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Opera is intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. Not if you're at a LoftOpera show. These shows don't come with black tie dress codes, and it's okay if you drink a beer. LoftOpera has set out to redefine the traditional opera model and bring the classic medium to those of us who may never have the chance or desire to step inside the Met Opera House. We caught up with Melanie Milton and Daniel Ellis-Ferris during rehearsals to figure out what we can expect for their upcoming shows at 501 Union. 

Photo by  Quyn Duong

Photo by Quyn Duong

Tell us about the piece that you’ll be performing.
Daniel: It’s the classic Roman tale of the Rape of Lucretia. She commits suicide and requests that her body be put on display. So it’s a story about violence against women and their bodies and about class, status, and gender.
Melanie: In the past we have not done a lot of English opera, so we wanted to diversify our repertoire for this season. Typically we’re doing operas in Italian. Also it features a male and female chorus who sing the internal monologues of the main characters as well as narrating quite a bit of the plot. It's the idea of a Greek Chorus in an opera setting, which is a new platform for the company to explore.
D: And the chamber orchestra as well. Typically we're working with an orchestra of 30-50 musicians so to scale it down and use a chamber group has been a more intimate experience.

The idea behind LoftOpera is to make opera more accessible for people who wouldn’t typically attend such a grand show. What can people who have never experienced opera at all expect? 
D: It’s not going to be a red velvet seat event. However it will give you access to the operatic voice that you probably wouldn’t get many other places. The idea is to make it an event that my friends or I would go to anyway, and opera just happens to be there.
M: Our audiences tend to pull from a much younger demographic than what you’d find at a traditional opera house like the Met. A lot of our audience base has never been to an opera before, or they have some interest in classical music but it’s not necessarily their forte. It very much feels like a party. We open the doors an hour before the show, we serve beer, we play house music. We have a long intermission, then we stay around and party afterward.

Are there any early memories of attending opera?
M: Not necessarily attending, but I started performing when I was really young, just in an opera company of the town I’m from. I started when I was 13. We’re both vocalists so we both continued studying and performing, and then Loft Opera came to be in 2013.

You were previously over in the Green Building last year for Il Barbiere di Siviglia. How do you normally choose your spaces or what type of spaces work well?
D: We aren’t an opera company with its own house. That gives us an opportunity to pair venues with the repertoire, which is really interesting. 501 Union works really well for this opera in particular not only because of the voyeuristic themes of it with the glass division in the space, but also because the style of the space feels correct for this show. Whereas for the Green Building, it really made sense to have a big wedding at the end of the opera in that space.
M: And all the performance venues we find are very nontraditional for the opera medium. If it’s not like this beautifully designed building we’re currently in, then it’s a warehouse that doesn’t normally perform arts pieces.
D: It may not even have the proper build out, and we have to get permits to even do what we want in it.
M: 501 Union is one of the more finished spaces we’ve performed in. The Green Building tends to be more of the effect we’ve performed in the past.
D: Like the post-industrial rustic look.

How do you incorporate the unique spaces with your performances? Which comes first, venue or repertoire?
D: So far it’s been we choose the repertoire first and then find a venue that feels right for it.



Flynn & King at Brooklyn Makers Holiday Bazaar

Meet the makers behind Flynn & King, a natural skincare line born from the tiny Brooklyn living rooms of Corina McDonnell and Summer Dinh Manske. It's no surprise that goods labeled 'all natural' might not quite be the case.  Upon discovering that the FDA doesn't regulate what ingredients get listed on skincare products, Corina and Summer set out to educate themselves and learn how to make truly natural products from simple ingredients. They became their own test subjects, and after finally perfecting the formulas, they bring us Flynn & King. Read through our interview with Corina as she walks us through their process for taking better care of our skin. Catch Flynn & King at the Brooklyn Makers Holiday Bazaar at 501 Union.

What’s the story behind Flynn & King? Was there an ah-ha moment that made you realize the skincare industry needed change?
Summer and I worked at a Williamsburg salon and apothecary that focused on natural products. We quickly learned that not all of the products that claimed to be "natural" were actually so. How this was possible?! We did some research and found that the FDA doesn't control cosmetics and skincare, and that it is actually a free-for-all when it comes to labeling. We decided that we wanted to create a brand with 100% natural products with ingredients that came from good ol' Mother Earth. I like to think of it as making products like our great-grannies did, with a modern-day twist. We also wanted to show that all-natural doesn't have to be brown and crunchy. It can be fun, modern and badass!

