Tyneside Streetwise Opera film will feature work of charities

A PROJECT on Tyneside that uses music to raise the spirits of homeless people and offer them support is to be the subject of a new film.

'Streetwise Opera' filming the Benjamin Britten opera 'Peter Grimes' at St. Chad's Church in Bensham
'Streetwise Opera' filming the Benjamin Britten opera 'Peter Grimes' at St. Chad's Church in Bensham

A PROJECT on Tyneside that uses music to raise the spirits of homeless people and offer them support is to be the subject of a new film.

The cameras were rolling at St Chad’s Church in Bensham, Gateshead, this week as members of Streetwise Opera in Newcastle and Gateshead took to the stage. The filming is for a new big-screen opera directed by Bafta-nominated Rupert Jones, who has previously directed music videos for Bob Dylan, The Streets and Charlotte Church.

It is organised by the Streetwise Opera charity, which runs two groups on Tyneside to raise the confidence and self-esteem of people who have experienced homelessness.

That can mean anything from living in temporary accommodation to sleeping rough, now or in their past.

Around 40 Tyneside performers are taking part, who come from the Virginia House Hostel run by The Cyrenians, Byker Bridge Housing Association and the Streetwise Choir North East based at The Sage Gateshead. A film crew set up in the church to film the singers, who learn everything from classical music to pop songs, belting out sections of Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

Today they will be shooting on location on the beach at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, filming the final scene of the movie, with the singers taking on a newly-commissioned song by Gavin Bryars, called The Open Road.

Christian Herpailler – who currently lives in temporary accommodation in Byker, Newcastle, but slept rough on London’s streets when he was younger – told how much singing had changed his life.

“My support worker suggested I come here because I enjoy singing,” said Christian, 60. I had never been in a choir before. I loved it straight away. It is so uplifting to sing with everyone else, it is exhilarating.

“I have grown in confidence, and I feel like I have become part of a family.”

Simon Fidler, who leads the weekly Streetwise Opera workshop at St Silas’ Church in Byker, added: “We really see people grow in confidence and find their voices.

“Some people take a while to engage with what we do, but end up really enjoying it.

“The idea is to give people opportunities they would not normally have.”

The film, The Answer to Everything, tells the story of a fictional corporation promising to solve the housing crisis with a wondrous new building material made entirely from waste. But the speeches and business jargon are eventually engulfed by the emotional force of the music, as it finds the souls inside the suits.

The finished film is due to premiere next spring, and Streetwise Opera hope to organise a special screening at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema.

Earlier this year, Tyneside members of Streetwise Opera joined singers from across the UK in a special Royal Opera House concert.

For more information, visit www.streetwiseopera.org

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