You know how they say “the early bird catches the worm…?” Not true. Here’s what really happens. The early bird, when startled by a train whistle, crashes into my window; at 6:00AM. The bird is fine, I watched it fly away, and I was up anyway; conveniently looking out said window at the time of impact, so I got the full effect. I swear, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Good morning readers! It’s a beautiful day in Cheyenne and I’ve been up long enough to get the play by play action. The sunrise is stunning; hot pink against a blue sky. There’s no time to admire it though. We’ve got a crazy day ahead. I get ready as quickly and quietly as possible and head downstairs to meet the group for breakfast. To my surprise (not really), I am the first one to arrive. The next to appear is Meghan and then Morgan and then… “the Alex.” Oh my. It’s bad. We haven’t even reached the general grunting phase yet. He seems to be coherent thought, so that’s something. A few minutes later Steven, Joshua and Jared arrive followed by Cassidy. Breakfast is a hushed affair; we’re all running on empty. Joshua is half awake and neglects his toast. I didn’t know bread could get that dark without catching on fire. He says it’s OK though because it’s a good source of carbon. Do humans need to eat carbon? Jared is still trying to make a case for using Mr. Quacksworth as a roaming gnome. He wants to take pictures of him with the people we perform for, sort of like a scrapbook. I have to admit, the idea has possibilities. It’s quirky and unexpected, not bad things when you’re trying to grab people’s attention. We decide on a test run; we’ll try it today and see how the students respond.
Breakfast finished, everyone goes back to their rooms to grab their stuff before checking out. Alex has moved to two word comments; things like: “Forgot something.” “Be back.” It’s a good sign. Time to load the cars – again. Steven and Joshua put on brave faces and get to work. I’m now absolutely positive that the luggage is multiplying when we’re not looking. Meghan heads off to the first school before of the rest of us. She says she’s going to get us checked in, but I think she might be scouting photo ops for that duck. Trunks are successfully closed, bodies are in cars and we’re off. Next stop, Central High School. This will be our third year at this school. We’ve performed Romeo and Juliet, Carmen and now The Barber of Seville. We arrive at the school and it's all hands on deck. We’re on a really tight timeline today so every minute counts. The set goes up pretty smoothly and the teachers are incredibly welcoming and helpful. Steven works with one of the teachers to fix the piano, while I work with another one to set light levels. Joshua can’t find his bow tie, so Steven ransacks the Yukon. While he does that, I fill up water bottles and prepare props. These tasks generally fall under the heading of “other duties as assigned” on our job descriptions. Water is distributed, props are set but, alas, the bow tie has eluded us; still the show must go on. The students arrive and it’s a full house. We’ve got 6th grade – high school and some guests from the community too. I start with an introduction and our very first student performance of The Barber of Seville begins.
Joshua does the flower toss. No laughter. Alex’s aria gets some tentative applause. As the show progresses, I start to get worried. They’re so quiet. Do they like it? I look around and what I see instantly eases my fears. Every face I look at, literally every single one, has a big smile. They’re enjoying the performance; they’re just so focused on what’s happening on stage, they are being quiet. Well, that’s OK! I’m sitting next to a group of middle school students. We arrive at the scene change. Jared walks on stage and, from the girl sitting next to me I hear… “Well, hello.” I turn to her, ready to shake her hand, but she wasn’t talking to me. That comment was for Jared. Too cute! He does look incredibly dapper in his Bartolo costume. The show continues and the laughs are picking up. I can tell that the Young Artists are tired, the energy is a little low, but they are still giving a great performance. I’m also sitting by a group of students with special needs. One young man taps his head excitedly every time Cassidy sings and gets a huge grin on his face. Another student quietly claps for every note that Alex utters. It’s hard to describe what it’s like for me to witness moments like these.
Near the middle of the performance, we have our second tour related injury. Before you ask, Mr. Quacksworth is fine. This time it’s Alex. He slices his finger on a piece of broken china. I know it’s pretty bad when I see him sucking on it in between notes. He’s a pro though and manages to get through the scene without missing a beat. He makes his exit and when he enters a few minutes later, he’s got hot pink spike tape on his finger. Our Alex is a resourceful guy.
The show reaches the finale and then it’s time for bows. The students applaud and you can hear some tentative but sincere “bravos.” I take the stage to begin the Q&A and I’m in for a surprise. This group of students, who has been so quiet during the performance, keeps us answering questions for the next 25 minutes. I was right. They were paying attention to every word. Time runs out before questions do and soon we’re breaking down the set and loading out. I check out Alex’s tour injury; it’s a nasty cut but it’s stopped bleeding. I get him bandaged up and we finish loading everything into the Yukon. First performance of the day… check. Thanks for having us Central High, we’ve loved being here!
We have just enough time to grab a quick lunch before heading to school number two. In the busy-ness of the morning, we completely forgot to try out the Roaming Quacksworth idea. We’ll try it this afternoon. Over lunch, I tell Jared that he has a fan. He’s delighted, of course. Apparently his charm extends to older women too because he gets a free cookie from the cashier. “The Alex” is not amused. Meghan heads off to school number two and we finish lunch and load into the cars. We’re performing The Barber of Seville again, but this time for a new school; South High School. Meghan gets us checked in and we begin the process of loading in and setting up. We’re really getting the hang of it and have the set up in about 20 minutes. The school has a fabulous theater and we even have dressing rooms. The students soon arrive and, after another introduction by yours truly, our second performance of the day begins. We know within minutes that this audience is ready to laugh. Joshua's rose toss get a big giggle and they’re applauding Alex’s aria before the music even ends. The Young Artists can feel the energy in the room and they respond, giving a wonderful performance. Joshua’s characterization of an inebriated solider gets a huge laugh. Morgan’s aria is hilarious. At one point, she flops herself down on a chair, looking for all the world like a benched baseball player. Alex and Jared have one young man laughing so hard, he accidentally head butts his friend. It was audible. His friend was laughing too, so it’s all good. Once we reach bows, the audience is cheering and some even give a standing ovation. The Q&A is fantastic. The students ask some really interesting questions and the Young Artists are complete naturals; giving fun but thoughtful answers. We actually run out of time and have to cut things off as the bell rings to dismiss students from school. South High School – thank you! It’s been a great afternoon and we can’t wait to come back (yes, we’ve already been invited).
We pile into the cars for the final time and begin the drive to Denver. I’m in the car with all the guys and I soon find myself in completely unfamiliar territory. Silence. Steven is driving, Jared is reading, Alex is dozing and Joshua is fast asleep, using Alex and Jared as cushions. I find my thoughts turning to everything that’s happened over the past 3 days. I estimate that we’ve brought opera to about 500 people. It’s been a series of long days and hard work, but if you asked any of us, we’d all give you the same answer. It’s been totally worth it. So, readers, thanks for coming along. We hope you’ll join us again in March for our Greater Colorado Tour. We’ll be out and about for almost 2 ½ weeks. Based on the experiences from the past 3 days, I think it’s safe to say it will be worth reading about.
So… thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting what we do. And don’t forget to watch for that duck. Roaming Quacksworth. You never know where he might show up next.
Cherity Koepke, Director of Education & Community Programs