Requiem for a Lost Girl: A Chamber Musical about Homelessness

"fragile, delicate work...raw and unvarnished...powerful"
- Michael Glitz Huffington Post

Libretto/Lyrics by Onalea Gilbertson with additional writing by special chorus.  Composed by Marcel Bergmann

Featuring 7- piece chamber ensemble, 3 soloists, chorus of people with lived experience of homelessness, and choir.

Exploring themes of homelessness, poverty, mental illness, addiction and the plight of missing and murdered women - this strikingly original chamber musical unfolds as a memorial service for a young woman lost to the street. Requiem was created and is performed in partnership with a chorus of people who know the experience of homelessness – a raw, gorgeous and heart-altering blend of true stories and the theatrical that amplifies voices and shines light on the streets of North America.

Originally commissioned by the Land's End Chamber Ensemble.

REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL will be presented by The Vancouver Opera in partnership with The Kettle Society and SFU Woodwards community programs

This performance of Requiem will feature original material and performances by The Kettle Choir and Writers Guild. Also featuring members of the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program, The Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre
SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts - 149 west Hasting Street - Vancouver, BC
Friday, May 4, 2018, at 7:30pm
Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 2:00pm

Click here for information and tickets

Click here for more information about The Kettle Society

Instagram: @onaleag and #requiemforalostgirl | Twitter: @requiemforagirl | Facebook: @RequiemForALostGirl


A mandate of the script of REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL is for the producing/ presenting company to  create singing, writing, and theatrical workshops with a shelter or community organisation where the members know the experience of homelessness.  It is the wish that this connection would foster a lasting relationship between the two organisations for future workhops and community engagement even after the show REQUIEM has been performed.

Production History

World Premiere presented by One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo under the title Two Bit Oper Eh? Shun

Over 2009 Onalea created a choir and gathered vivid tales from Canada’s largest homeless shelter the Calgary Drop-In Centre, teaming up with composer Marcel Bergmann to create a sweeping composition that gives voice to the streets.  Participants of the Drop- In Centre Singers were invited to perform in and contribute writing towards the piece.

NEW YORK Premiere

Requiem For A Lost Girl had its New York Premiere at The Theater at St Clements as a part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival  

REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL, Global Evening News

A team from the Canadian World Premiere; creators Onalea and Marcel, Director Doug McKeag, violinist John Lowry, soloist Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan, and creators and chorus members John Harris and Max Ciesieslki worked along with a team from New York City. Talented participants Montana, Anderson, Momo, Jose, Lori and Daniel Vega (along with tech support from Manny) from the Youth Shelter Covanent house and Rivky Grossman who I met though Fountain House created original writing and songs to contribute to the piece.



In Canada 30,000 people are homeless on any given night, approx 235,000 experience homelessness in a year.  In Canada 1 in 7 people (4.9 million people)  and 1 in 5 children live in poverty (1.3 million children).  At least 2,458 people died of opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2016 — an average of almost seven a day.  British Columbia declared a state of emergency in April 2016.  The government of Canada has identified this as a public health crisis.

"People with mental illness experience homelessness for longer periods of time and have less contact with family and friends. In general, 30-35% of those experiencing homelessness, and up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness, have mental illnesses. 20-25% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from concurrent disorders (severe mental illness and addictions). People who have severe mental illnesses over-represent those experiencing homelessness, as they are often released from hospitals and jails without proper community supports in place."  (

Missing and murdered indigenous women and  girls is a National Crisis.  Indigenous women are overrepresented among Canada’s missing and murdered women.

Requiem is a true story about someone I lost to the street when I was 15 years old.  When her death was described in the paper it was reported with shame and stigma because she had been working in the sex trade at the time of her death.  It was as though she mattered less because she was making money to survive in a "high risk way".  She was 15.  I raced against her in track and field.  The last time I saw her was on the podium at a track meet.  In the 6 months after our last encounter she had run away from home, was experiencing homelessness and addiction, was working in the sex trade to survive and someone killed her.

This terrible tragedy has never left me.  And in particular the stigma that surrounded her murder has never left me.  This personal experience is my way into learning about these national crisises we find ourselves inside of.   So I join with many others across North America, and we have created a Requiem for her.  

We have a special chorus of people on our stage who know first hand the experience of homelessness –every person has been touched in some way by a missing or murdered person in their life - the raw truth of their writings are the very heart of this piece.

The most important part of this work is the process of community building that we undertake to explore, document, write and sing about the humanity of all people.

 Homelessness is a national and international emergency.  The addiction crisis in Canada has been declared a public health crisis. The Canadian  missing and murdered Woman's commission is still looking for a national police task force..  Stigma is rampant in our society. The systems and financial structures that are in place in our world support these paradigms.

People become homeless for numerous and complex  reasons including:   lack of affordable housing, poverty, addiction issues, divorce, death in the family, gentrification, being discharged from correctional facilities, hospitals or foster care with nowhere to go, domestic violence, cultural genocide , displacement from lands or like the girl in our tale - running away from something or someone and working in the sex trade to survive on the streets. Many of us are living only one pay-cheque or one crisis away from homelessness.  Makes us really question the concept of “choice”.  We live inside a system where we often “feel better” when we are ahead of  “the game” or doing better than other people, honoring the competition in our nature.  Now is a time in our culture to honor the cooperation at our very core and to continue to find the threads that bind all of us together.  Music, poetry and theatre do just that.  There are artists all around us.  What they have to say is revolutionary.  LISTEN.  DISCUSS. ORGANIZE!  EDUCATE!  TRANSFORM.

Poverty makes people sick, and it can make people violent.   Poverty kills people on a regular basis whether it be souls or actual bodies.   Without subsidized housing, transitional housing, addiction treatment and counseling, proper mental health facilities, community support and proper shelter facilities with adequate mentorship programs - poverty is virtually impossible to escape. Working full time at the minimum wage should not leave an individual below the poverty line.  Evolution in our culture is needed. We as a people are not powerless. Only by joining together as a community can we dialogue and make a difference.  Your voice is important.  Use it.  Look at people on the street.  Don’t just “rush on by”.  Practice empathy and compassion.  We are all in this together.

There is a legacy in this script, it reminds us that we must share with our community, and in doing so we can effect change in both bold and nuanced ways.  With this piece we are striving to erase the line between “us and them”.   We strive to shine light in the darkness and educate about the eradication of stigma. We are striving to turn the concept of the “ladder of success” on its side, away from hierarchy towards cooperation and harmony.  We are striving to showcase people who you might not have ever listened to, by amplifying their voice.

Article 25 United Nations declaration of Human Rights is below:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

According to the UN declaration of human rights Homes and social services are A HUMAN RIGHT.  Let's continue to join together to create awareness, foster dialogue, educate all people and demand change at a systemic level.  Homelessness is something that someone is experiencing.  Not something they “are”.  And, as far as I’m concerned, all of life is a “high risk lifestyle”.

Onalea Gilbertson


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead