In the lead up to the world premiere of The Call, presented by Brisbane Festival and Opera Queensland, Ali McGregor discusses the new Australian work she conceptualised and will star in.
Inspired by Auburn Sheaffer’s remarkable true story about a woman left with nothing but a phone number, McGregor first heard The Call as a radio narrative on The Moth podcast.
Sheaffer was a young mother in the throes of drug addiction, abuse and poverty, and was at rock bottom – careening down the highway with a car full of alcohol and drugs and her baby – when she decided to dial a phone number that was sent to her by her mother. This altered the course of her life forever.
McGregor recalls the podcast episode’s rawness and how it immediately struck her.
“I instantly saw it as an opera and set out to find this extraordinary storyteller. Auburn and I started an email correspondence, and when I told her I wanted to option her story and make it into an opera, she thought I was slightly mad, but she gave her full blessing,” she says.
She was also greatly affected by Sheaffer’s story as a woman and mother.
“Her story felt as familiar to me as it did foreign. I instantly saw that her story could easily have been mine with only a few verging pathways. Like her, I lived a charmed life as a child with all the sheltered privileges of a happy, middle-class existence. Like her, it shocked me when I went into the world and saw injustice and inequality. Like her, I rebelled, and although our methods were different, the intention was the same. How she spoke of her child and how his existence pulled her out of a dark place also resonated deeply with me.”
Directed by Opera Queensland Artistic Director Patrick Nolan, with a libretto by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, McGregor contends The Call is a work that will be enjoyed by opera lovers and newcomers with its life-affirming themes.
“Kate and Keir managed to take an incredible source material that was beautifully curated and find the perfect moments to lean into, phrases to expand, and themes to flesh out. I think they have simultaneously created something very personal and completely universal.
“I feel that everyone will see themselves on one end of that phone call. We all have people in our lives that have lost hope, and I hope this story makes you realise that we can all be that stranger on the other end of the line.”
In Sheaffer’s case, reaching out to someone – but not who she expected – set her on a different path.
“Auburn made a call to a stranger, and I think this act was in itself life-changing. She had the number for a while but making the call was ultimately her decision. Many people tried to help but making this call was the first step in a long but remarkable journey back into daylight.”
Ruminating on Sheaffer’s beautiful twist of fate, McGregor thinks it shows us that what we need to exist is hope and connection.
“How that hope and connection presents itself can be different. The challenge is being open to finding the hope and making that connection.”
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