You know those credit card commercials where they list the cost of things and then the last item is always something poignant that has no measurable value? Well reader, waking up to the sound of a river in Estes Park, Colorado… priceless. It’s Friday and it’s early. We have to be at the school to set up before a 9:30AM performance; so sadly, there’s little time to enjoy the river. I’m up, packed and ready to start the day and then head downstairs to meet up with everyone else.
I find them bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, waiting for me to unlock the rental so we can get it packed. Well; not entirely accurate. I find them – that part is true. Ben has become the packer; he’s a natural at the Tetris that has to happen in the back of this car. Once everything is loaded, we pile in and head to the school.
Things are pretty subdued and the travelers are tired this morning. When we get to the school, I go to the office and check us in and then head to the theater. I find that there has been some miscommunication and the band is set up for their concert on stage, so I talk with the teacher and get that ironed out. As the students move everything, I go let everyone else in and we start the process of setting up. Today is a luxury. We have a stage with ample space, a baby grand piano, dressing rooms and lighting. The set goes up and things get spiked then we run through any musical portions that need to be refreshed. This will be the first Hansel and Gretel that the Young Artists have performed since March and it’s musically tricky. The staging is complicated too, so a refresher is good. Then it’s off to the dressing rooms to get into costume and makeup. I greet the students as they arrive. We’ve got kindergarten – 3rd grades for the first show this morning.
As everyone takes their places, I talk with our contact and go over the pre-performance announcements. Our performances today are being sponsored by the Estes Park Library and it’s important to me that the people who help bring us here are acknowledged for their support. As I stand backstage, I realize that they only have three of these performances left. Two today and one next week. Then I will put Hansel and Gretel to bed for a few years as I focus my sights on the touring operas for next season and the season after that, etc., etc. But, it’s not time to look ahead that far just yet. We have a show to do! I wish the Young Artists a good show and then I make my entrance as I’m introduced.
I talk with the kids about the plot and the characters. I talk to them about what opera is; a story that is sung. Then I start the show with a big group bravo and Alaina begins to play the opening music. I watch backstage, waiting for the first moment with there should be a reaction from the kids. We get a few giggles, but they’re very quiet. A lot of people would think that meant that they aren’t enjoying the performance. Not true. It means that this group of kiddos – 5 years old to about 9 years old – is completely focused and listening to every word being sung from that stage. By the time we get to bows, the kids are applauding enthusiastically. Time for the Q&A.
As always we get the question about if the candy is real and can they have some. No. It’s old and yucky. We also get questions about the set, the costumes and how long it took for them to learn their parts. After the Q&A ends, the kids walk by the stage on their way out the door and one young lady shyly approaches Alaina. Charles watches with me from the side, both of us grinning from ear to ear. The expression on her face is like watching someone when they meet their favorite Disney princess. She’s taking piano lessons and wants to ask Alaina questions.
Once the kids have left, we reset for the top of the show and everyone gets out of costume and makeup. Then we rehearse for the Young Artist Farewell concert. There is one piece in particular that is brand new. In an effort to end the performance on Sunday with some sweet sentiment, I’ve re-written the words to “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. Considering that I did it while we were in production for the World Premiere, it’s not too shabby. Rehearsing done for the moment, we head into town for lunch.
I make sure to take the group by the river walk on our way to the restaurant so the group can see a bit more of this beautiful town. We pass a couple of women walking two Golden Retrievers… and we’ve lost Charles. He really loves dogs – have I mentioned that before? This unadulterated adoration of the canine species is spreading. Danielle has succumbed. I pet the pups too and try to extricate the humans. After spending a few minutes getting lovingly slobbered on, we continue on our walk to the lunch stop. There’s more chatter now – they’re feeling good about their first show and ready to refuel before the afternoon performance. Over lunch, we talk about different programs, repertoire and how much broccoli Alaina consumes in one day. Then it’s another walk and another car ride as we return to the school to get ready for performance #2. Emily braves a pitch black stage to find the lights while everyone else starts getting into costume and makeup. As I go back to the dressing rooms, I hear a strange but familiar melody. The jazz band is playing Toto’s “The Rains in Africa.” Now readers, one cannot hear that song without singing along. It simply isn’t possible – – so I did. I love that song. The student playing the flute was on fire. As that jam session was happening, down the other hallway the choir students are going through their warmup. We hear the familiar descending scale of “Meow-meow-meow-meow-meow.” It’s a singer thing and Emily is excited to join in. In the meantime, Alaina hums as she listens and texts her father in French. Danielle gets overly aggressive with her wig for Hansel and, not appreciating the treatment, it snaps at her. Literally. She pulls the elastic on her wig cap a little too far and it snaps back, right on her eye. She’s fine and we only giggled a little. Will says it’s only funny until someone gets hurt, and then it’s hilarious.
Sadly, we’re unable to continue the sing along and wig shenanigans any longer. It’s time for me to call places. For this show, the students are in 4th – 6th grade. Will and Ben remind each other backstage how many more times they have to wear their costumes and I observe some thinly veiled glee. Yeah… fairytale dress up may not be these two’s favorite thing. I go out to start the show and I can tell that these kids are going to be far more responsive. They’re clearly excited to see the show. As things get underway, the first section where I want to get a laugh comes up and we get a big response. Good! The energy from the kids makes the Young Artists perk up too.
Charles starts this Q&A and I watch from the back. Believe it or not, there’s a trick to this and it’s something that I work with them on in addition to their performance skills. Charles does a nice job. When he sees me standing there, he turns things over to me. Kids ask the most fabulous questions. Who made the set – not just general information; what are their names? How did they train their voices to do that? I get asked if I like being a Director. Short answer – I love it. Danielle gets asked if that is her natural hair color. To her credit, she doesn’t miss a beat and she takes her wig off on stage which Charles promptly puts on himself. He looks like Huck Finn with a cowlick. It’s funny that Danielle gets asked about her wig, but Ben, who is wearing something that looks like the franchise symbol for Wendy’s restaurant, gets nary a mention. We wave goodbye to the kids and then everyone gets out of costume and makeup for the last time – today – before we strike the set and load out. I spend a good 15-minutes talking to two of the teachers who are thrilled that we’ve come and had no idea that Opera Colorado offered so many educational programs for students.
Once load out is done, I call another rehearsal for Sunday’s program. Yes, I know. I’m tough. My job is to make them as strong as I can and help them grow – the growth that they’ll see because of this hard work will make it all worthwhile. Some high school students filter in while we’re working and watch. As we get ready to leave, I ask them what they’re about to start rehearsing (a dead giveaway was the fact that some of them were in costumes) and they tell me “Taming of the Shrew.” I have to be semi-dragged away – I LOVE Shakespeare – but we have to begin the drive back to Denver.
On the way, we stop at the Colorado Cherry Company. It’s a hidden gem that the locals know about. Some of the group opts for a treat; pie or cider. Ben says he wants to live here. We sit outside and go over logistics for the concert on Sunday and next week’s continuation of tour. Then we pile back into the cars. Ben snaps a few photos and we talk about him entering some of his work in a competition but otherwise it’s fairly quiet on the way back.
Back safely, we unload the luggage and everyone heads back home. Just enough time to do laundry and repack for next week. Oh, and perform a concert on Sunday. Phew!
Well readers – that’s it for week one of the 2016 Greater Colorado Tour. There’s more to come. I hope you’ll join us!