Race in Opera: Blackface, Yellowface and Casting
This webinar investigated the history of Blackface and Yellowface, ethnic and cultural considerations when casting, and the role of makeup in performance. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue to help them apply learning to their own situations, productions, and companies. Panelists shared strategies and resources for engaging with donors and audiences on this topic.
- Theresa Ruth Howard, Founder, Curator, Diversity Strategist, MoBBallet
- Alfreda "Fre" Howard, Makeup Artist, Faces by Fre
- Quodesia Johnson, Social Justice Advisor, Founder of Black Administrators of Opera, OPERA America
- Pamela Jones, Artist Development Manager, OPERA America
- Nicholas Phan, Vice-President, Asian Opera Alliance
This OPERA America Onstage event took place on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
This webinar is part of OPERA America's year-round series of digital learning opportunities that address key topics pertinent to the industry. Learn more and see what's next at OPERA America Webinars.
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Theresa Ruth Howard (moderator)
Founder, Curator, Diversity Strategist, MoBBallet
The New York Times has called Theresa Ruth Howard “a force for change.” As a leader in the field of inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism (IDEA), she has pioneered the transformation we are beginning to see in ballet. She is a highly sought-after international consultant and diversity strategist specializing in the performing arts. Her background as a former ballet dancer, educator, journalist, and scholar informs her 360° approach to organizational culture reform. In 2015, Howard founded MoBBallet (Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet), which preserves, presents, and promotes the contributions of Blacks in ballet, and in 2022, she launched the Cultural Competence and Equity Coalition (C²EC), a membership-based organization that supports the embodiment of IDEA and the transformation of cultural norms within organizations. C²EC provides the support and education that organizations, leaders, artists, educators, and creators need to reimagine and reshape the culture of their fields through community learning.
Alfreda "Fre" Howard
Make-Up Artist, Faces by Fre
Alfreda “Fre” Howard grew up in Michigan and now resides in Philadelphia, PA. Howard stands in solidarity with three IATSE Locals (798, 799, and 917) and has been makeup department head for season 13 of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and national commercials, including Smartwater with Pete Davidson. She also held key makeup positions for season 1 of Bel Air on Peacock. Howard was the assistant designer for Rigoletto and Otello for Opera Philadelphia; and wig and makeup designer for Sweeney Todd and Albert Herring for the Curtis Institute of Music's Opera Department and Hansel and Gretel and Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria for Temple University’s Opera Department. She is now also working with Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA).
Howard is the proud owner of Faces By Fre, LLC, Makeup Artistry, which provides makeup, hair, wigs, special FX, etc., for opera, theater, film, and television and employs over four artists.
Howard became the first woman of color to design makeup and wigs for operas at two teaching Institutions: the Curtis Institute of Music's Opera Department (for Albert Herring) and Temple University’s Opera Department (for Le nozze di Figaro).
Howard is very involved in educating students and professionals on the importance of inclusion, diversity, equity, and agency in the arts. She continues to teach and educate in concert with Opera Philadelphia and other institutions.
Quodesia "Quo" Johnson
Social Justice Advisor, Founder of Black Administrators of Opera, OPERA America
Quodesia “Quo” Johnson (she/her/hers) continues to forge dynamic and exciting spaces of shared belonging in arts and culture, gaining local and national recognition for her unique approach to fostering shared belonging as a speaker, space facilitator, collaborator, equity specialist, and creative. Through her original Company Culture Framework™, Johnson combines her experience in the arts, business, organizational culture, and trauma-informed healing practices to cultivate a transformational, human-centered approach to working with employees, boards, artists, and communities to dismantle systems of oppression.
Johnson serves her community near and far through her collaborative consulting practice, Quo Johnson Co Project, LLC, and a personal mission of creating connections through truth and collective solutions. The creator, content curator, and cohost of Taking the Stage with Kristian and Quo engages an international audience in meaningful conversations at the intersection of art, community, business, and education each week through The Dallas Opera’s TDO Network to foster collective solutions to challenges in the arts and organizational culture.
The Dallas local currently serves as the education and company culture manager of The Dallas Opera; interim social justice advisor of OPERA America; racial equity coach of Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation; senior project consultant of Arts Consulting Group, Inc.; and founder and space moderator for Black Administrators of Opera. Johnson is a proud graduate of Prairie View A&M University and recently earned her M.A. in arts administration from Goucher College.
Artist Development Manager, OPERA America
Pamela Jones has performed as a soloist all around the world with various organizations, such as the New York City Opera, the Bregenzer Festspiele, the Royal Danish Theatre, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. She won the Best Supporting Actress Award at the Dundalk (Ireland) International Drama Festival, and she has won the National Opera Association Vocal Competition Legacy Award twice. She sang in the Live From Lincoln Center broadcast of New York City Opera's Madama Butterfly. The episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class - Classical Music/Dance Programs.
Vice-President, Asian Opera Alliance
Described by the Boston Globe as “one of the world’s most remarkable singers,” American tenor Nicholas Phan is increasingly recognized as an artist of distinction. With a diverse repertoire that spans nearly 500 years of music, he performs regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and opera companies. An avid recitalist and a passionate advocate for art song and vocal chamber music, in 2010 Phan co-founded Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC), an organization devoted to promoting this underserved repertoire.
His 2022–2023 performances include the world premieres of a new orchestral song cycle being written for him and The President’s Own chamber orchestra by composer Joel Puckett and a new orchestration of Nico Muhly’s Stranger with the New Century Chamber Orchestra. He also returns to the New York Philharmonic to perform the role of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Jaap van Zweden and appears as Yonas in the upcoming San Francisco Symphony production of Kaija Saariaho’s Adriana Mater directed by Peter Sellars.
A celebrated recording artist, Phan’s most recent album, Stranger: Works for Tenor by Nico Muhly, was released to critical acclaim in the summer of 2022 and was nominated for the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance. His previous albums, Clairières and Gods and Monsters, were nominated for the same award in 2020 and 2017, respectively, and made him the first singer of Asian descent to be nominated in the history of the category, which has been awarded by the Recording Academy since 1959.
OPERA America's Webinars are supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Programming at the National Opera Center is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.