When it comes to the spectrum of culture, opera has typically been viewed as distinctly highbrow, while street art and graffiti inhabit the lowbrow side of things. Opera carries with it the air of inaccessible high art. Graffiti is open to anyone with a spray can and a wall. But opera has not always been deemed as elitist Art with a capital “A.” The musical theater’s origins are actually much more aligned with that of street art: as a platform to discuss and address the political and social issues of the day.
With this in mind it doesn’t seem quite so incongruous that the Vancouver Opera’s promotional campaign for Stickboy–its thoroughly modern opera about a boy tormented and transformed by bullying featuring spoken word artist Shane Koyczan–is, in fact, a street art project. For “There’s a Monster In All of Us” Vancouver artists Nick Gregson, Carson Ting, Ben Tour and Ola Volo were commissioned to bring to life their own inner bully. Their monsters were then rendered larger than life as murals across the city.
The goal of the campaign, says Cosmo Campbell, chief creative officer of DDB Canada, the agency that conceived the project, was to create a campaign that would appeal to a younger audience and change their perception of opera, while also illuminating the pervasiveness and complexity of bullying.
“Opera was born as an art form to express the social issues of the day. Street art, to some degree, is where those issues are being expressed in our lifetime,” he says “Using street art was an opportunity to raise the issue of bullying with a younger audience and connect it to an art form that they probably weren’t familiar with.”
Each mural is tagged with the line “There’s a Monster In All of Us” and a link to www.stickboyopera.ca. That site, in addition to being a place to buy tickets, includes people’s personal stories about bullying–many of which are incredibly affecting–making Stickboy an introduction to opera for younger people who may have dismissed the art form, as well as a platform to discuss a very damaging and life-altering issue.
With the project Campbell says: “We didn’t just create advertising for an opera; we created a relevant dramatic expression of the impact of bullying, and told that story in a real and interesting way. By raising the issue and showing how it can impact anyone’s life, this positioned Stickboy as an interesting human story that happened to be an opera. This approach tapped into people’s passion about the human story, which then left them feeling passionate about the opera as well.”
Murals from “There’s a Monster In All of Us” can be viewed at 101 East Hastings St., 1488 Adanac Street, 1000 Parker Street, and 3106 Cambie Street. Stickboy runs at the Vancouver Opera until November 7.