out about that’s not related to like your work or opera singing
Liz: I’m so glad you asked this question. There are four things.
Felicia: Oh my gosh, okay here though.
Liz: Out about right now okay so birds, birds of all kinds. I’m obsessed with birds right now. I think they’re amazing and I can’t believe how many different kinds of birds there are in the world. And that I’m just like, I could sit outside and be like, there are animals flying through the sky right now. But that’s happening.
Rachel: They’re dinosaurs.
Rachel: You have a favorite bird.
Liz: Well, I have, oh, I have lots of dreams and artistic projects in the works. But my sister and I are working on a book about a flamingo and it ties into culture. So the book is going to be about this amazing bird and its journey to understanding who it is. And it’s a flamingo and I can’t give away too much, but it has it. It’s a flamenco dancer.
Rachel: It’s a flamingo flamenco dancer.
Liz: Her name is slow. The flamenco flamingo. And so, you know, it’s an unlikely art form for a flamingo. But it is like here to the world of art and travel and Spanish culture, but she also performs in France and Italy. Anyway, she goes, she has just this really rich life. So I’m partial to flamingos at the moment.
Rachel: I mean, I get that I actually got to see some flamingos making out, which was kind of special because their beaks, where they were like yeah, it looked like they were kissing like their beaks were just together and they were making like a heart shape. It was really lovely. When you come when you come back to San Diego and the zoo opens, we will go.
Liz: I would love that. And I could pretend I’m on Three’s Company.
Rachel: That’s right.
Rachel: I’m so sad because I didn’t think it was that Three’s Company was from San Diego. It turns out it was the Santa Monica Pier. So I feel really
Felicia: sad about the person that’s
Liz: Then they say they were in San Diego.
Rachel: I thought they were. But then I looked it up.
Felicia: In and they weren’t. I don’t know. I don’t know either.
Rachel: Anyway, that’s one you have three more.
Felicia: What’s 234 let’s get them.
Liz: Okay. The other one is, I’m on the search for the perfect lemon cello. Yes, I do want to tell our listeners what that is, just in case.
Liz: So it’s a it’s a lemon liquor and it’s I think its origins are in Italy. It’s an Italian tradition. So a lot of the Lehman cellos are from Italy, but you can make your own. I think I’m going to try it. You make your own vodka or green alcohol lemon Ryan’s and sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar, sugar,
Felicia: I’m laughing because I was literally talking about this last night with my fiance. I went to Italy last summer with my family on a family trip. I got a little bottle of limoncello. I haven’t opened it yet because I’m working the way through the rest of the liquor cabinet at the moment. My last night. We’ve been doing this whole like homesteading thing. He walks up to me by the way he doesn’t drink. He walks up to me and he’s like, I think we should pick her only one cello like no.
Felicia: I have a whole bottle that I haven’t opened yet. See, I’m the only one who’s going to be drinking
Liz: It just give it to you have
Rachel: Basically, the way their relationship works. It’s pretty amazing, he cooks and bigs for her so it’s
Felicia: Anyway, I don’t wanna. I don’t want to distract. So that’s two. So now what about three and four.
Liz: Three or four TV shows and I’m going to go highbrow and then I’ll finish with lowbrow to TV shows that have been really geeky out over my brilliant friend on HBO.
Felicia: I don’t know.
Rachel: How do I not know this.
Liz: It’s unbelievable. And speaking of Italian culture. It takes place in a little town right outside of Naples sort of post World War Two. And so there’s this dialect that they’re speaking that’s
dialect of southern Italy, that’s really interesting to listen to. First, when I was watching it when I started watching it. I knew nothing about it. I was like, is that Portuguese is that Italian this turns out it’s this really interesting dialect from southern Italy. It also focuses on people, not knowing what to do with females who are bright and intelligent
Felicia: The age old question.
Rachel: Why do you not
Felicia: smart woman.
Liz: What do you do, I guess we’ll just tell us you can go school. So I’m Sorry There’s, it’s a tough show to watch. And there’s some violence, but I don’t feel it’s gratuitous I feel like it’s
A super high quality show that I’m just obsessed with it right now, but I have. I do have to digest it in small portions. I can’t bend it now. I can binge watch 100% vegetable and I’m, you know, I’m just gonna be proud to say this a show that I’ve discovered that has saved my last life these past few months has a show called below deck on Bravo.
Rachel: Bravo show
Liz: It is amazing. Below deck focuses on a crew. Yacht crew during the seed the yacht season, which I guess is some six weeks in, I don’t know, February or March and Madness and Seuss.
Rachel: It’s a reality show, right. We’re like a crew. Yeah, yeah. So, they’re all like horrible people basically most of them. Some of them.
Liz: You know, they have their moments. It goes up and down, but I have. I’ve developed a crush on Captain Lee. I hope you won’t judge me for that.
Rachel: Oh, I’m going to watch it. I am going to judge you.
Felicia: And see what we what my judgment wearable fall
Rachel: I’m definitely gonna judge you. I might judge you well.
Liz: I feel a little I feel strange even saying that out loud. Know what it is.
Felicia: Right now.
Liz: And later seasons. He starts wearing some floral shirts that look really good. He’s always like leaning back in his chair when he talks to people. He always seemed like a little to relax. I don’t know what it is about him. It makes me mad. And I’m also attracted to him.
Rachel: He’s an older gentleman.
Felicia: Yeah. Oh.
Felicia: Something something’s going on. All right, I judge a judge favorably.
Rachel: Really, why?
Felicia: I know he looks based on the Google search images. He looks like he’s worthy of a crush.
Rachel: I don’t know. He looks authoritative.
Felicia: Like a full head of white hair and a beard. I do like a man with a beard. I
Rachel: Think you like the stripes. I think that’s what it is. You like the power of the stripes.
Liz: I’m not usually a uniform person. Maybe it’s because he’s like on a yacht or something.
Felicia: The images I see he’s like got his arms crossed, like a little like
Liz: He’s always like, don’t, don’t piss me off. There are only three rules: don’t embarrass yourself. Don’t embarrass the boat and we don’t drink on Charter. That’s from that’s from below deck.
Rachel: Well, we will be linking to that in the show notes.
Liz: A very short time I have watched almost six seasons. So, yeah.
Rachel: This is what this is what the pandemic has brought us
Felicia: Okay. Thanks.
Rachel: So I want to wrap things up by seeing it. Are there any places where can people find you?
Liz: Where can they find me? I’ll tell you. You can find me in several places. Liz opera.com I’ll try to update my website. If you’re going to go with this episode, Eric. Just kidding. So live cast live cast opera.com and I’ve got Lola Austin dot o RG and our music school is a CMS a C M F austin.org stands for Armstrong community music school.
Rachel: And can I also just like to link to your Instagram account because it’s hilarious.
Liz: I guess it’s all about birds right now.
Rachel: Oh, good.
Liz: I do a bird of the day video, it gets me up in the morning.
Felicia: Anything I do. All right.
Rachel: Oh well thank you so much for participating and talking with us. This was unsurprisingly, a true delight.
Liz: Oh my, I am so delighted. Thank you. I hope I made sense. I hope I said it’s something that was helpful.
Rachel: You did many things.
Liz: Thank you so much for having me y’all are amazing.