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In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Opera App is more than a Toi! Toi! Toi!

Jan 4, 2012 12:20:00 PM
By BLO Staff

I come from a household of
teachers. Both my parents teach and raised me in the classroom. I graded papers
(multiple-choice only) and ran ditto copies (yes, kids, that was how people
made copies before Xerox). During summer breaks in college I worked as a teaching
assistant with special education elementary children. Now, I run a box office
which requires me to ‘teach’ on a daily basis – from ‘teaching’ my intern how
to sell tickets to ‘teaching’ new subscribers about our production -- I ‘teach’
opera in 2 minute or less.
My wife, a volunteer coordinator
for elderly services, works with many student volunteers from BHCC so I jumped
at the opportunity to work with these students. The Office of Community Engagement
oversees these partnerships.  The office
helps students develop tangible skills through community service, civic
engagement, and student activism.
Through civic-centered or service-centered involvement, the Office of Community
Engagement demonstrates to students the connection between community
involvement and professional and personal development. What teaches personal
development better than a 400 year-old art form associated with the socially
elite and performed in a foreign language, right!? This challenge called for a
creative lesson plan. (More after the jump)

 I paired up with Professor Jaime L'heureux’s IT Problem Solving course. The class aimed to develop mobile applications for Boston Lyric Opera.
The students worked in groups to build mobile apps, using App Inventor software
for Android mobiles. The process began with an introductory visit. These
students hail from different backgrounds, financial brackets and native
languages. When I presented to the class, I showed them how much opera
knowledge they already had! We discussed popular opera references such as, Looney
Tunes and The Simpsons. We referenced The Godfather, car commercials and
discussed how the musical Rent found inspiration in La Boheme. I introduced
them to BLO’s mission and shared the company’s goals for mobile apps. The primary
challenges of this assignment were:

1.) Learn the software and build a functioning mobile app
2.) Develop a relationship and an understanding of Boston Lyric Opera
Throughout
this community engagement course, students worked to find solutions, completed research and learned about mobile application technology.
Students identified the needs and expectations of the client (BLO), learned to communicate
effectively with the client while developing a strong work ethic and
discovering their individual strengths within these potential career paths.
I worked
with students to create a list of requirements for the app. We included calendars,
production information, basic media and news updates. I then made a wishlist. As
a technology junky I wanted games, an interactive seating map, allowing patrons
to ‘meet their seat.’

This fall students attended our opera, Macbeth,
emailed me requests for images, music clips and b-roll of recent BLO
productions.  Students poured over our
new website to absorb the branding and message of the company. In November I
returned to classroom with Julie House (our Education and Community Programs
Manager) to check on how each had developed. A representative from each group
presented a basic model of their application and the goal functions.

I
returned for the final presentations in December.
  • The first group built an app focused
    on instant access to information. The app, and each page of the app,
    opened with music (tracks which could be interchanged to reflect the
    current season). The app provided direct access to the BLO Facebook page,
    YouTube channel, and links to our homepage, the ticketing terminal on our
    website and a forum for news and discussion. The group’s intended to
    provide key information available in as few click-throughs as possible alongside
    visual and audio stimulation. This technique created many touch points throughout
    the interaction.
  • The second group created an
    app with a similar purpose, but with a different method. Instead of
    linking directly to certain portions of the web this app used  multiple buttons that accordion expanded
    into brief informative pages. These pages have links to targeted topics
    within our website. This application also included a calendar hosted
    through Google, allowing users to utilize the full functionality of a
    Google calendar. (i.e. add an opera event to a personal calendar and
    invite friends to join the event.)
  • The third group produced a
    very different app from the other two groups. This group presumed that apps
    are frequently downloaded for 2 reasons: (1) they are free and (2) they
    are entertaining. The group, influenced by their own new experiences with
    opera, sought to inform and entertain with the app. Using the game Rock
    Band as inspiration, the group built a game into the app. A small ball pops
    up on screen in time with a well-known opera song (dynamic feature on the
    back-end, allowing BLO to change the selection based on the season) and the
    user  earns points for the opera singer
    (in a Viking helmet) each time the ball is correctly touched. Upon winning
    the game, a glass breaks for hitting a high note. This game demonstrates a
    method I call “sneaking spinach in a brownie”. While playing the game the
    user is indirectly exposed to opera.
Working
with these students on app development offers BLO an opportunity to increase
our presence online and on mobile devices. Additionally, this project served as
the beginning of a partnership between BLO and Bunker Hill Community
College. After my final visit with the class, the
Dean of Professional Studies requested I partner with Prof. Bryan Craven, Computer Media
Technology Chair, to work on a similar project for his game design class.
--Kate
Curtis, Audience Services Manager

Topics: behind the scenes, community engagement, BLO staff, education programs, General Opera, macbeth, mobile apps, technology

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