A Conversation with Guerilla Opera Star Brian Church

Brian Church in rehearsal for “Chrononhotonthologos” l Photo by Clive Grainger (2017)

I admire Brian so much. He is a singer/actor who can perform a war vet’s PTSD nightmare three feet away from the audience, or make one of the world’s most dignified and life-affirming exits while his pants are around his ankles. I have seen him play a convincing mother despite his sporting a beard, a love-stricken Japanese poet, and a crazy street person freaking out in a sandwich shoppe. All while singing beautifully. Here is our conversation about Chrononhotonthologos, life, art, and other things.

SL: You are an opera singer, a composer, a rocker and an accomplished actor. How do you do it?
BC: I grew up wanting to be a cartoonist. I studied guitar in fourth grade; I was a terrible student and I quit. Then I took it up again at 13, teaching myself, and joining a band. In high school I wanted to act, so I tried out for the musical, and then for All State Chorus. My time in that choir changed my life. I was “born again” as a musician. In college I did operas, musicals, jazz band and a bit of composing and arranging. I came to Boston in 1998 to go to NEC and play bass in bands. One of the many enjoyable things about working with Guerilla Opera and all new music is being around composers and getting to pick their brains about their processes.

SL: How many Guerilla Opera shows have you done? Does it get easier to learn and perform a new piece?
BC: Eleven shows, if you count the four pieces we did at our Brandeis residency, and if you count the two different operas in Let’s Make a Sandwich. My first one was Say it Ain’t So, Joe, which had a bit of a bumpy gestation period for me. With each production our rehearsal process has gotten more efficient and streamlined. Plus, working with a lot of the same people builds a comfort level and trust. As soon as I get a new score I look for problematic parts, and start searching for ways to work through them. I haven’t really worried about anything since that first opera. I know we will all find a way to make things work no matter what.

Brian Church as Joe Biden in “Say It Ain’t So, Joe!” by Curtis K. Hughes l Photo by Karen Snyder (2009)

SL: What are the funnest, and what the scariest moments in Chrononhotonthologos?
BC: If you mean musically, there is the chance of miscounting entrances because so much of the instrumental music is repetitive. But I know these instrumentalists have our backs, and will find a way to catch us if we go slightly off. There is a lot of humor in this piece, which is great. I have been in some heavy drama with GO, especially Beowulf and Troubled Water. Even some of the humorous operas, by Rudy Rojahn or Nick Vines have a lot of dark elements. Even Chrononhotonthologos is not completely lighthearted.

SL: You really go for it as a performer. Will you try pretty much anything onstage?
BC: Hahaha! Who knows? I was happy I wasn’t the one to get naked in Bovinus Rex, but I’ve been down to my underwear a few times, and at a certain point there’s not much difference. I would want to have a good discussion with a director. But once again, that comfort level of working with familiar faces can give a performer security and courage. I certainly have gotten both from this group. I love working with Aliana because she is a fearless performer; she inspires me to go out to the edge with her.

Brian Church and Aliana de la Guardia in “Beowulf” by Hannah Lash l Photo by Liz Linder Photography (2015)

SL: Anything else?
BC: I always like to tell people how much FUN this all is. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be a part of it. I am in awe of my fellow musicians, especially the instrumentalists, who are world-class players. The production team is brilliant. Julia is brilliant: I am always amazed at how beautiful she can make the shows look.

SL: So, you’re happy then.
BC: There is so little of the ego-drama one would associate with the traditional opera world. It’s everyone working hard to bring each piece to life. New music is fun. We laugh and make each other smile all the time. I am blessed to have an amazing wife who is also a performer, and two amazing children. I could not do any of this without their love and support.

Susan Larson is president of Guerilla Opera’s Board of Directors, performing artist and former music critic for The Boston Globe.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 10/24/2017 at 4:30 AM | Permalink

    Brian Church is one of my heroes, and to music with him in many different avenues has always been a highlight of living and working in Boston. Congratulations to Brian, and thanks to him for always pushing me to be a better musician and human being.

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