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What does it mean to be “on the verge”?

My name is Ema Katrovas. I’m a classical singer, translator, and writer. I grew up with an American father and a Czech mother, toggling between Prague, Czech Republic, and New Orleans, Louisiana, before finding myself, for a while, in the totally alien landscape of the American Midwest. I’m now based back in my hometown of Prague.

In October 2019, I started a blog called Soprano on the Verge because I wanted to talk candidly about the tribulations of being a struggling performing artist. I then launched a YouTube channel, Opera on the Verge, in March 2020 as a bit of a prestige project in which I wanted to dispel myths about opera and the opera industry, though I have a hard time staying within the confines of that idea. Convo on the Verge, the podcast, completes the trilogy and offers, I hope, a hopeful way forward: I want to have conversations with artists who have struck out on their own, outside of the industry and its gatekeepers. Convo on the Verge is set to launch in January 2021.

On October 19th 2020, about a year into creating On the Verge, I wrote a kind of mission statement on my blog:

“As the daughter of the Velvet Revolution, which marked the end of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, I may be particularly sensitive to how, after hopeful social shifts, things tend to sneakily slide back into place, under new guises, new ideologies. However, it is also precisely now, of all times, that I have discovered an intensely idealistic side of myself: I am a total believer in the power and value of art. Unfortunately, the word “art,” when it is used “seriously,” has the air of the removed, irrelevant, and even somewhat ridiculous – an inscrutable abstract sculpture guarded within the walls of a minimalist gallery or some slog of a performance-piece one must watch with a straight face, even if it is, in fact, an unendearing example of what Susan Sontag would call “pure camp.” I, too, was seduced by the idea of “high art.” Why else would I have chosen opera?”

I came to realize that the reason I created On the Verge was because I was searching for like-minded artists. Less than a year into this endeavor, I have been meeting fascinating singers, composers, multi-talented individuals from across the world of performing and generative arts, people who are also, in various ways, “on the verge,” a state I tried to describe in the mission statement on my blog:

“One thing that has not changed since launching [the On the Verge Trilogy] is the fact that I feel I am speaking from a metaphorical verge, though that verge has taken on different meanings. When starting the blog, I imagined myself to be on the verge of a make-or-break turning point in my career, on the cusp of either sudden breakthrough or irredeemable failure. Moving on to my You Tube channel, I felt the verge to be more global; it seemed to me that even as I was engaging with art, even as I was imagining and re-imagining the history of this obscure art form called opera, civilization itself was balancing on the precipice of natural disaster, the verge of a future we can’t quite imagine. There is also a less grandiose but more hopeful meaning to being on the verge: To be on the verge as an artist is to give yourself over to the uncertainty of creating outside of the confines of a traditional career, outside of the legitimizing but, ultimately, restrictive cocoon of both the academy and the industry.” 

For the current version of my life story, listen to the pilot of the Convo on the Verge podcast!