Today’s trip takes us to Fairplay where we’ll perform Carmen for the middle and high school students and then we’ll drive to Frisco. We’ll make that location our home base for the next three days. Sometimes it makes more sense to do that than move around and check in and out of a hotel each day. Traffic is horrible this morning, but we manage to get on the road and out of town just 15-minutes behind schedule. The drive is beautiful as always but it’s still quite cloudy up here and we get rain and snow over Kenosha Pass. I manage to skirt around some wood that has splintered all over the road. An extra-large toothpick is not something I need in one of our tires, thank you just the same.
We arrive in Fairplay in time to grab lunch before heading to the school. Much of the lunch conversation is dominated by “Game of Thrones” discussions. Apparently last night’s episode has affected a few of our group so strongly that they now need therapy. Danielle and I aren’t caught up to season six yet, so we plug our ears and make faces at the others, Charles specifically, until they stop talking about it. NO SPOILERS ALLOWED. Lunch consumed, we hop back in the cars and make our way to the schools. We meet our contact Mary Jane Wurster who represents the Breckenridge Music in the Schools program. We’ve partnered with them for the past few years to bring opera to the students in this area of the state. It’s an amazing organization and we’re honored to work with them. They are sponsoring today’s performance as well as our performance and workshop on Wednesday in Frisco. Mary Jane gives us the lay of the land at the school and we walk down to the office to sign in. Each school handles their security procedures differently. At this school, we have to hand over our IDs while we’re there. The school secretary comments that we don’t look like opera singers. Okey dokey. I’m not sure what opera singers are supposed to “look like” but I’m betting the image in her head involves a horned helmet and, she’s right. We are sans our Viking garb.
We head off to the cafetorium to set up for Carmen and luckily the parking lot isn’t too far away so load in goes off without a hitch. Wait. I spoke too soon. As I walk out to get something from the rental, I see that Ben is cleaning up broken glass. One of the wine carafes has broken. Great. That means we’re down to one. Sheesh – this group has been hard on props! Once the imminent danger of someone getting cut is taken care of, load in and set up are completed and we start spiking the various scenes. When I say “spiking,” I realize that everyone reading this blog might not know what I mean. Each scene has a different layout – the set pieces are placed in specific arrangements on stage. It’s important that they get put down in the correct places when we do the scene changes so we use colored tape, called spike tape, to mark where each piece goes. Doing it correctly is an art unto itself. When we have really complicated productions for the mainstage shows, the floor of the rehearsal room and the stage can look like a rainbow designed by M.C. Escher. Spiking done, I have Emily run the fight call so we can make sure the spacing is safe and then we do some sounds checks. The volume won’t be a problem in this space, but the piano is muffled and they’re going to have to be precise with their diction. Each location we perform in requires us to adapt, so we make sure we know ahead of time what we need to be aware of for each show.
I’ll be sitting in a room off stage right during the show. It’s the preschool teacher’s lounge and I’m surrounded by juice boxes, art supplies and a sign that tells how to deal with blood spills. Well, two out of three are oddly appropriate for our production of Carmen. As the students begin to enter, I head backstage to talk with the music teacher. He says that they didn’t have time to prepare all of the students with the guidebook materials that we sent, so he’s going to talk to them first. I tell him that’s fine and he can bring me out as soon as he’s ready and I’m happy to help with preparing them to see the performance. What happens next starts out as comical but then heads a bit south. He literally reads the synopsis that we provided in the guidebook. When he gets to the end of the plot – spoiler alert – he tells the students that Don Jose murders Carmen. Well… there went that climactic moment. It also backfires because now the students are really riled up. I get my cue to come on stage and I try to get things back on track. I tell the students what they’re going to see and why it’s different than they might expect. I tell them what makes opera unique and that this production will grow in intensity as the show progress. I talk to them about behavior expectations and what they can do as an audience to give the energy back to the performers. It works and by the time I make my exit, things are looking good.
Charles begins the show. We don’t get laughs in the first scene in the spots I want to hear them, but that could just be because the students are concentrating. By the middle of the show, the responses are better. I check my watch to see how we’re doing on timing. Holy cow! We’re past the mid-show mark and we’re only 20-minutes in. That’s way too fast. It’s Carmen at warp speed today. We get to Ben’s entrance in the hideout and, suddenly, I hear the sound of glass shattering on stage. Something just happened and it’s not good. Broken glass on stage before the fight scene is about to take place. I jump up and try to decide if I should go out there or if I should review the blood spill pamphlet. On stage it is. As I make my move, I see Charles, cleaning up the glass with a broom. His character isn’t in this scene, but he and Danielle find a way to improvise and make it work while Ben and Will continue on as if nothing happened. Apparently when Ben threw the basket down on his entrance, the bottle fell out and broke. And yes, it was the last surviving wine carafe. This does not make for a happy Director, but there’s nothing to be done but keep going. Charles reacted quickly and found a broom in a closet backstage. Everyone should be safe and that’s the main thing.
