Lynette Asson with Yvonne Hudson of New Place Collaborations at the Twentieth Century Club

Taking coworking to a whole new place

Working with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, New Place Collaborations takes up (temporary) residence at the Twentieth Century Club

Lynette Asson and Yvonne Hudson with mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell of New Place Collaborations at the Twentieth Century Club New Place principals Yvonne Hudson (left) and Lynette Asson (right ) with mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell, who appeared as this as Catherine Wright in Shining Brow, an opera about Frank Lloyd Wright.

For some small Pittsburgh companies, coworking means having access to affordable office space. For New Place Collaborations, a dynamic marketing agency of two, it means having access to a place they can call headquarters, while working elsewhere when they need to. For the past few weeks, Beauty Shoppers Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson have been onsite at the posh Twentieth Century Club in Oakland, working with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh on Summerfest 2013, three weeks of opera and events.

As it happens, the Opera Theatre is also headquartered elsewhere, so the two organizations were meeting on mutually foreign—but fertile—ground. The Opera Theatre, like Quantum Theater, stages flexible, mobile productions all over Pittsburgh, reaching new audiences and exploring new spaces.

During the final week, Hudson had graciously agreed to play the role of tour guide, pointing out the Club’s library, its meeting and dining rooms, replenishing stacks of promotional brochures as she went. She met Asson on the second floor. “Virtually every room is being taken up with rehearsals,” Asson said, explaining the trills of operatic singing spilling out from behind closed doors, their different keys and rhythms mingling dissonantly in the halls.

The Summerfest schedule was ambitious: four mainstage productions, mini comic operas, an educational program for adults (“Mozart Camp”), rehearsals, openings, related programming. A Little Nightmare Music, a satirical opera “in one irrevocable act,” opened the final weekend.

“It escalates,” Hudson said.

“It’s a challenge, but we love this organization and we’ve worked with them before,” Asson said. The Opera Theater is effectively starting a new summer festival from scratch, so in addition to marketing, PR, documentation, fundraising, so New Place is helping to build a tradition.

New Place’s relationship with the Opera Theater exemplifies an organic style of ongoing, committed collaboration that blends arts, education, business development and civic pride in a multi-faceted way.

They also do pro bono work to support other arts organizations including the Undercroft Opera, which offers positions and training for emerging talent. “It’s important for Pittsburgh,” Hudson said. “It brings young people from all over the country for training opportunities, coaching and workshops—and their families. Their families come to see the shows. And it’s educational.”

Asson chimed in. “We’re passionate about that. We’re so sad to see the arts being diminished in public education.”

Their professional activities are also personal passions. Hudson produces and performs in her own solo theatre shows. She and Asson also sing in the choir at the Calvary Methodist Church on the Northside, where they organized the popular Messiah sing-along. Last year, 400 people participated.

On the mezzanine, a young man stopped the two principals. “Uh, hi. How do you get out of here?” He asked. They gestured towards the elevator, smiling. The Club was elegant but its side-rooms and staircases could trap someone in a rush.

The 139-seat Beaux Arts Ballroom at the Twentieth Century Club, during rehearsals for Summerfest 2013 The 139-seat Beaux Arts Ballroom of the Twentieth Century Club, during rehearsals. All Summerfest 2013 performances took place on-site.

Asson and Hudson are Pennsylvania natives who went to New York and came back. Lynette had been producing trade shows, including the International Beauty Show, an annual extravaganza, which attracts thousands of hairdressers to New York City. “There’s the madness of the floor. Add hairdressers and drama to that,” Asson said. “We always thought it would be awesome to make a musical called Hair Show: the Musical.” In a way, opera was a natural evolution.

Around 2005 they came up with New Place. They used it as an umbrella for their “extra projects,” finally incorporating in 2011.

Asson: “We were tired of working for other people.”

Hudson: “We looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, that’s what we’re doing.’ We made it official.”

Now that their projects have become their business, they have found new projects. One of these is the “Seventy-four percent” research project, which focuses on gender pay equity in the non-profit sector in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is a project of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. This work has spun off multiple collaborations with partner organizations, building up their business through their relationships.

The last stop on the tour was the Beaux Arts Ballroom.  By way of conclusion, Hudson returned to the company’s beginning. “New Place is the name of the home Shakespeare purchased for his family after he became successful,” she explained. “We loved the double meaning in that—as Shakespeare would say—of getting your project, your business, your event, to a ‘new place,’ and the underlying meaning is inspired by a place that once existed, a place of imagination, where Shakespeare wrote a lot of his works. It’s dear to us, and to Mrs. Shakespeare”—protagonist of one of Hudson's solo works.

She looked around the room, with its grand piano and bright chandeliers. “When this is done, we’re taking our beach vacation,” she said. “And then, I’m performing the role of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare in the Park.”

Lynette Asson with Yvonne Hudson of New Place Collaborations at the Twentieth Century Club On the Mezzanine at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland.

Photos by Alexandra Oliver. Read more about the Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh on their website.