, Port Arthur, Texas


June 15, 2013

Time has come for opera about Bum Phillips' life


    Editor’s note: Luke Leonard is a director and artist living in New York. He is the founder and Producing Artistic Director of Monk Parrots, a nonprofit vanguard theatre company. His stage productions have been described as "taking creditable gambles...outstanding" by The New York Times, "bold and experimental...a clear vision...pure theatrical experience" by, and "visually arresting" by Austin American-Statesman.


     NEW YORK — I realize the idea of a Bum Phillips opera might sound odd, but I think it makes perfect sense.  Opera is epic and so are football, Bum, the Houston Oilers, and the Astrodome.

    When the idea came to me, I had been thinking about a few things: Jesus, coaches, and making a new work about happiness, or capturing a moment/living in the present.  I was reflecting on the influence of football and coaches on my work as a director and looking for books written by coaches.  

    Then out of the blue, way up in the clouds on the 47th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper, Bum’s name popped into my head, and a wave of nostalgia and good feelings started to flow.  Immediately, I searched his name online and discovered that he had published an autobiography in 2010.  After I read it, I knew that I wanted to commission an opera based on his life.

    I introduced playwright Kirk Lynn to the idea while he was in New York rehearsing a new play with the Foundry Theatre — How Much is Enough?: Our Values in Question.  Over breakfast he talked about how he was incorporating prayer into his writing practice and workshops.  I showed him a copy of Bum’s autobiography, Bum Phillips: Cowboy, Coach, Christian, and told him that I wanted to make a work inspired by Bum and the Houston Oilers.  

    He smiled in agreement that it would be a good project.  Kirk’s only term was that we use composer Peter Stopschinski, whom he had collaborated with on the country-western musical — I’ve Never Been So Happy — to write the music.

     We are all native Texans. Peter and I are both from Houston and grew up during the Luv Ya Blue era.  Houston during “Luv ya blue” is an excellent example of a truly special moment and the Astrodome is a perfect container for memories and dreams.

    A Monk Parrots board member, Steven Beede, initiated an introduction to Bum by calling his wife, Debbie, and she said that she would like to speak with me.  When I spoke with Debbie she warned me, “Luke, we think it’s a hoot that you want to make an opera about Bum, but Bum wants you to know that he doesn’t sing a lick!”

    Peter and I made a trip to visit Bum and Debbie at their ranch in Goliad, Texas.  It was a chance for us to tell them about our plans for the opera.  I stretched out my arm to shake hands with Bum and said, “Mr. Phillips, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”  He replied, “It’s a pleasure to want to be met at 89.”  

    Here I was in the presence of a legend, and it was as if he seemed surprised that I remembered him, which is a testament to how humble he is.  We stayed for three hours and left with their blessing for the opera.

    Meeting Bum reinforced how important this project really is.  Yes, for Texas and Houston, but also for America.  Bum represents American values: hard work, determination, discipline, passion, friendship, loyalty, honesty, collaboration, and respect…values that sometimes feel misplaced in this crazy world.

    I want to make this work to celebrate a great man and to honor a sincere and magical time in American history.  Bum Phillips isn’t limited to Texas, his story is felt across America.  It is universal.  Bum is a man that I admire for his unconventional and inspirational approach to coaching, which innovated his profession and made a positive, lasting impact on people’s lives.

    Over the course of our fundraising campaign we have offered a number of reasons why it is important to support the project.  The bottom line is that it is the perfect time for this work.

    • Bum is approaching 90 and deserves to be honored.  He is an American icon and hero.  It is time for his story to be told (in this case…sung).

        • The Astrodome (America’s Roman coliseum) is a current topic of debate.  It is time to remember the man and the team that made it so special.

        • It is time for our company to produce on this scale.

        • It is time to put to bed the stigma that the word opera carries for many.

        • It is time to lift spirits and inspire people with this performance.

        • Plain and simple…it is time.

    The world premiere of the opera is scheduled for March 2014 in New York City.  But first things first.

    To produce this show, we need to raise $20,000 by the end of the month. With this seed money, it makes us eligible for additional grants.  

    Here’s the link to donate money to the Bum Phillips Opera. The way that the USA Projects website works is you don’t pay unless it is funded by the deadline. All the proceeds go to the production with no fees taken out. And the donation is tax deductible. Very easy site to use.

    The ultimate goal is a Texas premiere, but we need a Texas presenter to make it happen.  I sent materials to Houston Grand Opera a long time ago, and I pestered Buck Ross at University of Houston Moores School of Music to support a second workshop.  I also tried UT-Austin's Butler School of Music, UT-Austin's Department of Theatre & Dance, and Texas Performing Arts in Austin.

    Be aware that BUM PHILLIPS is the ONLY production that we have plans to produce in the 2013-2014 season.  It is our biggest show to date and requires all of our resources.

     This is an opportunity to do something good.  You can help make it happen.

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