Wednesday, May 20, 2015
What a difference a day makes… 24 little hours… That’s what I woke up thinking today as the sun was rising. The snow has stopped, there’s blue sky with puffy white clouds and the roads have improved. It’s a marathon of breakfast and bathroom sharing (not as simultaneous activities) as we get ready to head out. This non-morning group is quiet but Leah entertains everyone with renditions of arias as done by Melissa Ethridge, Celine Dion and Rihanna. I was moved in a way I haven’t been moved before while listening to those arias…
In the car, Katherine shares her feelings about yesterday. She says it felt like the longest day. First it was snowing; then it wasn’t. We had power, then we didn’t, then we had power again. Yes… yes that’s right Katherine. That is an accurate summary. Thank you. We’re driving to Frisco, Colorado today and we get to pass through Leadville, so we’ll get to the see all of the scenery we missed last week when the weather disrupted our view. The weather… Wow, this year has been intense, even for Colorado. Spring has sprung, but apparently it got bored and bounded away because what we are seeing outside our windows does not look like spring. It’s like we stepped back in time a few months. Time… it’s that time thing again!
The drive is beautiful. Copilot Brett snaps photos as we go. The car is quiet. It is early and this is going to be a long day with 2 performances, 2 load ins, 2 set ups , 2 tear downs and 2 load outs. We get to Frisco right on time and check into our first school for the day, Frisco Elementary. We’re performing for the whole school and will have preschool – 5th grade. The staff is incredibly welcoming and even has bottled water waiting for us. Set up goes smoothly and we have about 30-minutes for everyone to get into costume and makeup before the students come in. While the Young Artists warm up, I visit with Mary Jane Wurster from the Breckenridge Music Festival. She’s been my contact for the last several years and has helped us bring performances to schools in the region. It’s amazing to have such support from our communities around Colorado.
Everything is ready and the students have arrived. One little guy, probably around 3-years old, enters the space and sees Brett backstage. He points at him and yells, “Yay!” We hear you little man. We’re excited to be here too. The principal introduces us and I go out to talk with the kids and get them ready for what they’re about to see. Many schools we go to have little to no knowledge of opera or even the story of Hansel and Gretel. We send out Teacher Guidebooks packed with resources and curriculum materials, but they aren’t always utilized. So, I make sure to tell them a little about the story and give a snapshot of what opera actually is. One of the 4th grade boys gets it in one guess – “opera is a story that you sing and stuff.”
During the show, I sit backstage. I love to do this. I get to see their faces and watch their expressions as the opera unfolds (the kids not the Young Artists). Kids are unbelievably honest. If they don’t like something, you’ll know it. If they like something, it’s written all over their faces and based on what I can see, they are loving the show. During the dance scene with Hansel and Gretel, a little girl in the front row is copying every move that Leah makes. When Andrew, as Father, scolds Hansel and Gretel, a little boy shows genuine concern. Kids are rubbing their sleepy eyes during the Sandman scenes and when Brett comes on as the Witch, their eyes grow wide and they whisper to each other. The adults are enjoying it just as much as the students; another reason I love opera. There really is something in it for everyone.
The first performance of the day is done. It was a little low-energy, but being that it’s just after 10:00AM and they’re singing at over 9,000 feet, I’m happy with what they did out there. I go out and begin the Q&A. First question today, “I have a brother named Daniel.” That’s great – more questions. We get everything from “Can I have some candy?” to “Why did we have the house painted on the backdrop?” Brett gets asked if he was forced to wear a dress. Technically, yes, I guess he was. It’s in his contract. He also gets asked what the Witch wanted to do to the kids. He deftly sidesteps the topic of cannibalism saying that she wanted to turn them into gingerbread. Now that I think about it, Hansel and Gretel deals with some pretty dark themes. It’s probably best that I put Brett in a dress; you know for that all important whimsy factor. Q&A done, we bid goodbye to the students and begin our first load out of the day. Some of the 1st graders have so many questions that they stay behind. While everyone else takes down the set and loads everything into the van, I spend time with 12 very inquisitive little minds and 1 very grateful teacher. They’re now heading back to their classroom to video-journal about what they saw and this afternoon they will be making their own gingerbread houses while listening to the opera. How cool!
Time for a break and we drive to the main street area in Frisco for lunch. Mary Jane has recommended a local spot called Butterhorn Bakery. Andrew brought his lunch – he’s a plan ahead kind of guy – but the rest of us decide to try it. The food is great and they have baked goods made right on sight (kid of figures since it’s a bakery). After lunch, we walk around town for a few minutes and let the baked goods settle, then meet back up at the car. We wait in the car. And we wait. I’m getting strange looks from the others. Am I waiting for something, they ask? Well… yes. I am waiting for Leah. I’d rather not leave town without her. Leah is in the car. Has been the whole time. Readers… in my defense, Leah is petite. Or maybe… just maybe… I might be tired.
