It’s time for another installment of our Collaboration Champions series, where we talk to leaders who bring people together in unique and exciting ways. Today, we’re speaking with Brianna Maury, co-founder of LoftOpera, who is bringing the opera to a whole new generation with an unconventional approach to a night out at the opera house.
If you’ve ever been to the opera, you’ve probably never seen someone wear jeans. Or drink beer. That is, until you go to LoftOpera — an innovative way of bringing high performance art to the Brooklyn, New York City masses.
We spoke with Brianna Maury, one of the company’s co-founders, about how they’ve created such a tight-knit, untraditional opera loving community.
What’s the mission of LoftOpera?
My co-founder, Daniel, and I started it five years ago as a dare to ourselves. The mission was to break down barriers between new audiences for opera and the esoteric traditions of the art form. The type of opera format we’re doing now was nowhere to be found.
It may sound simple, but it’s actually really difficult because opera has so many unwritten rules and traditions. People in the opera world have preconceived notions about what the experience should be. What we try to do is take some of those things away.
For example, people drink beer in their seats. People are making out. These are not the type of behaviors you’d ever see in traditional opera houses.
Brianna greeting guests before a performance.
How have you made opera appeal so consistently to a nontraditional audience?
People who work at the Met and Lincoln Center ask us, “What’s your secret to success?” It’s pretty simple – we haven’t raised our ticket price above $30 in five years.
As a young person, you don’t have spare income for things like a $100 opera ticket. You’ll just never go. We always saw ourselves as competing with going to the movies. How much would a date for two people going to the movies and having a drink cost? Let’s stay within that price range. I think that’s what’s made us really successful.
It sounds like you’re forming a community around these shows. Why do you think people keep coming back?
People are loyal to LoftOpera because we have so much of our heart in the organization. I think they feel that. I stand at the door for every single performance. I hug people, and I tell them I’m happy to see them. That’s just a small part of what makes LoftOpera feel great.
We never turn people away if they can’t afford to pay. I think that kind of thing goes a long way to making it feel like a real family. We pull people in off the street, honestly. They’re walking by, and if we’re short, then I’ll go, “Have you ever been to an opera?” The person will say, “No. I never have.” Then I let them in for free as my guest.
Joshua Jeremiah during LoftOpera Summer Sessions. Photo by Allison Stock
What would you tell business owners who aren’t in the arts about creating a community?
Collaborating is really important. Anyone can do it. We find people and partners just by talking to every single person in the elevators. We’ve gotten free costumes from Jack of Threads, and we’ve gotten free things from Brooklinen. We’ve met new costume designers. We’ve met fashion designers.
There’s always some way to bring another industry into what you’re doing, which brings a whole other constituency to your business.
What’s been one of your favorite moments working with Loft Opera?
I always love closing night. Every production we do, on closing night we turn up Beyonce and bust out the drinks. We load up the whole set onto the truck while people hang around. Those who have been coming to LoftOpera for years know that closing night is THE party. We’ll continue to just dance and sing while loading the truck. We get this sense of mutual accomplishment. Everyone in that moment is so exhausted, but so fulfilled. I feel that with every single production. That’s my favorite moment.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity. The Collaboration Champions by Convene is a series that profiles amazing individuals that go above and beyond to bring humans in the workplace together in often game-changing or unorthodox ways. If you would like to be featured or nominate a collaboration champion, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.