Parvin Mirhady, of the VO costume department, makes a mask. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Opera.

This Canadian Opera Company’s Costumers Are Making Masks for Marginalized Communities

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Like the majority of arts organizations across the country, Vancouver Opera was forced to shut down operations in response to the COVID-19 crisis. When it should have been working on final rehearsals for Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera and the May/June Vancouver Opera Festival, suddenly the entire season had to be cancelled.

“We would have been in complete show mode,” Autumn Coppaway says. As VO’s technical director, Coppaway is responsible for everything from sets to costumes, lights, props, video—basically anything backstage—and usually manages around 100 to 150 staff.

She is, she admits, really missing her job, and the collaboration and passion that fuel working in the arts.


Image courtesy of the Vancouver Opera.

“Art shows us the weaknesses and strengths of humanity,” she explains. “We look to art for sustenance, for help to see the darkness and the light. And because we can’t produce our art right now, we still need to produce hope. We need to do something to help.”

Unable to pull a piano onto her balcony and perform (the neighbours would not thank her, she says with a laugh), Coppaway started to ask how the huge array of diverse skills she has access to could be employed to give something back right now.

“I’m a member of several arts boards and professional organizations, and it was clear that, because it had been hit harder, Ontario was ahead of us in terms of thinking about practical ways to help,” she says. “People were reaching out and asking if I was getting involved in PPE production.”


Image courtesy of the Vancouver Opera.

She talked to her colleague in the VO costume department, Parvin Mirhady, who took no persuading, and so Coppaway approached the development department.

“Our lovely new general director, Tom Wright, was very supportive,” she says warmly. “So the first thing we did was donate all of our own stock of unused PPE items—gloves, masks, et cetera,” she says. “And then we looked at what more we could do.”

With a massive collection of fabric suitable for non-surgical cloth mask construction and costumers more than capable of constructing them to recommended health and safety guidelines, they decided to start work on an initial goal of 1,000 masks.

“We are on track to hit that target by the end of this week, or beginning of next,” Coppaway says.


Image courtesy of the Vancouver Opera.

The masks will be distributed to a number of local non-profits, including the Kettle Society, which supports people with mental health challenges; Crabtree Corner, which offers resources to women and families in the Downtown Eastside; and BC Society of Transition Houses, which supports services to end violence against women, children, and youth. Once this initial batch is distributed, she says, the VO team will be open to making more, depending on need.

To help with costs, VO is taking donations: $25 will cover the cost of five masks, $100 will pay for 25.

“We may not be able to do the work we love right now,” Coppaway notes, “but we don’t want to lose our skills or passion. This way, we can keep working and give our hearts to the community.”

Interested in Opera? Read our story from our Spring 2020 print issue on how the (now cancelled) Pink Floyd rock opera Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera came to be. 


Post Date:

May 7, 2020