Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 Greater Colorado Tour – Day 4

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Happy Thursday readers! Its day 4 of tour already.  You know what that means... time is flying. We’re up at a fairly leisurely pace for us this morning. That basically means that we’re not up with the sun, showering while warming up or packing the car while eating breakfast. That’s a luxury. We have a long day today, so we’re getting a little (and by little I mean about 1-hour) later start than usual so the group could get some extra rest. We’ve started to get into a rhythm and we all chip in with completing the check out “to do” list, getting the luggage into the car and doing one final sweep of the cabin to make sure we don’t leave anything behind.

On the road we go and begin the drive to our next stop on tour, Carbondale. It’s cloudy and cool today; there’s a chance for rain or snow. It’s just Colorado in the spring. Weather notwithstanding, I think it’s going to be a great day. We have a long but beautiful drive ahead of us, a workshop with students and then a performance of Romeo & Juliet. As the drive gets underway, it appears that this is going to be wildlife spotting day. Just minutes outside of Lake City we see deer and a large herd of elk. Katherine spots yet another animal and calls it out so that we also can partake of the enjoyment of seeing the wildlife; “horsies.” Yes, each time we pass horses in a field, or even a corral, Katherine informs us in this manner. There’s an additional element which you readers sadly can’t appreciate because each “horsey” is accompanied by a giggle. Katherine has another skill related to animals. She can tell happy cows from sad cows. Leah, ever the eager student, asks Katherine to impart her knowledge. Soon, each pasture we drive by is a lesson in how to determine the emotional state of the bovine occupants.

Brett is acting as copilot while I drive this first leg of the trip and he’s located a county road that will save us some time. The turn comes up quicker than expected (our GPS lady is polite but her reaction time is questionable), but we make it. Andrew and Daniel are following in the van. Thankfully Andrew’s reaction time is better than the GPS lady. It’s a dirt road, but it’s in decent shape. There are “horsies” and happy cows and the road parallels the river. It’s quite a lovely setting. I again think, this is going to be a great day. The road begins to narrow a bit and we get to a junction. We see a sign that reads “landslide area” but it’s the direction that we need to go and the GPS shows that the road in indeed open, so we proceed.  The road grows narrower still but we keep going. Finally, the GPS lady tells us to take the next turn on the right so that we can meet up with the road that will take us to the main highway. So, copilot Brett and I look for the turn off to our right. Nothing to the right and the river is to the left. Maybe it’s a bit further down the road than the GPS lady thinks. Copilot Brett agrees. I keep driving. The road narrows again; now you could touch the rocks on either side of the car by leaning out of the windows. Taylor offers the sage advice that if it starts to rain, we should head to higher ground. Its then that I realize we’re in a very narrow, steep canyon with a swiftly flowing river. Now, I’m getting a bit nervous and it doesn’t help that copilot Brett is whistling the theme from Deliverance. Thankfully, the GPS lady’s voice comes on and says… “At the next available spot, please make a U-turn.” There’s a group outcry at this, but we agree to turn around and look for that turn again. We missed it somehow. Andrew, Daniel and copilot Brett get the van turned around. I over hear Andrew say something about a sign he saw, but when I ask copilot Brett about it, he smiles and says “it’s all good.”  He and Taylor help me turn the tank around and we head back. We arrive at the exact spot that the GPS lady says to turn. Only… there’s no turn. Turn…? There’s no ROAD. Nothing even resembling a road. Perplexed, all we can do is head back out the way we came in and take the longer route. (It’s not until later that I find out that Andrew saw a sign that said the road had been closed due to a landslide. Based on the state of the “road” I can only assume that happened sometime in the Jurassic period.) Copilot Brett feels terrible; this was his call after all. But really, it was no big deal and we learned a valuable lesson; Copilot Brett is not psychic. He cannot see into the future to determine if GPS lady’s roads exist or not. So, we extended our drive by about 20-minutes. We got to see some beautiful scenery and now we have a story to tell about tour. It’s still going to be a good day.

Leah is very intuitive and she can sense that there’s a bit of stress in the car. She does her best to alleviate this by telling us a story. The story is based on us, though, to protect our identities, Leah has changed our names. The characters in the story are Sunshine, Rhett, Cobbler, Doggy and Poops. (I’ll let you readers see if you can figure out who is who) The story is about 5 people on a car trip; only one of them is a ghost. Good. Thank you Leah, we all feel much better now.

