HALO stages nontraditional performances to bring live theatre to everyone
Opera singers Leah Edwards and Dimitri Pittas founded the Holy City Arts and Lyric Opera to share the art form with a broader audience.
Opera singers Leah Edwards and Dimitri Pittas, founders of the accessible opera and theater company Holy City Arts and Lyric Opera (HALO), happened upon one of their best ideas in their own backyard. Actually, make that their driveway.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the husband-and-wife team were singing in their Mount Pleasant home, where they’ve lived since moving from New York in 2015. “This was the first week of April 2020,” Edwards says. “So, Dimitri and I were singing in our house, and we saw some of our neighbors walking by. Then they stopped in front of our house. We were concerned, so we went out and asked, ‘Is everything okay?’ It turned out they were listening to us,” she says, laughing.
“So, we said, ‘Why don’t we do an outdoor concert?’ We were singing anyway, so we decided to do it in our driveway.”
Edwards and Pittas presented Social Distance-SING! concerts with a piano in a pickup truck.
That was the beginning of a series of driveway concerts featuring the two internationally known opera singers (a tenor and a soprano, respectively) and a piano in a pickup truck. The couple has performed more than 120 “Social Distance-SING!” concerts in neighborhoods and driveways all over the Lowcountry. In doing so, they’ve grown a wide support network for Holy City Arts and Lyric Opera—a nonprofit company and arts organization founded with the goal of welcoming more audience members to the art form. Here, Edwards and Pittas speak about HALO, their careers, and staging their first season at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park this fall.
The Why: Our joking answer is we were sort of strong-armed into it. We were living this nice, semi-retired life down here, and in 2018, we did a concert with the Charleston Symphony called “Masquerade.” We’d been telling our neighbors and friends about it, and many of them had never been to a classical performance before. On the night of the concert, I looked down from the stage, and there was our neighborhood! They’d bought the entire front section of the Gaillard—it was so nice that they took a chance on something they were tentative about because they wanted to support us. We talked to our community to see if there really was local interest in starting a full-time arts organization. That year is when we began building the structure for what would become HALO. — Leah Edwards
Audience Engagement: What’s important to us is the audience experience from beginning to end. With our driveway concerts, for example, Leah and I typically introduce the opera or musical theater pieces we’re singing and give a brief synopsis. We asked audiences, “Do you like that, or would you prefer us to talk less and sing more?” The answer to that was to sing more! So we adapted based on that feedback. We also realized that a lot of people who haven’t been to an opera performance before don’t know there are always subtitles—translations on a screen so everyone can understand what’s going on. That’s a legit reason that people don’t go to the theater. We have those ourselves on an LCD screen attached to our pickup truck when we perform. Opera really is for everyone. We want everyone to experience it in a way that makes them feel fulfilled.—Dimitri Pittas
Committed to Inclusivity: There’s a reason our tag line is “Opera for y’all.” Dimitri and I are very committed to inclusivity and accessibility. What we have the opportunity to do with HALO is build it from the ground up with diversity and inclusion as part of the foundation. We want to give artists the chance to showcase their talents when they’re not being given those opportunities elsewhere. —Edwards
Coming Soon: We’re doing traditional works but in nontraditional ways. This October, we’re staging La Traviata outdoors at The Joe, in order to maintain the highest possible level of safety for our audience and performers. The serendipity of all this is it’s always been our vision to have an outdoor venue—Dimitri and I actually met while performing at the Santa Fe Opera, which is an outdoor venue. So we’re hoping to invite both our audiences and performers to step outside their comfort zones. —Edwards
Holy City Arts and Lyric Opera’s La Traviata runs October. 22, 26, & 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $36-$76. Learn more at holycityarts.org.