We drive to our second school for the day, Silverthorne Elementary School. Mary Jane meets us at the school again and we take look at the performance space and figure out where to set up. The piano has a gimpy wheel, so we’re not supposed to move it. We’re going to have to move it though, otherwise it will be on the opposite side of the room and while Taylor is incredibly talented, I’m not sure he can use flag signals and play the piano at the same time. As the Young Artists set up, I talk with Mary Jane and meet the school principal. This school is larger, so we’ll have a bigger audience. Everything is in place and it’s time to move the piano (we’ve gotten permission). All the guys gingerly half carry/half roll it into place. Andrew reminisces about their first performance way back in October. There was a piano there that also had a gimpy wheel. It was almost a disaster, Andrew laughs. Ah… memories. Right as we get the piano to the spot where Taylor needs it, the wheel pops off the front. We use a sandbag to hold it in place. Didn’t know we had to be maintenance workers too did you? I can’t count the number of times we’ve had to MacGyver something on the spot. I go out to introduce the performance and right away, I know this group of kids is going to be a handful. They are excited and very verbal in their responses. With a big bravo, I head backstage and give everyone a heads up – this show has got to be high energy.
I am not disappointed. Katherine and Leah have the students laughing at their antics within the first few minutes of the performance. Their faces are priceless when Andrew enters as the Father and gets mad at the mess Hansel and Gretel have made. Sitting backstage, I get to watch the behind the scenes action. It’s like a ballet really. No, it’s not. Let me ask you a question readers… How many men does it take to set a table? In the case of Hansel and Gretel, the answer is 3. They are so precise; so careful. It’s very cute to see how much attention they give it. Brett has taken the “energy” comment quite seriously. He’s found a new prop and created a new line just for this performance. Usually he sings, “I’ll go inside and see to my cat; while you remain here, little brat.” Today’s show will be the premiere of, “I’ll go inside and see to my chicken, and when I get back, you’ll be finger lickin’.” Yes, there is a rubber chicken. Did you expect any less?
It may sound silly that we’re being silly, but its things like this that can keep a show fresh. When you perform something as many times as we do this show, it can easily become tired and unmotivated. Throwing new ideas and bits into the show, things that aren’t disruptive, can add something new and fresh for the performers to work with. The show continues to go well. Leah’s cry when Hansel scares her, Brett’s magic spell hip swivels; the kids are laughing like crazy. The laughter turns to howls when Brett’s wigs falls off. It’s actually perfectly timed with the music and he doesn’t miss a beat. It looks like it was supposed to happen. These people are pros! By the time the show ends, the students are cheering. I go out to start the Q&A and it takes me a few minutes to get the
m quiet enough to hear us. We take questions for about 10-minutes before we have to end the show so the kids can get back to class in time for dismissal. As we’re beginning to tear things down, the principal comes back to talk to us. He says one of the students stopped him in the hall and told him how much he loved the show. He said it looked just like a movie. Another student told him that it was her favorite part of being in 2nd grade. The principal says that for most of his students, this will be the first, if not only chance to see an opera until they are adults. What an honor we have – and what a huge responsibility. This is so important, not just for the future of the art form, but for kids and their development. They need to know what’s out there; that the arts are right in their own community. They can give them a voice, help them express themselves…
I shall now step off my soapbox and rejoin the world – it’s time to take down the set… again. I can tell the Young Artists know that this was not just a good show, but a great show. There are more smiles, conversations are more lively and laughter is more prevalent. We thank Mary Jane for her help in getting us to today’s schools and bid her goodbye until tomorrow. We have one more school that is being sponsored by Breckenridge Music in the Schools on Thursday. As the final load out gets completed, Andrew and Brett are working on new line changes for the next Hansel and Gretel. These guys… so creative. And these lines… so not happening. We decide to grab a quick thermos of coffee before making the drive back to Nathrop. Brett is not deterred. He’s still making up rhymes. I challenge him; offering up words that he has to rhyme with. To my consternation, he does it. No matter what I throw him, he finds a way to make it into a singable phrase. Drat. Oh well. I never made any promises of future performance. I’ve learned that lesson.
Everyone sleeps on the drive back. Except Brett and Andrew. They are driving and that would be unsafe. Katherine and I are co-piloting, so we’re not sleeping either as our job is entertainment. Brett and I listen to Jonas Kaufman and Ben Heppner. That mixed with the unbelievable scenery make for a lovely drive. There’s yet another storm moving in tonight, but I’ve decided to play my Scarlet O’Hara card and think about it tomorrow.
We get back to our lodging as the sun is setting and the mountains look like they are shimmering. Everyone cooks dinner and then takes what little time we have left in the day to visit the hot springs. I blog and get some work done, enjoying the view. It’s not the mountains this time; it’s the Young Artists and Taylor (well, minus Daniel, not sure where he is). They are enjoying the water and each other’s company. It puts a smile on my face. This program ends on May 31st. They’ll all soon be headed in different directions. I’m really happy that they had a little time to just hang out with their colleagues.
Once everyone is sufficiently waterlogged, Leah, Katherine, Brett, Taylor and I decide to play a game. This is the last time we’ll be sharing lodging as a big group, so it’s probably our last game night. Telestrations – the sequel commences. It’s just as much fun and just as funny as the game we played in Lake City. Tonight we went from “Grand Canyon” to “sunset search party,” “button your lip” to “ice moles (the animal, not the beauty mark),” and the winner for the night… “Spaghetti” to “afro pie.”
It’s time to turn in. We have another busy day tomorrow. We’ll be performing at a middle school and teaching a workshop directly after the show. Then we’re meeting Steve Dilts, the Young Artist Liaison, for lunch before driving to our overnight stop. It feels like we’re back on track and tour is how it should be… days full of opera from sun up to sun down. Exciting and challenging and exhausting. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wishing you a good night readers,