Santa Cruz Opera Project breathes new life into La bohème with stellar ensemble

Lovers of the arts have a new reason to rejoice in the land of sand and organic veggies. The Santa Cruz Opera Project is creating innovative, exciting, and site-specific opera that is sure to delight. Lori Schulman and Jordan Best, the two amazingly talented founders, have a mission to make opera more accessible. They want to provide education and inspiration to open-minded Santa Cruzans interested in exploring this astounding artform.

Even if you have never been to the opera, you know at least one thing: it requires powerful voices. Without a doubt, the company performing La bohème this weekend at Woodhouse Blending and Brewing delivers a stunning display of vocal prowess. The results of long hours of voice training are on full display as the seven members of the cast take turns singing from the center of their being.

We go to the theater to dream, to see life unfolding before us in a form and fashion that we can study and increase our understanding of what it means to be human. This updated version of La bohème does just that. It provides a window into a world heightened by art, music, poverty, and love. The intoxicating effect of the music is achieved by a virtuosic performance by a four-piece orchestra conducted by Steven Berlanga. This live music uplifts the action of the story guiding the actor’s voices through their paces with beauty and grace.

After taking 8 years off to raise her children, Jordan Best returns to the stage energized with raw emotion that translates into the tragic beauty of La bohème‘s Mimi. It is a triumphant performance matched by Diane Syrcle as an earnest and self-critical writer Rodolfo to form a convincing and entrancing love story. Omar Rodriquez is fun to watch and a joy to hear as the struggling artist Marcello who falls in love with the dashing and spicy Musetta embodied by Lori Schulman with an explicit joyousness that is impossible to miss.

Sheri Hammerstrom and Leberta Loral play vivacious and fun-loving Schanuard and Colline, friends to the pair of lovers. Together they share in the simple joys of life, celebrating with food and drink even when the offerings are humble. All this talent is beautifully managed and choreographed by Stage Director Layna Chianakas who translates the beauty of the music into action on the stage.

Performances of La bohème are happening Thursday June 8th at 7pm and Sunday June 11th at 1:00pm. You can buy tickets and learn more about Santa Cruz Opera Project by visiting their website at Make sure to also follow them on Instagram and Facebook @santacruzoperaproject to stay informed about future events.

Pop Gore Art: Paintings by Tyler Benjamin Speas

Horror and More at Little Giant Collective

Art is only limited by imagination and craft. When you find an artist who has a big ability to dream with a fine set of skills you get a show worthy of studying. This is the case with Speas’ recent exhibition entitled “Guts and Stuff.” When I spoke with Speas at his opening, he gave me some insight into the work.

Speas likes to create discomfort in his viewers. As it states on his website: “Being uncomfortable helps you to grow.” Working with pen and ink and acrylic paint, his paintings have a graphic quality in both senses of the word. They are both covering a disturbing subject and they are rendered vividly.

On one canvas, the artist has cut his face off revealing a nest of multicolored guts lurking just beneath the surface. At this point in the transformation, the guts are still inside and we see that the colorful caterpillars that crawled inside of his ear have been living inside the artists’ face and are now in cocoons. This introspective canvas may be an allusion to Van Gogh, another great redheaded painter, who famously portrayed himself after cutting off his own ear. He was an artist with a lot of guts, too.

The guts series started with a self portrait during the pandemic. The painting works because of the humor of the concept and the friendliness of the image. The pink, orange, and green guts spewing out of Speas’ wide open mouth accompany a collection of butterflies suggesting a beautiful metamorphosis instead of merely a disgusting one. Rendered like a comic book, the image asks the viewer if this character’s superpower is to barf beautifully.

This triptych concludes with the full transformation of the artist into a man made entirely of guts. He gives the viewer a double thumbs up gesture assuring us that he is untroubled by his change. Check out the full exhibition with more work from this series before the month is up, and visit the artist at his website Blood on Brushes, to learn more or to contact him to purchase a canvas or the series.

The Power of Beauty in Art and Life

The Action of Attraction

Our contemporary world combines the digital and the analog in most things. Whether we are thinking about images online or a light show in your neighborhood, aesthetics matter. There is more to art than merely a pursuit of the beautiful, but it would be foolish to underestimate the power of its experience. You need go no further than to witness West Cliff in Santa Cruz during a Winter sunset. Throngs of sky watchers crowd the cliffs drinking in the changing light and gasping as the clouds become a temporary canvas unrivaled by human efforts. The same is true with photos posted online. The beautiful images get more play.

Authenticity and Aesthetics

One of the dangerous things about our current age for artists is the tendency for feedback to alter your approach to art making. It is all too easy to let the data influence your artistic choices. If this type of photograph got a lot of likes and shares, then it is tempting to repeat that in hopes of increasing your following. Many artists believe that allowing what the audience thinks to influence your style. Indeed, there is a fine line between sharing what you love and what you know will get you love. The trick, I’ve found, if discovering those areas of overlap where you feel good about what you are publishing and the public does, too.

Keeping Your Thumb on the Pulse

For me, it is equally important to spend time hunting the world for images both beautiful and intriguing and to pay attention to the ever changing culture online. It is only by doing this work that you can discover that fruitful zone where what you truly love and what the public wants are a match. The exciting thing about this process is that both are constantly changing. Spending time walking through the world looking and absorbing the details and finding enchanting scenes is as important as understanding the technical aspects of photography and online marketing. You have to both understand the spirit of the times as it reveals itself to us through the Internet and the particular qualities of beauty and intrigue that exist fleetingly in our physical world.