F&K started as a “skincare club” amongst friends. We’d love to hear fun details on what these were like. A bunch of friends in your living room making all natural beauty products?
We started off meeting once a week to discuss what we learned via what we were reading, and also the research we were doing on products we liked and ones we didn't. We would make snacks and listen to music and talk about everything green beauty. We'd then shop online for organic and natural carrier oils, essential oils, butters, clays, flowers and gadgets. We love our gadgets! It was basically home-schooling for natural ingredients, taught by us!

What was the very first product you created? What’s your favorite to use now?
The first and our favorite product is the REVIVE Oil-based Cleanser. Summer & I have very different skin types, so we are a great test group in order to create products that are suitable for all skin types. I have dry, sensitive skin with bouts of eczema and have always struggled to find a product that was cleansing, but not over-drying. Summer has naturally oily and acneic skin and struggles with issues of seborrheic dermatitis. We wanted to create a product that was natural, non-drying, but effective at cleansing. We started with rosehip seed oil, which is one of our favorite oils because of the amazing anti-aging and hydrating properties. We then made homemade castile soap to mix into the luxurious oils, which gave it the consistency of a cream cleanser. You get all of the benefits from oil-cleansing, but without the greasy aftermath.

What goes into your decision making process when sourcing all natural ingredients?
We generally start with identifying the properties that we want to achieve, and then we search for cold-pressed, organic, and sustainable ingredients. We're very choosy with our purchases, and if we can't afford the best quality, we will wait until we can. We absolutely consider the economic and ecological impact of our purchases as well. Many soap makers use palm oil in their recipes because it is good for soaping, but not so for the environment. Palm oil creates many ecological issues with deforestation in the rainforest and subsequently destroys the natural habitat and food source for the people and animals of that area. We try to leave as small of a footprint on the earth when sourcing our ingredients as possible.

Your beauty mission is do good, look great and you’ve developed the Do Good Collaborations to give back to marginalized communities. In what ways have you found skincare and beauty products to be empowering?
We work with the Center Against Domestic Violence and we donate our rebatched soaps and extra products. There are pieces left over from our hand-cut soaps, and they can be melted down and remade into new bars. I once read an article that said that one of the largest costs for city shelters and rehab centers is soap, and I knew right away that we would try to help as many as we can with our extra soaps. The women at the CADV are inspired by a small women-run company, and they are so appreciative that we take the time and effort to give them a little something special. I think it really brightens their day, and they inspire us by remaining so positive after the awful experiences that themselves and their family have endured.

Do you have any not-so-secret tips on just simply loving and owning your skin?
Drink plenty of water and change your pillowcase more frequently! Time-saving tip: when I change my sheets, I put two pillowcases on my main sleeping pillow and 3 days in, pull the top one off. Now you have a clean one to make it until the next change! Any oils in your hair or on your face are easily absorbed by the cotton and redistributed back onto you face as you sleep, when your skin is hardest at work repairing itself. Also, don't be afraid of natural oils. Many people think that they should shy away from oil-based products because they don't want to breakout, but that is a huge misconception! When you strip your skin with detergents and harsh chemicals, your skin will overproduce sebum (oil) to hydrate your dehydrated skin and will cause breakouts. However, if you give your skin the moisture it needs and don't strip away the natural oils, then there is no need for it to produce excess sebum, and you will see very few breakouts. I'd say the #1 most important tip we have, though, is read your ingredients! We are very transparent and list all ingredients on our labels and website, and don't hide behind "proprietary recipe” loopholes. You need to know what you’re applying, so that you know what works for you and what doesn't.

Lastly, what does being a Brooklyn maker mean to you?
Being a Brooklyn Maker is extremely inspiring! We are very lucky to have access to so many creative people in our lives. We would not have been able to create our dream brand if it weren't for our amazingly generous and talented friends helping us and supporting us along the way. 


xNasozi at Brooklyn Makers Holiday Bazaar


xNasozi at Brooklyn Makers Holiday Bazaar

Meet Nasozi Kakembo, the social activist turned textile craftsman. With humanitarian work and global issues at the core of her ethos, she has cultivated a thriving design and lifestyle brand that connects with her roots in Uganda. Lucky for Brooklyn, Nasozi is bringing us global textiles from West Africa and beyond just in time for the holidays. Catch xNasozi at the Brooklyn Makers Holiday Bazaar at 501 Union!

What’s the story behind xNasozi? 
xNasozi started rather spontaneously in 2011, although all the writings were on the wall. I was two years into my first job out of graduate school, and my first job since becoming a mom. I went to work when my son was four months old, and had landed a job with a great organization at that. So I basically planned on being there for a very long time. Over the years, juggling motherhood and career became an uphill battle, and I also started to miss being connected to the arts and creativity in a first hand and direct way. So I set out to somehow get art back into my life in a meaningful way. I tried a few other pursuits as hobbies, but none of them felt right. But as soon I started working with wax prints to create home decor items, that sparked and excitement and a sense of accomplishment in me that I hadn’t experienced since childhood.

