Rock Opera 101 - The Backstory
This project was the first project Petula took on as Director of Community Engagement for BROS.
Petula wanted to widen the scope of the organization's creative output. She wanted to find ways for the wealth of Baltimore's creatives of color to feel empowered to take advantage of the opportunities to tell their stories through productions with BROS. And because BROS had traditionally not done well with showcasing those talents and telling those stories, Petula began conceptualizing ways to change that. She created a concert series of three separate shows that would tell the story of how rock music and rock musical theater grew out of the traditions of the African rhythms that are the foundation of Blues music. The series musically demonstrates how rock and roll, a creation of Black musicians finding new ways to play Blues music, evolved in a way that strategically erased its non-White creators. The series also examines how rock music became part of musical theater, how creatives of color elevated that art form, and offers one vision of how the future of all creative landscapes can look when all people have equal access and no type of representation is closeted.
The three part concert was originally intended to be live performances, but the arrival of the pandemic forced those plans to change. The concerts were moved them to a totally live-streamed format, and the shows took place in July, August, and September 2020. The first concert, called "American Music", was staged on the loading dock and brewing area of Peabody Heights Brewery. It focused on African rhythmic traditions, Blues music, and classic rock music created by Black musicians and vocalists. An encore performance of this show was performed for The Kennedy Center as part of their "Arts Across America" series. After the first concert, Creative Alliance partnered with the project as presenting sponsor, and allowed the last two concerts to be staged in their space. The second concert, called "Onto The Stage" spotlighted classic rock theater musicals like Hair and Tommy, and spotlighted Black interpretations of this format as presented in shows like The Wiz and Dreamgirls. The final concert, "Into The Future," spotlighted Afrofuturistic musical sounds, styles, and lyrics. All three shows included narration performed by Petula, which ranged from interesting facts about the subject matter to poetic and inspirational words from Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lourde, Octavia Butler, and others.
Petula reached out to numerous Black creatives to help elevate the artistic vision, from singers and songwriters to musicians and craftspeople, who worked with her to create these shows. The original live streams of these broadcasts were very well received, and to date the series has been viewed by tens of thousands of people.