Ted Hearne’s The Source is not your typical opera. The Source is about how we deal with the massive amounts of classified information leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2010. The piece allows audience members to experience this information not by watching the news or sitting in front of a computer where they may become distracted, but instead, through the all-encompassing magic of opera. The Source is not staged in the way you would expect and it is not a biography of Chelsea Manning’s life – choices that director Daniel Fish championed from the beginning.
“At the time, there was a lot of stuff in the press about Manning’s personal life that obscured what she had done,” says Fish. He continues, “What interested me was the sheer volume of material – 700,000 documents and videos – that she released. I went online to see them and I thought, ‘How can people come to terms with this material? How do we look at it?”
The question of how do we look at this material ultimately led Fish and production/video designer Jim Findlay to ask, “What do we look like when we watch this material?”
In the summer and fall of 2014, Fish and Findlay set up cameras in locations around Brooklyn and Manhattan and showed strangers 11 minutes of the infamous “Collateral Murder” video (a video depicting a U.S. helicopter attack on a Baghdad suburb that killed civilians and journalists). Fish and Findlay filmed the responses that people had to watching this video – reactions that were anything but general. Some people cried and were shocked; others had a more muted response.
“We spoke only a little bit to the people we filmed. We told them it is footage of a violent attack and sometimes we would talk about the show we were making, but that’s really all we would say,” recalls Fish. “We were very struck and grateful for the degree to which these strangers shared their faces, their expressions, and their emotions with us.”
The footage of these people watching the “Collateral Murder” video makes up the main visual content for The Source. In fact, there is no stage at all.
“Everybody is on stage. The audience looking at people watching the ‘Collateral Murder’ video is part of the narrative of the piece,” explains Fish.
Audience members are surrounded by large screens that show the strangers responses to the “Collateral Murder” video. There is no set response and the production team is not trying to push a specific message to the audience. Audience members make of these videos what they will, because The Source is really more about an experience of this classified information than a set theme.
Of this, Fish says, “Once The Source is up, it is no longer mine. It’s the audience’s show and I hope that they own their experience of the material – whatever it may be.”
For more information about and to purchase tickets to The Source, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.