Requiem for a Lost Girl: A Chamber Musical about Homelessness

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

Exploring themes of of poverty, mental illness and addiction, this strikingly original chamber musical unfolds as a memorial service for a young woman. Requiem was created and is performed in partnership with a chorus of men, women and children who know the experience of homelessness – a raw, gorgeous and heart-altering blend of true stories and the theatrical that gives voice to the streets of North America.

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

  • Commissioned by the Land's End Chamber Ensemble.
  • Libretto/Lyrics by Onalea Gilbertson with additional writing by special chorus.  Composed by Marcel Bergmann

Requiem For A Lost Girl Associate Producer Andrew Block and cast member Anderson Footman on CBC radio opening night of our New York premiere.  Click to listen

Click to read the article by Francis Silvaggio on Global News

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, 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.


REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL will be presented by Vancouver Opera in spring 2018.  Currently a team of artists is working with participants who are currently and formerly  homeless at The Kettle in downtown Vancouver.



Currently in NYC over 38,000 people are homeless and using the shelter system on any given night. 16,000 of them are children. 

Requiem is a true story about someone I lost to the street.

We have a special chorus of people on our stage who know first hand the experience of homelessness, mental illness and addiction – the raw truth of their writings are the very heart of this piece.

 Homelessness is an international emergency.  The systems and financial structures that are in place in our world support this paradigm.  Many  people work in the sex trade to survive on the streets. People become homeless for numerous and complex  reasons including 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 - by running away from something or someone.  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.

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 are striving to turn the “ladder of success” on its side, away from hierarchy towards harmony.  We are striving to showcase people who you might not have ever listened to, by amplifying their voice.

One of my dreams is to take over a theatre and perform this show through a mentorship program in every area of the arts with those experiencing homelessness helping on every level of production.

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”.


“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