Nostalgia for an Opera That Never Was

Picture a hot August day in the city. The sun is boring down like a laser beam, and the heat shimmers from the pavement in waves as you walk slowly down the street. Now imagine pausing for a moment on the sun-baked sidewalk – and an ice-cool, sparkling blue ocean wave rolls up and engulfs your legs and feet. You are transported by strains of music from another time. This is the mood A.K. Mimi Allin evokes in Seaside Opera, a site-specific performance piece created for Tollefson Plaza and funded by Spaceworks Tacoma. Allin describes the work as a “playful performance set to seaside operas. The plaza turns into a beach and the birds sing in opera through a record player. An aging wooden lifeguard chair rises from the base of the curved pink steps, which are now lined in blue waves.” Using costumes, flags, whistles and metal pails the artist performs to a mesmerizing cacophony of sea-inspired music and carnival sounds. Audience members may watch from the steps beside the plaza’s cascading pools where an array of wind-up water toys, miniature sampans, water guns and fishing rods invite play.

Poet Mimi Allin creates works laced with mystery and beauty

If the mere description of the 15-minute performance sounds like poetry, consider that Allin is well-known for her interactive poetry maneuvers, and earned her master’s degree in creative writing at the City College of New York, where she graduated summa cum laude. She also became the nation’s first “Corporate Poet in Residence” this year, when she convinced NBBJ Seattle, a global architecture and design firm, to “adopt” her for a two-month, on-site residency during which she created art which employees were invited to inquire about, engage and enjoy. The architecture firm did not pay her; the project was funded by a City of Seattle arts grant.

Allin says Seaside Opera was inspired by the physical space of Tollefson Plaza, its proximity to water and her passion for sailing on Puget Sound (and around the world). “I can smell the water from Tollefson and long for it. And, it being summer, I wanted to capitalize on the water element of the park. How wonderful, I thought, to bring the beach right up into town!” The idea of opera developed after she bought a $5 record player and scoured Goodwill for vintage classical recordings. When her kindergarten teacher died earlier this year at the age of 102, she left Allin a tiny, leather-bound book entitled 100 Operas, which further spurred her interest. Seaside Opera, Tollefson Plaza, S. 17th & Pacific Ave. Aug. 16-21, 2010; 10-15 minute performances occur daily, on the half-hour,  from 2-7pm.

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