Squeezing onto a crowded bus for your daily commute hardly invites friendly conversation. Dawn Weleski plans to change that.
Weleski, a Carnegie Mellon University art major, created the Bus Stop Opera to highlight the lives of commuters and initiate interactions between riders.
"I thought it might be great if I could retell the lives of Pittsburghers and their transportation commutes in a musical fashion that would entertain people," says Weleski, 27. She also hopes to "make them think a little bit and help them to engage someone who is sitting right beside them that they normally wouldn't."
The opera, which debuts Sat., April 2, was funded by a $2,000 grant from CMU's School of Art. To create the libretto, Weleski and her collaborators hopped aboard Port Authority buses and struck up conversations.
"Of course, there are lots of people who don't want to talk to you, so that was turned into one of the songs," says Weleski. "It's really nice, though, too. You begin to see that people, even in their everyday conversation, are very poetic and speak in very broad, far-reaching themes. You don't realize it until you put it into a song."
Weleski and several others composed and scored the libretto, creating more than a dozen songs. One song, "Joey," goes: "Put on my headphones, put up my hood, try to block out what's around me. I am just in transit, I'm not really present."
Rehearsals at bus stops began in December. The public's reaction surprised Weleski.
"I thought that people would look at us a little strangely, and that's definitely happened, but people are actually listening and trying to understand," she says. "They're relating to what the actors and singers are saying. People are getting to know one another because they're seeing something strange and extraordinary during their daily commute."
Mounting the production was a challenge. Each performance takes about 20 people, including a director, a stage manager and videographers, as well as actors and musicians, all volunteers.
"People's schedules get crazy and students have academic obligations that take priority over this," says Weleski.
Cold weather also caused problems. When temperatures approach 60 degrees, musicians risk breaking their strings or cracking their instruments. Previous performances employed only a double bass, a cello and a trombone, but two percussionists and a violinist will join Saturday's shows on the 54C bus route.
"We've created a forum for people to be a part of something, and they want to be a part of it," says Weleski. "People come up to me, wanting to have a song about them, or they want to participate and perform with us.
"In Pittsburgh, you find people who just really want to talk, which I think is really nice," she adds. "Maybe there's something to be said for listening to someone who just wants to have a conversation."
Bus Stop Opera Premiere: 11 a.m. Sat., April 2. 54C bus line and others, Oakland. Continues through 2 p.m. 412-268-5765 or www.busstopopera.com