WHAT DO WE DO?
Act Too Studio Opera Workshop is an ongoing, student-driven educational arts project with performances throughout the year, including a fully-staged opera each summer. Our workshop includes students between the ages of 13-19 at varying levels of vocal development, musical skill, and experience. Works are chosen with those factors in mind, and though this work is intended to be performed for the community, the focus of the workshop itself is very process-heavy. In order to bring their work to performance level, students are guided through deep musical and theatrical analysis of everything they do, along with study of the work’s cultural and historical context. More importantly, however, they are tasked with making it their own. Our students work together with professional staff to adapt, promote, and fund these projects from the ground up, taking old works and reimagining them to better reflect their sensibilities, their politics, and their vision of the future. We are inspiring teens today to mold the world of tomorrow.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Though we went into this project with the goal of improving our students’ musical skills, the real understanding that came out of it for all of us is that opera is for everyone. As our students discovered themselves and their own truths in the music and in their characters, their driving motivation became to share this discovery with everyone they know. And then they did, with remarkable success.
Tickets for 2015’s full opera production (Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium) were mostly gone well before opening night, and we found ourselves scrambling to cram in extra seats as other teens begged to be able to get in—some for a repeat performance. Just as our students surprised us with their initial interest in this project, they’ve also been the ones to show us that our conventional ideas about what most people will like or accept are just plain wrong.
Most importantly, though, what is vital about the arts, especially the kind that gets people out of their homes and into a community space like a theater, is that it makes us better people. Storytelling through the arts is how we share our most important truths with each other, and how we learn to understand both others and ourselves. It is the the way in which we bypass our prejudices and preconceived notions to discover the ways in which our inner worlds overlap with those we might view as “other.” It is the common language we all share. A society without the arts is a society without beauty, a society without understanding, and a society without hope. As our federal government embarks on a campaign to defund and delegitimize the arts, it is more important than ever for small businesses like ours to help keep the arts alive through the young people who will one day be in charge.
Opera is the richest theatrical music we know, filled with emotion and all the terrifying complexity of human existence. Our students will not all become opera singers—most likely very few of them will. But they all will be a part of shaping the future of the arts and of our society. They will be the ones who, in industry and education, determine our artistic legacy.
“It’s like, instead of falling in love with a person, I fell in love with opera.” – McKenna, 14
For our teens, themselves, not only have they learned to love opera, but they are constantly impressing us with their own brilliance as interpretive artists. As we began work on 2016’s summer Monteverdi project, students were immediately involved in the creative process, brainstorming ideas for the new narrative we constructed, providing feedback on English adaptations, offering up costume concepts, discussing their characters, sorting them into Hogwarts houses (yes, really), and analyzing the music and text. These young people are immensely talented and absolutely stunning when they put this kind of passion in their work. It is a sight to behold.
WHERE DID WE COME FROM?
The Workshop began in the Summer of 2014, with a week-long intensive involving the second act of W.A. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Eleven students, ages 13-18, were assigned roles to learn (in English), spanning the entire act. Students were expected to learn as much of their music in advance as possible, so that the workshop itself could focus on ensemble work, character, and emotional intent.
With that in mind, the official workshop was preceded by months of preparation and study on behalf of the students who participated. Students coached both solo and in groups to learn their roles in this demanding act, including the epic Finale.
Though the initial goal of the workshop was to introduce students to Mozart’s brilliant work, the actual result was more exciting than we’d anticipated. Students who spent significant time working on their roles found themselves strengthening their voices and increasing their skill levels in areas like sight-reading and intonation at a fairly astonishing rate.
More than ever, we at the studio are convinced that classical voice study is the key to the most successful vocal and musical training for singers. To that end, the Opera Workshop stands as an ongoing means for making that study as fun and exciting as possible, and we look forward to its future!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Though our mission is not primarily to prepare our students for careers in the performing arts, those who do decide to further their performing arts education in the fields of classical vocal performance, musical theater, acting, or even dance have benefitted from the experience, skill, and deep musical understanding gained from their participation in our workshop.
|Opera Workshop members have gone on to be accepted into vocal performance, musical theater, and acting conservatory programs at schools such as New England Conservatory, Carnegie-Mellon University, Boston Conservatory, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes School of Music, Crane School of Music, Schulich School of Music at McGill University, Syracuse University, Boston University, Oklahoma City University, Ithaca College, The New School, The Hartt School, Point Park College, Indiana University, Lawrence Conservatory, Emerson College, and more, as well as professional training programs like the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O’Neil Theater Center, Washington Ballet School, San Francisco Ballet School, Boston Ballet School, and Pacific Northwest Ballet School.
Additionally, our students have been accepted into prestigious liberal arts programs at schools such as Princeton University, Brandeis University, Goucher College, Amherst College, Connecticut College, American University, Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts, Middlebury College, Ohio Wesleyan University, University of North Carolina, DePaul University, and more, bringing with them the deep appreciation for and understanding of human expression made possible with theatrical storytelling and classical singing.