You were fighting for international human rights and social justice by day and creating textiles by night. Can you talk about how this led to your mission of fortifying connections among African artisans?
I studied architecture and art history (and Spanish) in undergraduate, and part of why it wasn’t completely fulfilling for me was because it didn’t holistically address or question the social issues that I realized were important me. I knew that whatever I ended up doing, I needed to be able to root it in some kind of worthy cause. Between internships and my pursuant career, I spent close to six years working in different humanitarian contexts. I’d figured out which models aligned with my own morals and principles and which ones did not, and from there, I wanted to establish a new model that worked for me. I’ve seen millions of dollars have very little impact either because the projects are out of touch, or there is so much bureaucracy along the way. So I surmised that the opposite would hold true if I just had a direct or even personal connection to the communities where I wanted to have an impact. This is why I started working with the Suubi school and artisans in my village in Uganda.

Are there distinct characteristics that you’re drawn to in each of the global textiles?
I love the folklore that goes into so many of the African prints. Not only does each one tell a story, but each one has a different story based on the country where it is worn. These stories are an intimate reflection of the people of that society or culture, and I find this fascinating. With mudcloth in particular, I am constantly surprised by the range of designs that are made essentially by selecting and rearranging the same shapes and patterns. The variation is never ending and there is always something new to discover.

What about mudcloth or indigo brings you joy?
I enjoy connecting with the work of another artisan, and their hands. Makers put their energy and creativity into everything we create. And I can feel that of a person on the other side of the world when I am working with mudcloth.

You celebrated one decade in Brooklyn this year. Congrats! What does being a Brooklyn maker mean to you?
Being a Brooklyn maker has completely opened up my world. I have met people, had opportunities, and been places that would not have been possible had I stayed on me former 9-5 path. Down to my everyday routine, which is actually never really the same, I meet at least one new person doing something insanely wonderful everyday. Brooklyn makers are intrepid. We are taking a leap of faith everyday, and doing it in the most unforgiving and trying, and therefore rewarding, city in the world. So when I meet another maker, there is a mutual respect and fraternity, actually. We look out for each other.

Any words of wisdom for other small businesses on staying sane through the holiday season?
Don’t overextend yourself. Ok, maybe one time, but be sure to literally jot down and remember the business lessons you’ve learned throughout the year! Also, be true to your brand and don’t compromise on integrity. Assuming you’ve arrived at your prices fairly, stick to them!

Ok lightning round: Answer in 4 words or less.
What are holidays like around your home? International meets corny decorations.
How do you pick the perfect gift? Instagram lol.
What excites you? (re)discovering old music.
What calms you? Nature, candles, incense, nature.


Creative Mornings


Creative Mornings

We wake to Friday in a half daze ready for the weekend. Our minds weary from the week. This is where CreativeMornings swoops to salvage our tired minds into inspired vessels for creative creation. CreativeMornings is a global movement for connecting individuals looking to surround themselves with like-minded go-getters.

We've had the pleasure of welcoming this creative conference to 501 Union a few times. The mornings start with breakfast, live music, small collaborative activities, 30 second pitches, and an inspirational speaker - all before 10am. Take that, Fridays! 



Bitten Food Conference: Disrupting the Food Industry for Good

When I originally heard about the Bitten Food Conference, I forwarded it on to everyone I knew in the food industry but didn’t originally think about attending myself. This page on who should attend changed my mind: 

We created Bitten to host a conversation not only for those working within the food world, but also those passionate about technology, creativity, pop culture, entertainment, design and innovation as it pertains to the future of food. Whether you're an agency, brand, entrepreneur, startup, policy-maker or cook, we hope to see you… there is no more important or exciting topic today than the state and future of food

I was sold. I am lover of food and always looking to meet inspiring individuals that are working to improve their communities. And the future of food really does affect everyone – no matter what industry you're in. The conference turned out to be one of the more inspiring days I've experienced in a while. Everything from the website and beautiful photographyvenueorganizerssponsorscatering, and of course the speakers – perfection! 

Here are my top 10 takeaways from the guest speakers:

The rebirth of authentic neighborhoods.
Eric Demby of Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea spoke about the power of the Brooklyn Brand: Authentic, Artisanal, Community & Cutting Edge. Demby believes that if you are rooting for Brooklyn, you are rooting for the rebirth of America.   How amazing it is to visit other cities and hear people refer to specific neighborhoods as “ that’s the Brooklyn of ______".  