The fight scene gets applause and the finale seems to get a good response from the students. There’s definitely some tension. They know what’s going to happen, but they don’t know how. As the final music plays out and the lights go down, the students break into enthusiastic applause. I look at the clock again. 50-minutes. That’s 10-minutes faster than this show should be. I know the music is lively, but wow. As bows end, I go out to start the Q&A. Kids are so open to asking questions. We rarely have to coax them. The first question we get is for Danielle from a young man sitting in the front row. He would like to know “How come, if you died at the end, you’re still alive.” Danielle could have given a flippant response but instead she uses it as a teaching moment and explains how in live theater, everything has to look real but remain safe for the performers. Then she has Ben walk through the final staging with her in slow motion and they show the students how we staged it. When the death blow happens, you can’t see the dagger move sideways from the audience’s perspective and that means we’ve done our job. I then talk about the kinds of stage weapons we use and why they look real but are made in a way where the performers can use them without having to be afraid of getting injured. We take more questions. Everything from wanting to know how long they’ve been working together to how they sing the way they do. Was the bottle supposed to break? No. No it was not. But it’s a good chance for us to explain how live performances never go perfectly and you have to adapt. My favorite moment though, comes in the way of a comment. We have a young man who has asked three consecutive questions and I can tell by the look on his face, we’ve just created an opera lover. Readers – do you get that?! A middle school or high school boy has just started his journey with opera. He says that today is his birthday and this experience is the best gift he could ever imagine. Reason #1073 that I do what I do. At the end of the Q&A we bring him and another young man, who both have birthdays today, up to the stage and we sing “Happy Birthday” to them. They both blushed like crazy but loved every minute of it. While the Young Artists begin to pull up the spike tape a teacher comes up on stage and talks to the students about a connection they have with a past student becoming an opera professor in Arizona and tells them to remember how unique and special this experience was. We all thank our sponsor and I wave to the students as they leave.
Once the cafetorium is empty, I address the broken bottle incident and the hyper-drive show time of 50-minutes. Yes, it’s almost the end of our season and contracts are up on May 31st. We’re not done yet. There’s still work to do and still opportunities to learn and grow. The set is taken down and the Young Artists load out. Alaina goes to the office to collect everyone’s IDs. We all wait in the parking lot for her. And we wait… and wait. Charles goes to find her. She appears on the street having walked all the way around the school. Our Alaina – she’s a force unto herself. Once Charles gets back, we load ourselves into the cars and begin the drive to Frisco.
It’s gorgeous and we go over Hoosier Pass and cross the Continental Divide. I say it again; well done Colorado. We watch as two other drivers decide that life is like a game of Mario Kart and pass a semi-truck… on an incline… on a mountain road… on a blind curve with traffic coming from the opposite direction. Yeah, it was something to see. We stay behind said truck. Alaina wonders why it’s moving so slowly and I comment that it may be carrying some heavy weight, like rocks. One of the gentlemen comments that it could also be dead bodies. I protest and Ben informs me that this is what separates men from women: dead bodies vs. rocks. There you go folks. The age old mystery is solved at last. No need for those endless books like “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars;” not any longer. To understand the opposite sex we simply must understand the meaning behind the rocks vs. dead bodies theory.
We arrive in Frisco and get to the cabin we’ll be sharing for the next three nights. Everyone has their own bed but some of us will be sharing bedrooms. Danielle informs us that there is an ample supply of toilets however. She’s found two in the vicinity of her bedroom alone. One of which is located in a hallway closet. Hmmm… quirky. Once we’re unpacked and everyone has a dedicated space to sleep, we head into town for dinner. Its pizza tonight and it’s a great choice. I decide to play a trick on the Young Artists. They get the biggest kick out of the fact that my name is often said incorrectly. I get “Chastity” more often than not. So, when I place my dinner order, I give them the name of Chastity knowing that’s what they’ll call when my food is ready. I took a picture of the receipt for proof. Giggles abound when it happens and this gives our server pause. I smile and say they just love my name and he asks why… is it because I’m not very chaste and it’s kind of ironic? I say nothing. A lady does not tell. It’s also NOT my name.
Dinner was great and Will joins the ladies to make a grocery run. Emily and I have become the group shoppers. This woman is a keeper. She’s an incredible team player and we make some wise purchases that will give us several meals while also not buying so much that we’ll have a lot left over. It’s a much different shopping experience than our last foray and Charles’ eighty tortillas. Groceries purchased, we head back to the cabin where Will, Charles and Emily put things away. Some of the group decides to head to the hot tub and I decide to call it a night. I have a blog to write after all and, oh yes, there’s that opera that still needs to be abridged for next season.
Tomorrow we’ll travel to a brand new location, a first in Opera Colorado tour history. We’re performing the final Hansel and Gretel of the season in Gypsum. I’m sure there will be more tales to tell that are free of shattered glass. Well… one can hope at least.