Intrepid Mt. Airy beekeeper comes to rescue the opera

by Len Lear
Posted 9/21/23

During its final performance of “ La bohème” on May 7, the Opera Philadelphia company had a surprise visit from a swarm of bees.

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Intrepid Mt. Airy beekeeper comes to rescue the opera


During its final performance of “La bohème” on May 7, the Opera Philadelphia company had a surprise visit from a swarm of bees who put on an unbee-lievable show of their own on Locust Street, attaching themselves to a truck that was there to haul opera sets out of the Academy of Music. 

Of course, no one wanted to get close to the truck, which meant that the sets might have stayed there on Locust Street indefinitely. But the head electrician at the Academy of Music, Chris Hetherington, broke the logjam by remembering that Eric Schoefer, a well-known stagehand in local theaters as well as an actor, dancer and choreographer, was also a member of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild and owner of the Cresheim Valley Honey company. (You might say he works hard for his honey.)

Hetherington phoned Schoefer, who happened to be manning a booth that day for his honey company at the Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival, and asked if he could ‘bee’ a part of the solution to their problem.

Schoefer rushed downtown to Locust Street and was able to save most of the bees by the time the curtain fell. He estimates that he swept about 30,000 of them into containers that he quickly put tops on. (The opera documented the adventure, which you can see on their Instagram @operaphila).

Schoefer brought the bees to the apiary in his backyard near Mt. Pleasant Avenue and Lincoln Drive in West Mt. Airy, where they are called “the opera swarm.” The honey they have helped produce will be served to opera lovers at Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O23, which runs for 11 days from Sept. 21-Oct. 1. as part of a signature cocktail, named “Opera Buzz.” 

According to Frank Luzi, vice president of marketing communications for Opera Philadelphia, the cocktail curated to highlight the work of the bees “is light and perfect for the end of summer; it contains elderflower gin, tequila reposado, lemonade and the signature ingredient, Cresheim Valley honey.”

Schoefer, who grew up in Germantown and Mt. Airy, attended Friends Select School (“they threw me out”), Nether Providence High School, and Connecticut College as a philosophy and physics major (“I wanted to be an architect”) and then Temple University for dance classes. 

Eighteen years ago, he and four friends started the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, which is still going strong. He is also co-founder of the SCRAP Performance Group.

Ten years ago, Schoefer was an avid vegetable gardener and carpenter who took an online beekeeping class from Penn State and began making beehives from people's discarded furniture. One thing led to another, and today Schoefer has nine hives in his backyard and more at various other locations.

“A healthy colony has 50,000 bees,” Schoefer told the Local. “The bees are little chemists. They are great at finding the best food source, which is tree sap. Here, it is tulip poplar. For the last three years, I have been gathering about 400 pounds of honey per year. I'd like to get that up to 1,000 pounds.

“I buy three to five pounds of bees (honeybees only) from Georgia and California. The package comes on a truck. You release the queen to start the colony. It is harder now because of colony collapse disorder, habitat loss and industrial agriculture.”

Schoefer's spring small batch honey harvest is mellow and light, mostly from honey locust blossoms, and the fall harvest is a rich amber, including nectar from his vegetable garden and Mt. Airy wildflowers. It is available at many area festivals, markets and fairs. For more information, visit

Schoefer and his wife, Grace Gonglewski, a Barrymore Award-winning actress and professional voiceover practitioner, have lived in West Mt. Airy for 20 years with their daughter, Silvia, and various four-legged friends.

The Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O23, which runs from Sept. 21-Oct. 1, will feature several different operas and other musical performances. 

For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at