We stop for a much needed break and then begin the drive through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This is one of my favorite drives in Colorado. Pictures don’t do it justice. We see more wildlife here; a wild turkey and a marmot. The aspens are just beginning to leaf. Brett and I sound like kids watching fireworks as we “ooh” and “aah” at each new vista. We’re even selecting the appropriate background music to enhance the experience. (What do you think we listened to readers?) We reach the scenic overlook and we stop so everyone can snap a few pictures and stretch their legs. Back in the car, we munch on snacks and head over the canyon into the valley near Hotchkiss and into Paonia. The views in the valley are stunning too. Everything is so green – that rain and snow did a good job. The lakes are full and the rivers are running high. Appetites are also running high, so we stop in Paonia for lunch. Some of us head to a local diner and others hit a farm to table café. We head back to the cars and Brett moves from copilot to pilot so I can take a break from driving. He communicates with the GPS lady to get directions to our final destination and there’s a problem. Having made this drive before, I know we’re about 1 hr. 10 min. from Carbondale. That leaves us with enough time to get there, check into our hotel and then get to the performance location before I have to start leading the workshop. Well… according to the GPS lady, the drive will take 1 hr. 40 min., putting us behind schedule. What happened. Time again? Wormhole? Copilot Brett’s ill-fated drive to the road that did not exist? Nope. Rock scaling work on the highway and it’s not something we can get around. Oh well. There’s nothing we can do about it.

We head down the highway and, sure enough, we arrive at the roadwork and traffic comes to a complete stop. I spend the time snapping pictures of beautiful Colorado and of a partially amused Brett. We have to wait for a while and when we finally start moving, we’re way more than 40-minutes behind schedule. We still have to get over McClure Pass and the valley beyond. Again, there’s nothing we can do about it, so we just keep on truckin’. The scenery just gets more and more amazing – it’s still going to be an OK day.

On the way over the pass, Brett and I see a field full of white stones. Odd. Never seen so many white stones… oh, wait. They’re moving. Those aren’t stones at all. The entire field is full of sheep. Hundreds of them. Baby ones too. Brett questions what we are seeing, “What the flock?” Yes, our Brett; lover of puns. The valley just beyond McClure Pass is greener that I have ever seen it. There are waterfalls, little streams and flowers blooming everywhere. There are also lots of ‘horsies’ and very happy cows. As we pull into the final stretch of our drive, we see another animal off to the side of the road. This is epic readers. By this sighting, we may have just missed answering a question that has perplexed man for ages. Why did the chicken cross the road? We couldn’t stop and ask him. We have places to be.

Brett has done a great job as pilot; he’s made up considerable time (no, he hasn’t been speeding; at least not the whole time). We pull into Carbondale in time for him to drop me off at the workshop/performance location so I can get ready while the others go check into the hotel. Then they’ll make their way back so they can set up and eventually take part in the workshop. As I enter the location, there’s a sign about tonight’s performance of Romeo and Juliet. I meet up with my contacts Amy and Jennifer, who are both fabulous and work tremendously hard to make sure the arts are a big part of people’s lives here in Carbondale. Thank you for all you do ladies and for your support in getting us here!

I get myself set for the workshop. Today, I’ll be working with students who are part of the SOL Theater Company. They range in age from elementary school – high school and teaching a workshop to multiple ages will be a challenge. The Young Artists and Taylor get back just as the students begin arriving. We hold the workshop for a few minutes to wait for some latecomers, so I let them watch how the Young Artists put the set together. With a cue from Jennifer that all the students have arrived, I start the workshop. Taylor joins me and we start with the Name Game for an ice breaker. I know right away that we’re going to have a good class. The kids are incredibly creative and invested in learning everything they can about performance skills. The Young Artists join us as they finish setting up for Romeo & Juliet. I begin a game called “environment” where the students have to react physically and emotionally to whatever settings I call out. I give them things like “on the moon,” “across broken glass,” or “in a bowl of chewed up bubble gum.” It’s during this last one that something hilarious happens. One of the girls in the class comes up with perhaps the most creative way to address this environment that I have ever seen. She gets Brett to give her a piggyback ride. He plays his part well  and the duo makes it safely to less squishy ground.

As the workshop ends, we spend time on expressing emotions in a way that’s big enough for the stage. Then we take questions from the students. Their questions are just like them, thoughtful and focused. These kids are serious about the performing arts. They ask a question about how to handle rejection when you don’t get the part you want. It’s here that the Young Artists and Taylor shine. They are encouraging and supportive, but they’re honest too. They talk about putting the focus on being as prepared as you can and always doing your best. The rest, you take as it comes. It’s not easy but it is something you have to be prepared to deal with if you want a career in the performing arts. Instead of being put off by this answer, it’s clear the students appreciate hearing the truth. Questions keep coming in and we answer as many as we can. We have to end the class, but we stay behind and talk to the students one on one so that no one leaves without getting their questions answered. 
It’s time for a break for dinner before tonight’s show. I drop everyone off downtown and then Brett helps me get checked into the hotel. I grab what I need for tonight but we don’t have a lot of time, so I scramble around as quickly as I can and… I lock my keys in the room. Yes indeed this is going to be… has been… a day. I’ll deal with it later. We head back downtown and grab something to eat (fabulous Thai food). As we’re dining, I’m unable to engage in conversation. No – I am not still wishing that we had stayed to watch that darn chicken – there is a man in the restaurant who is wearing a duck bill on his head and a hotdog costume. He is holding up the cut out of an elephant’s head, people take his picture and then, he leaves. Moments after that a couple comes in. She’s wearing something that looks like Raggedy Anne met Brünnhilde and he’s wearing a Superman onesie. What is happening and do I need to fear for my safety? No. The town is holding a scavenger hunt.

