Press Release: White Snake Projects Announces Community Songwriting Project Sing Out Strong Immigrant Voices

Creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs and her production company, White Snake Projects, are proud to announce the launch of the new multi-year community engagement initiative Sing Out Strong, which will foster the creation of new songs on themes arising from the company’s mainstage operas. The inaugural edition of the project, Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices, will complement and add context to Jacobs’s new opera, I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams, composed by Mexican-born composer Jorge Sosa, which explores immigration, dislocation, and transformation in America. The songs will be presented both throughout the community and to mainstage audiences, bridging the gulf that typically exists between a company’s operatic productions and its community and educational outreach activities.

The first step in the process is the sourcing of immigrant stories from the Boston and wider Massachusetts community. Any new or first-generation immigrant who resides in Massachusetts is eligible to submit songs, poems, text, or stories predominantly told in English. For this component, White Snake Projects is partnering with many immigrant advocacy groups, including the Immigrant Learning Center (ILC), which provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston, and, through its Public Education Institute and Institute for Immigration Research informs the wider public about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in the United States. The ILC also offers an Immigrant Theater Class, which gives upper-level students an opportunity to write and perform plays drawn from personal experience as a way of enhancing their English vocabulary, pronunciation and presentation skills, perfectly dovetailing with the concept of Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices. Diane Portnoy, Founder and CEO of the ILC, comments:  

“The Immigrant Learning Center’s Theater Program has demonstrated that theater can be a powerful way to share the immigrant experience. We are excited to see how the addition of music will help these stories hit home and touch hearts.”

The writers will be matched in songwriting teams with composers who are also new or first-generation immigrants, or who strongly identify with the immigrant experience. The resulting collaborative songs will be presented in free public concerts around Boston in August and September of 2019, as well as on the Robert J. Orchard Stage of Boston’s Emerson Paramount Theater as a prologue to I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams, which premieres on September 20, 2019, and runs through September 22. This exchange and interrelation between community and operatic production, intimately involving the community in the creative process, represents a significant step forward for the mission of White Snake Projects to integrate original opera with social activism.

Three venues around Boston are slated for community performances of Immigrant Voices during the month of August: Villa Victoria, developed in the early 70s in a predominantly Puerto Rican section of the South End; the Pao Performing Arts Center, opened in 2017 as an adjunct to the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center; and the Podcast Garage in Allston, dedicated to supporting the work of local audio producers and storytellers. The intent is to precede each performance with a panel discussion on immigration convened with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), which is also partnering with White Snake Projects on this year’s edition of Sing Out Strong. At the Podcast Garage, the panel discussion will take place on a live podcast, followed by an outdoor concert in nearby arts hub Zone 3.  

In addition, White Snake Projects is partnering with Juventas New Music Ensemble, a Boston-based incubator for promising musical pioneers, on Juventas’s “Voices of America” concert (April 13), an evening of new music that shares stories of immigrants and refugees. Juventas will present a special preview of excerpts from I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams as part of this program. 

As Dreamer composer Jorge Sosa says:

“We are not naïve enough to think that an opera will somehow solve the world’s immigration problem, but what we can do is create a dialogue in our community. Art can change communities, so it’s about that, it’s about connecting with more people and creating a positive loop of empathy and dialogue. That’s when we can begin to possibly see a change.”

Directed by Elena Araoz, and conducted by Maria Sensi Sellner, I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams tells the story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Rosa, a “dreamer” who is waiting in jail before being deported, and the relationship she develops with her court-appointed attorney, Singa, an ethnically Chinese immigrant from Indonesia. The cast was carefully chosen to reflect the ethnicities of the characters and to bring to the project a wide variety of perspectives on the immigrant experience. Also central to the score of Dreamer are the voices of children. At a time when the plight of immigrant children has become increasingly politicized, the opera allows the voices of the children themselves to be heard, as a commentary on and counterpoint to the struggles of the adults around them. As Jacobs explains:

“I think if people can open their minds after seeing this opera, they can understand that the immigrants are not just a teeming mass of humanity in caravans, but they’re real human beings, each with their own very important story.”

A preview video for I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams can be seen here.

About White Snake Projects White Snake Projects brings diverse, timely and relevant opera, based on original stories by Cerise Jacobs, to Boston’s main stages. Like the legendary White Snake demon who becomes human to live intensely, White Snake Projects transforms present-day experience into passionate new opera made in America. The company believes there is no better way to bridge the chasms of race, national origin and gender then through a reimagined art form combining cutting edge technology, music, theater, and dance. This ambitious strategy was kicked off with Ouroboros Trilogy, a trio of grand operas, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake, in September 2016 and continued with REV. 23 (2017), PermaDeath (2018), and I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams (2019).

For high-resolution photos, click here.

Cerise Jacobs: coming events, plus I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams world premiere

April 13
Boston, MA
First Church Boston
“Voices of America”
Juventas New Music Ensemble
Excerpts from I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams

Aug 2, 3pm and 6pm
Boston, MA
Villa Victoria
SING OUT STRONG: Immigrant Voices + Panel Discussion

Aug 9, 6pm
Boston, MA
Pao Performing Arts Center
Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices + Panel Discussion

Aug 24, 6pm
Boston, MA
Podcast Garage and Zone 3
Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices + Panel Discussion

Sep 20-22
Boston, MA
Prologue: Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices

I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams
Emerson Paramount Theater, Robert J. Orchard Stage

Rosa: Carla López-Speziale, mezzo-soprano
Singa: Helen Zhibing Huang, soprano
Mother/Gangster/Prosecutor: Kirsten Chambers, soprano
Child Rosa: Isis Contreras Perez
Child Singa: Amy Li

Creative team:
Composer: Jorge Sosa
Creator and Librettist: Cerise Lim Jacobs
Director: Elena Araoz
Music Director: Maria Sensi Sellner
Boston Children’s Chorus Director: Jason Holmes
Costume and Set Designer: Zane Pihlstrom
Lighting Designer: Jeff Adelberg
Producer: Wanda Strukus
Executive Producer: White Snake Projects