By Cherity Koepke, Director of Education & Community Engagement
Good morning readers. This year marks my sixth season of touring with Opera Colorado. I’ve been around; seen a lot. I’m always amazed that we can actually get everything we need for 7 people and two productions into 2 vehicles. Danielle and Ryan should compete in some kind of team Tetris event. They volunteered to pack everyone’s luggage, so Parisa and I throw our support behind them and watch. We’re calling the rental, “The Beasty,” and the Opera Colorado Denali is fondly called, “Yeti.” Both are white so we look very official in our little caravan. Fully packed, we hit the road right on schedule. At least, we tried to hit the road. Will someone please explain to me why you can’t get onto southbound I-25 from northbound Colorado Blvd.? One quick sight-seeing tour around the block and an impressive U-turn later, we are NOW on the road.
My vehicle is playing host to Allison, Danielle, Parisa and Ryan and Omar and Charles are in the Yeti. I need tunes when I drive, so I decide to listen to the soundtrack from the new musical Dear Evan Hansen. Danielle is amazed, uttering, “Oooh I’ve heard of this thing…” Yes, young padawan, heard of it I’m sure you have. After the initial giggles, it’s pretty quiet on the drive from Denver to Pueblo. Danielle is watching a movie, Ryan is listening to his tunes and looking at Bon Appetit magazines. Allison is working on bills and navigating the mysterious universe of insurance. Parisa plays co-pilot and we make good time. We decide to stop for lunch in Pueblo.
Lunch is largely uneventful but we are briefly serenaded by the kitchen staff singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Back at the vehicles we make a quick video to send to Emerald City Opera for our collaboration with them next week. The video stars Mr. Quacksworth, our prop extraordinaire from The Barber of Seville. Omar is really invested in the process, asking “What are we doing and can I have the smallest part possible?” He’s a giver, our Omar. I hope they like it – video artists we are not. We hop back into the cars and make our way to Alamosa.
As we get off of I-25, the scenery changes dramatically and the view is breathtaking. Parisa’s husband Zack apparently wants to live out in an area just such as this – wide open spaces where you can really breathe. We find several properties that could work. They would just need a bit of fixing up. You know, just the essentials… like a roof… and walls. Maybe a door. She doesn’t look enthused – sorry Zack. The wind is blowing pretty badly which makes driving something the size of The Beasty interesting. Parisa and I talk about the Gen OC program we’re currently conducting at Ashley Elementary – yes, even while driving on tour, we’re working. We make it to the top of the pass near the Spanish Peaks and I gesture to my passengers to look right. Colorado mountains really are incredible. It’s on this part of the drive that Charles and Omar apparently see multiple deceased deer off to the side of the road. I didn’t see them. I’m glad – it always makes me sad. Luckily we saw many more live critters roaming around.
The silent partners in the back are beginning to make some noise. I think they can feel we’re getting close to our destination. We make it to the hotel, get checked in, drop our stuff off in our rooms and then head back to the cars. It’s now that we notice that we have a casualty. An incident of the juice variety if you will. Apparently the apple juice we use for the Elixir of Love potion has been left in the Denali a bit too long and it’s now fermented. It has expanded its territory outside of the bottle and is now fizzy like hard cider. While Omar and Ryan clean up the mess, Charles tastes the vintage. Then he spits it out. To be fair, we warned him before we laughed. There’s also been a bit of a mix up at the hotel. Danielle and Allison might have to cuddle tonight seeing as though the room they were given has one bed, not two as booked. I have Charles and Omar go ahead to the performance venue to begin loading in while the rest of us wait until things get sorted out. No cuddling necessary –things have been corrected. Allison looks a little disappointed. The other five of us head to the venue and make the group decision that Disney music is happening on the car ride tomorrow. I foresee carpool karaoke, Opera Colorado style.
At the venue at Adams State University, we’re met by our contact Beth, who has provided us a case of water and helps carry things into the theater. We’ve started to form such a wonderful relationship with the music faculty at Adams State – it’s exciting to be here. Set up commences. Tonight it’s The Elixir of Love. This show is always a bit tricky to set up, but tonight everything goes pretty smoothly. About an hour into the process, we see Beth with… can you believe it? Our dinner. Adams State has provided our dinner tonight as a thank you for coming and we are so grateful! We take a rare break from setting up and have dinner together in the dressing room. We take turns reading the fortunes from our cookies and discussing their meaning. We’re a philosophical group.
