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Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Making New Discoveries: Grade School Children Learn About Opera

Jun 3, 2013 12:51:00 PM
By BLO Staff

On Friday, May 31, I had the great pleasure of attending my
second Festival of Classroom Operas in
partnership with Wheelock Family Theatre as the Director of Community
Engagement at BLO.  This festival is the
culminating, celebratory event for the Music!
Words! Opera!
program where classrooms that have progressed to creating
their own original operas are able to come together and share their work.  
Nine classrooms participated in the program this year, and
though we didn’t see everyone at the festival, we celebrated many
successes  for educators who have been
teaching their students about classic operas and seeing young faces (and in
some cases, hearing nervous giggles) as students listened to famous arias and
chorus numbers for the very first time. 
Students have attended BLO rehearsals, welcomed BLO Artists into their
classrooms, and in the swell of all these new sounds, unfamiliar languages,
colorful costumes, and long-gone composers, they set upon the daunting task of
writing their own opera. The question “Well, where in the world do I begin?”
immediately comes to mind, doesn’t it?
Festival participants took part in theatre workshops led by
BLO and WFT Teaching Artists and demonstrated their operas onstage to an
audience of their peers.  All very fun,
and very entertaining.   
My favorite part
of the day was the conversation that took place among the students after they finished performing their operas.  Led by WFT’s Director
of Education, I was impressed by the way children in grades 2 – 5 articulated
their observations about their experience.  
Some of the topics:
* Facing stage fright                             
* Negotiating
uncooperative props and set pieces
* Unexpected audience reaction
* Problem-solving
and improvising together
* (And my favorite) Struggling with the sometimes confounding problem
of playing a character while still being just a normal, living, breathing
person standing on a stage.  This can be
quite the uncomfortable problem for the soldier onstage being played by a
ten-year-old with an itchy nose! 
As I reflect on the festival and seeing these discoveries
unfold, I find that I am most in awe of the process that preceded the
demonstrations, and as the school year ends, what more could still be done for
which there is, sadly, no time left. It’s the process that is important. In the past two seasons I have seen classroom
story ideas generate from many different sources: learning about immigration in
social studies lessons, a language arts folktale writing assignment, an
inspiring or fun song from music class, an adaptation of a classic myth, even
an historical dance—the list goes on and on. As I think about this idea, I am thrilled to know that children are
discovering that there are stories everywhere and they are worth telling.
Though it gets more challenging, because in the performing
arts, we don’t just tell stories—we show them. 
And in opera, we also sing them!  From
concept and writing, melody and score, character choices, movement and dance,
breath and projection, costumes, sets, and props (whew!),  there is no way for one 15-minute performance
to convey all the real successes of these students.
So how do you measure success?  By seeing a theatre full of young children
thinking and talking like artists.  When
you’re thinking like an artist, you’re thinking like a team member, a
problem-solver, and a storyteller.  Like
someone without ego, but confident. 
Like someone with more questions than answers, always making new
discoveries.
Megan Cooper
Director of Community Engagement 
Photos courtesy of Ben Gebo Photography
Boston Opera Calendar

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