No UV rays, no insects, no pesticides. 
The majority of our leafy greens are currently grown in Northern California where drought is a serious concern. AeroFarms has created a vertical farm in Newark, NJ where they have figured out how to grow 200 varieties of leafy greens that are soil free, pesticide free, and use 95% less water. AeroFarms knows exactly what these plants need for optimal growth conditions so nothing is wasted. The plants grow at twice the speed and with increased vitamins and antioxidants in each leaf. They don’t need to use pesticides because they figured out which UV light insects need to see and have removed it in their growing facilities. And just when you think this company can’t get any more impressive – they placed a growing pod at a Newark Elementary School where the 8th graders care for the greens and grow enough produce to feed the entire school for the year. 

The future of growing meat and leather is here. 
Andras Forgacs was the co-founder of Organovo which creates human tissue for pharmaceutical research and medical applications. Now he has moved on to animal meat and leather. By collecting cells and not harming the animal in any way – Modern Meadow is able to GROW meat! They recently served steak chips to a VIP group at Google that they grew from cow cells (picture a healthy beef jerky style chip). Additionally, they have a created a process for growing and tanning leather. No longer will animals need to be slaughtered for fashion! Truly amazing. 

It takes a village to sustain fresh and affordable food. 
Farmigo is an online farmer’s market that inspires neighborhoods to set up volunteer pickup locations as a way to provide fresh and affordable foods to their community. Farms receive 60 cents on every dollar spent! Individuals that provide space for a pickup location receive either 70% off of their own orders or 10% commission on sales in their neighborhood. Even better – you begin to create a community around food where you really get to know your neighbors! 

NYC's first food museum is coming. 
Peter Kim raised a very interesting question – why isn’t there a Museum of Food & Drink? Food is such an integral part of our history, our communities, our identities. Which is why I can’t wait to one day visit MOFAD! Peter’s vision of a rooftop garden that is used for education, a café that serves food from ancient civilizations, and exhibits that you can eat and drink – so exciting! 

You can grow a mustache to provide clean water. 
It’s a scary realization that 800 million people (one in nine!) do not have access to clean water. Charity Water has set out to change these statistics and have already done so by bringing clean water to 4.6 million people. Every dollar donated to the organization goes toward this goal because private donors cover all of their operating costs. Makena informed the audience how we could get involved by starting our own campaign. Her video shared a number of creative ways people are raising money across the globe: making a music video, starting a book club, and even growing a mustache... all for clean water!

Get your mother's recipes!
Lisa told a beautiful story of how she grew up living with her Korean grandmother who was always cooking amazing food for her family. Whenever Lisa tried to watch her grandmother cook, she would be kicked out of the kitchen and told to study. Sadly her grandmother passed away without sharing her family recipes, and Lisa found that cooking from generic recipes just wasn’t the same. So she went in search of another Korean grandmother for cooking lessons. This experience was the basis for creating her company, The League of Kitchens. Now mothers and grandmothers join this organization to invite small groups into their kitchens to teach and experience food from around the world. Each instructor provides unique cooking techniques, recipes, history, and traditions. Everyone leaves with much more than a full belly! 

Crickets are the new protein. 
They have more protein than chicken or beef, are 20 times more efficient as a source of protein than cattle, produce 80 times less methane than cattle, and need significantly less feed to produce the same amount of protein. We all got to taste Exo's line of cricket powder protein bars, and they were delicious!  

Smart eating starts young. 
This former White House chef has now created courses that combine cooking & science. While hosting tours in the gardens created by Mrs. Obama, Bill Yosses realized that kids are really interested in the science behind their food – why are these leaves purple but those are green?  He left the White House to focus on teaching young children and adults about eating better. He is one of the chefs behind Harvard’s Science and Cooking Lecture Series – a collaboration between researchers and world-class chefs. 

Whatever your passion or medium – leverage every resource you can get your hands on to help our fellow human beings. 
This was just one of the many lines spoken by Alexis Miesen during her powerful presentation on the work she is doing through her Brooklyn ice cream company, Blue Marble (nickname for planet earth). Their ice cream is amazing and organic, but what is even more impressive is the work they are doing outside of Brooklyn. Blue Marble Dreams has spread to Rwanda and recently Haiti. They build ice cream shops with women in areas recovering from conflict or natural disaster. Additionally they support local farmers for their ingredients. These sweet, small enterprises can help lift both the spirit and the economy of a community! She credits their business model to “happiness economics”: happy people make productive workers, and productive workers make a prosperous society, and a prosperous society makes happy people. 


By Tracy Murrin. Photos courtesy of Pop Productions.