Dinner break over, we see to the last bit of set up and then it’s sound check and scene change rehearsal before the audience begins to arrive. Backstage, I ask Parisa how she would like to be introduced. Why I asked this, I have no idea. I know her name by now. Maybe my subconscious sensed she wanted more… She says not to say her name. Instead we will now be referring to her as, “The Princess.” I can make this happen folks. I meet with our light board operator (we have lights!) and then everyone takes their places. I love to watch artists as they prepare to take the stage. Their focus, their intensive preparation, their… well, I’m not quite sure what the Young Artists are up to. It looks like a mix of calisthenics and images from a “How To” manual. At one point Ryan looked like he was trying to fly and Charles looked like he was delivering Omar’s baby. Well, tonight’s show is a comedy…that kind of energy could be a good thing…
Our audience is in their seats and I go out to start things off and do the introduction. I can tell right away that this is a responsive audience; they’ve got great energy. Just how can I tell? They laughed at my jokes right away. That’s always a good sign. I introduce, The Princess and the show begins. Within the first five minutes of the performance, the audience is laughing like crazy – and, yes, they’re supposed to – so we’re in great shape. I sit backstage and watch Charles pace until his entrance. If you wonder if this ever gets easy, the answer is no, it doesn’t. I actually think that’s a good thing.
I also reflect on how far this show has come since we began performing it in January. Building a new production is a huge undertaking, even for one that’s abridged. As a Director, I always have a vision of what I want a show to be and this show gets closer and closer to that vision each time we perform it. I also wonder how many people in the audience tonight have ever seen this opera before, or for that matter, any opera. We’ll probably find out during the Q&A. Regardless, being able to take real, high quality opera to communities that don’t have regular access to the art form is something Opera Colorado believes in. Now more than ever.
The show goes really well and the audience enjoys every minute. I watch the Young Artists and Parisa take their bows and then I go out to start the Q&A. I talk for a few minutes while everyone grabs a drink of water and then have them join me. We all introduce ourselves and say where we’re from and where we studied and then I ask for questions. And cue the crickets. No questions – not a single hand goes up. Now, I know you’re thinking that’s unusual. No, not really. When we perform for kids, hands go up immediately. Kids aren’t shy about asking questions. However, when we do community performances, I frequently have to coax the audience to ask questions. Once I can get them to ask a couple, then things usually pick up. That’s exactly what happens tonight. I talk for a bit more – explaining how the set is built and that’s enough to get the questions going.
The first question comes from a little girl who came with her mom who is a teacher. They want to know what was the most challenging thing for each of us in putting this show together. Fabulous question. We get more. Everything from our training to the more technical side of things and people especially want to know about where and when we perform. Before we can even get halfway through the Q&A, we’re asked to come back again next season. Then a young woman in the back raises her hand and says she has more of a comment than a question. That’s OK too. She tells us that this is her first time seeing an opera and she’s never really been into it. She wants to let us know how much she enjoyed the show and how much she appreciates us coming to Alamosa. She tells us she almost cried at the end because it was so beautiful. We had a few seasoned opera goes in the audience, but most of them are like her; new. We love it.
We spend another ten minutes answering questions and I thank everyone for coming. As the audience leaves, I invite the students who attend Adams State to stay for a private talk back; as soon as the Young Artists get out of costume. Omar and Danielle get the award for the fastest dressers in the west. In a few minutes, we’re all back on stage and talking one on one with the college students. These are students who are working towards degrees in the arts; music, theater – you name it. Conversations are lengthy and focused. I love these talk backs and I love watching the rest of the group engage with the students. I get to spend some time with the faculty and they are excited about extending the relationship with Opera Colorado into next season. Just what I was hoping for. We’ll be back in Alamosa soon.
The talk back winds down and it’s time to load out. The students and faculty offer to help and we gladly accept. The next hour is spent taking the set down, carrying each item to the cars and packing everything up. It’s a process that we’ll repeat again and again throughout the season and it’s a ton of work that the audience never really sees. Parisa and I supervise while working from the front seat of the car (you take the time when and where you can get it on tour). We’re also looking for Allison’s phone which has been missing since the hotel mix up. So far – it’s a no show. Finally, packing the cars is complete and we head back to the hotel. It’s been a long day. Tour is made up of long days. We all say good night and head to our rooms. As I begin my nightly routine, I get a text. Allison’s phone has been found. All is well. That seems like a good place to end today’s blog… Colorado, Opera and All is well.