A Shining Light in Dark Times

Part of what Internet culture reveals to us is the presence of extremely disturbing problems. From the opioid epidemic, to mass shootings, there is no shortage of tragedy that happens every single day. This has become so predominant that we are becoming a very strange culture. One response is to create more and more disturbing content. The American public has become obsessed with true crime and particularly serial killers, among the darkest examples of human potential for destruction. The reasons for this trend are many, but one of them must be a kind of coping mechanism to deal with the daily news. Bad things are happening, and many people are immunizing themselves emotionally by exposing themselves to the worst of the worst. In this context, striving to create beautiful images serves as a counterpoint and requires a tremendous courage. The easier thing is to follow the numbers and to create disturbing imagery and controversial content.

Adapting to the Conditions

I have been walking around various Santa Cruz neighborhoods during the day and at night to get exercise, to scout for images I want to make, and to study the world around me. As the period between Christmas and New Year’s has come to an end, I have been focusing on some of the amazing light shows that people have created. Last night, it was raining making a walk with my camera inadvisable, but I decided to shoot two scenes from within the safety of my car. Setting up the tripod on the seat, I composed some photographs and used the window to add another element.

Abstraction in Photography

With a background in painting and a true love for modern and abstract art, I have always enjoyed using a camera to make images that are non-objective. This task is difficult even with a paintbrush, but when you use a camera it is even more challenging. I enjoy using lights and long exposures to soak up the colors without any discernible forms. This reduces the image to line and color and I find it to be fun and interesting. What do you think? Do you like the abstract images or the realistic ones better?

Purchasing Prints to Collect Jake J. Thomas Fine Art

Thanks for reading my blog. You can contact me at if you would like to have any of these image printed for your art collection. We can accommodate specific requests, and we have our favorite types of prints. Contact us today to begin your collection. Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Why You Don’t Love Yourself

Self Discovery through the Arts

Have you ever asked yourself if you love yourself, or if not why not? Self love is a mystery. It sounds simple, but in practice it can be more challenging than you might think. In order to love yourself, to love your life, you have to know yourself. My last blog was about using the art practice of photography as self discovery. Practicing photography can just as easily lead you astray. The key is honesty, and that is a hard thing. Being honest about who you are and what you really like is the starting point to all true love.

Reading the Signs Correctly

Loving yourself is as simple and challenging as being yourself. The first step is to set out with the intention of being honest. An art practice helps, because it gives you a kind of reflection that exists in the world. This could be achieved through writing, dance, painting or any of the other arts. In order to reach the point of self awareness, which leads to self knowledge, which leads to self mastery, which leads to self love, you have to decipher a set of abstract signs. Why are you attracted to certain forms? What do these things mean to you?

Seeing the Unseen

In landscape photography, there is often a desire to share something beautiful with the world. In an area like Santa Cruz, there is no shortage of beautiful subject matter. The fact is, however, that we are also surrounded by things that we take for granted and some of these things are essential to our lives and livelihood. I have always been interested in power lines because they make up the infrastructure of our digital lives. Those lines carry power and culture into the privacy of our homes.

Theory and Chaos

Being honest means embracing the unpleasant at times. Nobody can live on this wild evolving planet without going through some chaotic times. We need some kind of handle to manipulate the moments of extreme discomfort that accompany events that throw our lives into tumult. Understanding the larger picture of our becoming can help to make sense of a pattern that in the moment feels all too disorganized and wild. Life is a force that drives us and it is not always neatly organized or clean. Embracing the chaos when you feel chaotic is one of the ways you can learn more about yourself.

Courage and Exposure

One of the scariest feelings many people can experience is exposure. Whether that is being on the edge of a cliff surrounded by vast abysmal space, or posting something true and vulnerable on the Internet, the feeling of exposure keeps many people from venturing out. Without adventure, there is no growth. It requires courage to put yourself in a position where you are exposed. These are important ingredients in the recipe of self love.

Discipline and Disciplines

Every artistic discipline requires effort to achieve fluency. Even for those naturally gifted in a certain art practice, the levels you are able to achieve depend upon the work that you put into it. Discipline is a force in art and life that helps us to achieve our goals. Exposing yourself to the world is risky, and you need to temper this danger with discipline. Anthony “Tazy” Tashnick is one of the bravest surfers I have ever known and he achieves this fearlessness through an incredible amount of repetitions. He would probably never call it discipline, but that is exactly what it is. Through putting in the work, he overcomes the fear that many people experience in big wave situations. The same is true with Alex Honnald, who says that even when he is performing a death defying free solo his effort and anxiety level are always between a four and a six on a scale of one to ten. Through practice, you can make difficult things easy, and thus less dangerous or scary.

Luck and Love

When it comes to success in life, luck plays a major factor. When it comes to loving yourself, this is much less true. You don’t need some amazing fortune to come to know who you are and what is best for you. Love is not a product of luck, and success is no guarantee of love. Work is much more important in this process. Of course, the ability to live and to do work depends upon a degree of luck, but what I am talking about has nothing to do with gambling. It is a safe and dependable route. You will need courage and discipline, but you shouldn’t depend upon luck.

The Long Walk Home

Our world is full of complicated distractions. We can easily succumb to bad marketing or fall victim to someone’s malevolent plans. That’s just a part of the picture. Through doing the work of self discovery and making a trail of images that others can follow you can build a solid path that you can rely on for your practice. In my experience, it is better to go slow in this process. When you are younger it can be hard to have patience, but there is no shortcut to finding the keys to self love.