Knocking it out of the Park with Elena
I could sit rapt for hours at the feet Elena Park, CEO of Lumahai Productions. I have admired her career for more than a decade, since first working together in support of the composer John Adams' Doctor Atomic premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008. This is Elena:
I was repping John in my position as Director, Media & Public Relations for his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, and Elena was there as the person who basically made everything creative and cool happen on behalf of the Met. She got to do all of the fun stuff: dream up ancillary events, bring in key luminaries, scientists, politicians, produce the Met's pioneering HD series, which channeled this modern opera directly into movie theaters all over the country. I was The Great Gatekeeper, pitching stories and carefully assigning John's interview time in such a way that he wouldn't be completely exhausted and hiding from me in his hotel room by the end of the run. Two years later I did get to do a fun thing, repping John as my first freelance client post-Boosey: I spent three days crafting the exact perfect pitch for John to go on The Colbert Report pegged to his Nixon in China premiere at the Met. The idea was for Stephen Colbert to learn the part of Nixon and perform a cheeky aria on air, alongside an interview with John. It was the best idea I'd ever had. The producer wrote back within two minutes (yes, I squeed all over my home office) but passed in favor of having a Fabio-esque opera star on later in the season to show off photos of his pecs. It's been ten years and I'm still shaking my fist at the Heavens. MINE WAS THE BEST IDEA.
Anyway, it took three months to schedule but last week I had the good fortune of taking Elena Park to lunch at Bergamote, an elegant little French bistro in Chelsea. Elena is a cultural badass. If you're looking for a juicy read today, check out her full bio. When I watched Mozart in the Jungle, it got so much right about our industry—the constant kowtowing to maetros and guest artists, the marketing frenzy around Gustavo Dudamel's arrival to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the political dynamics between the board, the administration and the union, the Uptown gigs and the Downtown/Brooklyn new music crowd, the clever cameos (including the real Dudamel)—that I immediately Googled to find out who the music/creative consultant was. When I found out that Elena was involved with seasons 3 and 4, I thought of course! So yes, she served as Creative Consultant for this Golden Globe-award winning Amazon series, advising on scripts, music, and casting. The best episode, in my opinion, is when the Symphony goes to Rikers Island and plays Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, which he wrote while a prisoner of war. That the producers and writers trusted the music enough to program this challenging modern work, on top of shooting this episode and hiring a live orchestra to perform the piece for actual prisoners at Rikers, was stunning.
Also: Elena is Music Producer for the forthcoming film, Bel Canto, based on Ann Patchett's novel, to star Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe, directed by Paul Weitz (with Renée Fleming as the voice of Roxane Coss). She has interviewed Yoko Ono. She created the National Sawdust+ series, with guests such as Jad Abumrad, Marina Abramovic, Yo-Yo Ma, and Carrie Mae Weems.
Though she is not a publicist, I would argue that she has done more to publicly elevate the collective profile of the current classical music world via her film/TV/HD projects and cultural events than all classical music publicists combined. And she is a woman of color.
Reread that. Reread it again. This is the new face of PR, in both respects.
We covered all of this in our conversation, in rabid agreement on many things, including her one bit of advice. She asked about staffing and scale for Calliope, gently noting what it is like to look at the staff page of a new company's website, given the mission of the organization, and see no members of color. She was pushing an open door: I had decided before launching the company that if I am to be CEO of an agency that purports to amplify the creative work and leadership of women and people of color then that means putting my money where my mouth is and hiring such people.
My experience so far is that it takes more effort. The company launch was rushed in time for the exclusive New York Times announcement of the Prototype Festival's 2019 programming (see: Prototype: An Opera Festival That Actually Earns Its Name) which means I had to rely on my pre-existing networks for graphic designer, web designer, and CFO. As a white female inhabiting a "gentrified" neighborhood of Brooklyn and working in a white-dominant industry, hiring people of color means looking harder, searching longer, and being aggressive about it. I was very grateful to find great fits in Sarah A. Cohen for graphic design and Nijel Taylor for web design but it took about a month longer than if I'd gone kneejerk with the many white male recommendations that came my way instantly.
On that note, Calliope PR will very soon need a part-time Publicity Assistant with growth potential. In the spirit of my mentor, Jenny Bilfield, believe in hiring the whole person and allowing titles and positions to evolve and grow with the needs of the company and the talents of the individual. If you know of anyone or if you might be that someone, please do drop a line. I will officially post the position in August.