With the fall suddenly upon us, it seems time to take stock of our summer here at Act Too Studio. And, oh, what a summer it was!
We began the season with classes, specifically “Voice, Speech, and Spontaneity for the Actor,” taught by Joseph Bromfield—whom I met, incidentally, when I hired him as an actor at my previous job. Joseph’s background includes a lot of classical theater, so he was a natural choice for this workshop.
From the class description, “The goals for this workshop are two-fold: to free the voice and to create ensemble. These goals will be achieved as students engage with voice and speech exercises that place special emphasis on expanding breath, increase dexterity and strength in the muscles of speech, explore different areas of resonance, and participate in improvisational games and exercises that facilitate team building, develop focus and listening skills, and encourage an imaginative spirit.”
We were lucky to be able to offer two sections of this class, to reach as many kids as possible!
This was my first full-time summer here at the studio, and I was apparently determined to make it as full-time as possible! I began with a workshop as well—this time, a version of my class “Music Appreciation: Total Arts Immersion” designed for our younger students. Since the class was originally structured for teens, I expected to have to adjust it considerably for the pre-teen set, but of course these kids astonished me with their thoughtfulness and creativity!
Since we were doing the class in a single week, I did adjust the way creative projects were assigned. We did most of our work in class, and the girls spent the second half of the week writing an original play (inspired by portions of Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges), which they presented for us (complete with their self-made sets and costumes) on the final day. What a great way to begin my summer!
Things then took a more serious turn, as we began production for the studio’s first production, Goblin Market.
Based on the narrative poem by Christina Rossetti, Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon’s Goblin Market was a labor of love for its authors and for me, bringing together a piece I’ve longed to be involved with for years with two of our most gifted students, Meagan Raker and Anna Plummer.
Add to this the beautiful choreography by ATS alum Connie Flachs and skillful musical direction by our most recent local discovery, pianist Lemuel Gurtowsky, and the entire experience was a dream come true.
From my director’s note: “If you’ve heard of Goblin Market, chances are good that your familiarity is primarily, if not exclusively, with its source material. Perhaps oddly, I first encountered Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem by way of this piece, so my own experience with Laura and Lizzie’s story has always been inextricable from Polly Pen’s lovely, unusual score. In fact, I once hoped that I might perform Goblin Market with my sister, Katie, with whom I shared a relationship as close and as (sometimes) complicated as that between Laura and Lizzie. And it is undoubtedly my own relationship with my sister that most influences my interpretation of both Rossetti’s poem and Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon’s adaptation.
While Goblin Market has, since its publication, been dissected as a religious allegory, an exploration of Victorian sexuality, or even an addiction narrative, the aspect of the poem I’ve always been most interested in is its portrayal of Laura and Lizzie’s devotion to each other, both as sisters and as young women taking care of each other in an era when women and women’s lives were largely marginalized. Whether their experience with the goblins is real, metaphorical, or entirely imagined, the result is a deepening of the sisters’ love for each other and their recognition of its value in their lives.
It is this reading of the poem that has inspired our production, and this has only been enhanced by our young actresses’ close, real-life friendship with each other. Meagan and Anna, themselves, are the heart of this production, and they bring a sincerity and authenticity to the piece that is wholly theirs. I feel privileged to be able to turn this piece (and all my own dreams for it) over to their care. I hope they have learned to love it as I have, and that you will, too!”
You can read more about our production here, and even leave a review!
The closing of Goblin Market made way almost immediately for my final project of the summer, our week-long teen Opera Workshop featuring eleven young singers (ages 13-18) and the second act of W.A. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
Because Figaro is a comedy, we chose to study the act in English (it’s not funny if nobody knows what’s happening), mainly using the Boosey & Hawkes Royal edition with Edward Dent’s translation. Though that edition includes at least two small, traditional cuts (in the duet, “Aprite, presto, aprite”), we made no additional cuts in the score ourselves. Students were expected to learn as much of their music in advance as possible, so that the workshop itself could focus on putting it all together.
With that in mind, the official workshop was preceded by months of preparation and study on behalf of the students who participated. And some put in a lot of preparation. They coached both solo and in groups to learn their roles, some coming to the studio for hours at a time, multiple days a week.
Though the initial goal of the workshop was to introduce students to Mozart’s brilliant work, the actual result was more exciting than I’d ever 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 an astonishing rate.
It was so exciting for them and for me to be able to watch their skills progress in such an obvious and accelerated manner. And honestly, I can’t think of anything more fun. I hope they felt the same!
More than ever, I’m 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 I look forward to its future! Organization of fall programs is currently underway.
*Whew* what a whirlwind this summer was! I hope our students enjoyed it as much as I did. Bring on the fall!