Opera Outreach

From Nixon in China to Sweeney Todd, Eugene Opera’s low-cost ticket program connects new audiences to performances

Beadle Bamford (David Gustafson, right) advises Judge Turpin (Jake Gardner) to get a shave during rehearsals for Eugene Opera’s upcoming production of Sweeney Todd. Photo by Ashley Hastings.
Beadle Bamford (David Gustafson, right) advises Judge Turpin (Jake Gardner) to get a shave during rehearsals for Eugene Opera’s upcoming production of Sweeney Todd. Photo by Ashley Hastings.

When it comes to accessing the arts, sometimes money isn’t the only obstacle. Institutions like museums, theaters and concert halls may inadvertently express an air of exclusivity, creating an invisible barricade to community members who don’t fit the profile of “arts patron.”

Locally, the Eugene Opera is addressing this issue through its innovative Community Tix program, which provides free and reduced tickets to its performance season, along with something less tangible: a sense of belonging.

“We’ve realized that it’s the role of an arts organization to be part of the community development picture,” says Tony Meyer, a member of the Eugene Opera Board. “Our goal is community involvement with people who would never have the opportunity, or be motivated, to attend the opera.”

Over the past three years, Meyer says, the Eugene Opera has offered community organizations $5 tickets to Nixon in China, Dead Man Walking, The Elixir of Love, La Traviata and, coming up March 13 and 15, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

“The clients of social service organizations have needs, such as housing, transportation or protection,” Meyer says. “But to complement that, there’s access to the arts, for people who may not have the money to participate.”

The Community Tix program is primarily supported through individual donation. “We ask our donors to make a tax-deductible contribution of $30 per ticket, and that’s used for a community ticket,” Meyer says, adding, “These are good seats, A and B level.”

Donations earmarked for Community Tix offset the Opera’s overhead while expanding audiences for the art form.

“We had 68 tickets the first year, 72 the second year and 140 in year three,” Meyer says.

The Eugene Opera defers to partnering agencies to distribute free and reduced-price tickets to their own clients. Meyer and volunteers schedule regular educational outreach events, where they discuss opera informally, often at client-mentor potlucks or social service agency staff meetings.

“This is an open door,” Meyer says. “We would like the demand to push us. We believe in this program, and we welcome social service organizations to contact us for more details and to ask for tickets,” he says.

The Eugene Opera thus far has worked with St. Vincent de Paul, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley and Catholic Community Services of Lane County, Alvord Taylor Independent Living Services, as well as Sponsors Inc., which helps people recently released from Oregon jails and prisons to transition back into society in Lane County.

Says one Sponsors client: “My first time in the Hult Center for any event just happened to be my first operatic experience.” After attending La Traviata with his mentor, he writes, “Opera tickets are not cheap, and an opportunity to see a major event like this is rare for an individual in my situation. Thank you for this program that helps people to adjust to life’s new vistas.”

For more information about the Eugene Opera’s Community Tix program, please contact the Eugene Opera Office Manager Katie Curtis at Katie@eugeneopera.com. Sweeney Todd runs March 13 and 15. For ticket information and a full listing of lectures, exhibits and films associated with the performances, visit eugeneopera.com.

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