After seeing a few Facebook posts and local media articles promoting the upcoming “Art After Dark” performances by Shreveport Opera, I wrote a quick e-mail to Executive Director Jennifer McMenamin and asked if we may be able to meet up for a conversation about the shows, which are called “Safe Word” and “The Companion” and are scheduled to be performed in February.
A week later, I found myself standing in front of a rack displaying leather whips, chains and restraints, discussing the logistics of tracking down these items with Steve Aiken, General and Artistic Director for Shreveport Opera.
“Trust me,” Aiken said, wrapping a length of chain around himself and handing McMenamin a whip. “You don’t want to see my internet search history right now.”
The pieces “Safe Word” and “The Companion” are two of three one-act operas that form a trilogy composed by Robert Paterson with libretto by David Cote. “The Companion” will be performed on Feb. 8 and 16, and “Safe Word” will be performed on Feb. 9 and 15. This trilogy, entitled Three Way, had its world premiere in Nashville, TN in 2017. The Shreveport production is only the third time that these operas have been staged anywhere in the world. Aiken was at the Nashville premiere, where he saw something that he describes as “a really interesting piece of 21st Century music that defied any stereotype of what new music can be.”
The shows are being staged in Shreveport at JR Gallery and Performance Space, a new venue located at 624 Commerce Street. Each $30 ticket includes a beer or a glass of wine from the bar. The shows are smaller in scale, designed for audiences of 50-60, and less costly to produce than traditional opera.
“We want this to be really intimate,” Aiken said. “Our performers, who do a really great job in this, will be doing talk-backs with the audience after each show.”
“The Companion” tells the story of a woman who updates her android lover with an experimental software. “Safe Word” explores the relationship between a dominatrix and her client. From my conversation with Aiken and McMenamin, it seems as though “Safe Word” is the show that’s more overtly sexy, while “The Companion” is more of a comedy. Both contain strong language and adult subject matter. Get more details or purchase tickets here and see the full cast of both plays here.
So, why produce a suite of one-act sex operas?
“We’re trying to figure out what our audience really wants from us,” McMenamin said. “If this is successful – doing new, small works in new places, then that’s a direction that we’re going to move in.”