Dinner break over, we head back to the performance location. I have the Young Artists do a dialogue drill in the car and Taylor helps move things along by making piano sounds. As soon as we arrive, we do a fight call and then run over any sections in the score that we need to so everyone is comfortable. As the audience arrives, we sequester ourselves in the green hallway (for it is not an actual room). I talk with the Young Artists before they go on. This is the last Romeo & Juliet that we have this season and the production will be retired for a while after this. I’ve pushed them incredibly hard on this show; challenged them dramatically. I tell them to just go out there and tell the story; to enjoy the moment. We hold for 15-minutes because people are still arriving and more chairs have to be set up. Finally, Amy begins the opening remarks and then I go out and do the opening narration. Daniel takes over with the Shakespeare prologue and the show begins. I know in the first 10-minutes that this is not only going to be a good show, but the audience is enthralled. They are laughing at every funny moment, reacting with audible sighs in the love duets and shock in the fight scene. The Young Artists take that energy and deliver one of the finest performances they’ve given all year. We reach the death scene and I can hear people crying. They’re not the only ones. This time, they got me too and that doesn’t happen often. Brett’s death scene as Romeo is stunning and wrenching; Leah is a heartbreaking Juliet. You can hear a pin drop as Taylor lets the final notes ring. This is what I wanted; for this final Romeo & Juliet to showcase the Young Artists’ talent and Opera Colorado as an organization in a way that says – THIS is what opera is. This is how it can move you, inspire you, take you on a journey. That is what they did. I think they’re all aware that the energy on stage tonight was special. It’s especially poignant for Brett – this was his final Romeo with us as a Young Artist. It’s been wonderful to watch him work in this role for the past two seasons.

After bows, we do the Q&A session and get not only questions, but people simply wanting to tell us how much they loved the performance and to thank us for coming. Our hosts have arranged a reception for us so we take a minute to catch our breath and then we spend time mingling with the audience. This includes members of the Carbondale Council for the Arts who helped fund our stop here and provided our lodging for tonight. We are so grateful for their support! Over the next hour, we meet people who love opera, who have been regular opera goers for years and who have never gone to an opera before. Every single person we talk to has nothing but positive things to say about what they just experienced. Notice I didn’t say, “what they saw.” Opera is not about going to watch something on a stage. It’s something you experience.

I love talking to people about Opera Colorado and what we do. I also love to watch the Young Artists in this setting. Leah and Katherine are being hugged by some ladies who are still crying. Andrew is engaged in a very lively conversation with a woman who saw her first opera last year when we came with our production of The Barber of Seville. She tells him that ever since she had that experience, she sings opera at home because she can’t get enough. Daniel is talking with a couple who actually met each other at Opera Colorado’s production of the Tales of Hoffmann in the 1980’s. She says that when she saw him at the opera, she knew he was the one and 30 years later they’re still together. Brett is talking to a woman who admits she has a massive crush on him; his portrayal of Romeo stole her heart . She then pays me one of the best compliments I have ever gotten as a Director. She tells me that I’ve converted her. Turns out, she was one of those people who swore that she would never go to the opera. She hated it. She came tonight because her neighbor organized the reception and needed her help. She said this production and how it was handled literally changed her mind about opera. That’s something that you hope for when you’re putting a production together but you rarely hear. It’s humbling and wonderful. She can’t wait to learn more about it. Brett gives her some suggestions of operas she might like and we invite her to come see something at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House so she can get the full experience. On her way out the door, she has Opera Colorado’s website on her phone. We are asked back over and over and I’m not allowed to make my exit until I promise to come back next year. They want our touring production of Carmen, more workshops and this time, they want to bring us into the schools with Hansel and Gretel. I think we can make that happen.

We say our goodbyes and thank everyone for coming; for the amazing reception, and then we begin the process of loading out. It’s really late and it’s been a very long day, but the Young Artists are laughing and talking to each other as they pack the van; still smiling in reaction to what they did tonight. We get back to the hotel, I get a new key, set the plan for tomorrow then we head to bed. Andrew decides to go to the gym, so I fully expect to find him passed out on the elliptical machine tomorrow morning. Tomorrow will be another long day but it will be all driving. We have to get to Pueblo for back-to-back performances of Hansel and Gretel at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center on Saturday. Time for me to turn in as well.

Seems I was right… it was a great day.

Sleep well readers,


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