Squonk Opera is a group of interdisciplinary performing artists from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Led by artistic directors Jackie Dempsey and Steve O'Hearn, Squonk Opera formed in 1992 and has created eleven distinct shows and performed in over 250 venues in the United States. Squonk Opera has been touring internationally since 2003 - to Scotland, Belgium, Germany and twice to South Korea, where they opened both the Busan International Performing Arts Festival and the World Music Theater Festival. Over 200,000 people have seen Squonk around the world, and reviews include "insane majesty" from The Scotsman, and "...surreal and poetic" from USA Today.
Squonk Opera's shows consist of music, visual art, and acting elements in an attempt to make a form of opera accessible to all people. The group "like to think of ourselves as a wacky, provincial opera company," says Dempsey, who named the group "Squonk" after a description of a jazz saxophonist's playing as a "squonk-fest", rather than the legendary creature of the same name.
In 2000, Squonk Opera took their show Bigsmörgåsbørdwünderwerk onto Broadway from its previous off-Broadway run. Though the venture was a commercial failure, the exposure it gained them was ultimately beneficial.
In 2011, Squonk Opera performed on popular television show America's Got Talent. They were sent directly past the Vegas round into Hollywood, and thus did not compete until the first quarterfinals. The group was eliminated, being buzzed by Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan.
Squonk Opera has received several grants and awards for their work, including four NEA grants, an American Theater Wing Award, and grants from the Rockefeller M.A.P. Fund, Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Henson Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation.
Shows Forgotten Works (1995) A work focusing on "consumption, waste, and recycling", in collaboration with modern dance troupe No Language. Forgotten Works was performed at Keystone Iron & Metal, a Pittsburgh scrapyard; the artists used such unlikely materials as cranes, demolished cars, and metal shearers as part of the performance.Night of the Living Dead: The Opera (1995) Squonk Opera was commissioned to set music and live-action performance to the classic Night of the Living Dead zombie film for City Theatre.Firedogs (1996) A humorous educational multimedia picture of the Pittsburgh steel industry, including such characters as "Bessie the Bessemer Furnace".The Great Circle Route (1998) Subtitled "The Underwater Opera", The Great Circle Route claims inspiration from medical textbooks, Godzilla movies, and Michel Foucault in a show that draws on imagery of the underwater world for a journey under the sea.Bigsmörgåsbørdwünderwerk (1998) A surreal tour through the "restaurant kitchen of the mind", in a mix of horror and fantasy.Inferno (2001) A tale of a mine fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania, based on Dante's Divine Comedy. Initially titled Burn during some early performances.Rodeo Smackdown (2004) Squonk chooses the unlikely setting of the rodeo for this retelling of the minotaur myth.Put your hometown's name here: The Opera (2006-present) Music meets multi-media odes to the history and ambiance of various cities, including Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Albany, St. Louis and Bloomington, In. with local talent, video-taped and projected interviews, and a host of local references tailored to each venue's locale.
Places 'Squonked' include: Albany, NY; Baltimore, MD; Bloomington, IN; Bradford, PA; Central College(Pella, IA); Charleston, WV; Charlotte, NC; Chester County, PA; College Park, MD; Columbia, MD; Edwardsville, IL; Hardin County, KY; Houghton, MI; Indiana County, PA; Jersey Shore(Manasquan, NJ); Newark, DE; Pittsburgh, PA; Raritan Valley, NJ; Reston, VA; South Orange/Maplewood, NJ; St. Louis, MO;Astro-rama (Fall, 2008) Squonk sends a message to the cosmos from a 40' radio telescope dish mounted to scaffold towers, and tuned to the galactic frequency of B-flat. Rising in scissor lift platforms and cherry pickers, they compose a proud message from our species, power up and transmit.Mayhem & Majesty (Spring, 2010) The sonic hooligans of Squonk Opera explore the beauty of sound, with live feed cameras, projection puppets and kinetic machines, turning the full, fancy-dress concert setting into a playground of ideas.GO Roadshow (Summer, 2012) GO Roadshow is “a musical street spectacle on wheels”. This show-making machine is a 34-foot long monster truck retrofitted with truck-horn calliope, a wall made of rotors and a spinning grand piano that is played while it wheels around!