By Cherity Koepke, Director of Education & Community Engagement
Happy Thursday readers! It’s a beautiful morning in Steamboat Springs; blue sky and puffy white clouds. I head downstairs to find Danielle and Parisa, but no other mice stirring. Before we have time for breakfast, Parisa and I throw our shoes on just as Ryan appears and wishes everyone good morning. Parisa and I hop into the car and make our way to our morning meeting with Andres. We’re seeing the Julie Harris theater at the historic Perry-Mansfield arts camp. It’s a potential venue that we want to check out.
The drive is stunning, rolling hills and a picturesque valley. We arrive and meet Andres. The theater and camp are lovely – rustic which I love and very Colorado. I watch as Parisa and Andres hop over the mud puddles in their good shoes. City kids. This is not my first rodeo – I knew to wear my boots. We part ways with Andres (we’ll see him later at our performance) and then we head back to the house with enough time to get ready and grab something to eat. When we arrive, it’s pretty quiet. Ryan comes back from his run and just a little later, Omar arrives from his walk. The last few minutes at the house are a flurry of activity with people making lunch to take with us and packing our gear into the cars.
We pile in and get on the road. Today we’re driving to Hayden, CO for our first ever visit. We’ll be performing The Elixir of Love at Hayden High School. The scenery is again beautiful and it’s clear that Spring has sprung. We see lots of baby animals, including piglets. As we get closer to our coordinates, we see a huge building lurking on the horizon. This concrete behemoth looks out of place in such a serene landscape. I think it’s a power plant. Either that or we’ve wandered into Area 51. In our car, Parisa asks to listen to my Irish Tenors playlist (Yes! I’ve hooked another one). Ryan comments that Brett (That’s Brett Sprague, our Assistant Director) has a voice like an Irish tenor; the car agrees. We then discuss the merits of Charles’ new nickname, “Hot Charles.” I would just like to point out readers, that I did not bestow this nickname upon him.
Ryan begins spelling words from the back seat and then asking what the word means. I play along for a bit and then I begin to wonder if the level of estrogen in this car has finally pushed him over the edge… Turns out, he’s working on word puzzles. He teaches Danielle and Allison how to play. Right on time, we arrive in Hayden and pull into the school parking lot. Parisa goes inside with Charles to check us in and get the details. They come back with one of the teachers who shows us where to park and load in. We’ll be going through the band room and the band teacher couldn’t be kinder about the fact that we have to disrupt his day. In fact, everyone at this school is lovely; really welcoming and accommodating. They tell us several times how excited they are that we’re here.
Load in commences. This time though, we have two casualties. The Young Artists are fine and so is Parisa. I’m also not referring to the two nails that I broke, though I do lament their loss. The casualties are our bar and the apple juice for the elixir. The apple juice is missing and the bar has come unhinged, literally. Charles does his best to put it back together, but the screws are stripped. We glue it and let it sit to see if it will hold. The apple juice? We improvise and I sacrifice my ginger ale for the cause. I have Ryan water it down hoping that this will limit the fizz quotient. Omar’s got moves in this opera and a fizzy bottle will not add to the action in a way that I feel good about… Oh well. When you perform as often as we do, things like this are bound to happen, but it’s never easy to have to figure things out on the fly.
Andres arrives and we complete set up. We have teachers from the school check on us several times to make sure we’re OK and that we have everything we need. One of the teachers tells us that the kids can hear us warming up and they are getting even more excited. This seems to really energize Allison, who gets sassy while putting her boots on. We do some sound checking and then Charles and I see to the bar. Unfortunately, the glue did not hold. We’re going to have to do surgery, but for now, it’s a triage situation. I brace it and we’ll only use half of it for the show. We’ll adapt and make it work – that’s what you do in live theater. Our wonderful teacher comes in again and I work with her to get the lights set. Then it’s the final 5-minutes before the top of show. Parisa takes a quick picture of the Young Artists with Andres and I actually make it into this shot. (Usually I’m the one taking them) Then I have everyone clear the stage and the students begin to arrive to take their seats.
We have press here today from Steamboat which is great. They’ll be writing an article later about our performances and the partnership between Opera Colorado and Opera Steamboat. The students are in their seats; I’m introduced and I go out to start things off. I introduce Parisa and Andres and tell the students what they’re about to experience. They’ve got great energy. I ask the students how many of them have seen an opera before. About 10 hands go up, so we’ve got an overwhelming majority that are opera newbies. That’s really exciting. As I finish up my remarks, I see a bunch of really big guys enter and sit in the back. Seems the entire football team has come to see the show. Let’s do this!
I sit off to the side of the stage so I can watch and take notes. We’ll do another notes session later tonight. The performance goes well. The students are quiet at the beginning, but the further we get into it, the most responsive they get. The Young Artists pick up on their energy which helps the flow of the show. Bows receive a huge ovation from students and teachers alike. I go out to start the Q&A and they’re still cheering. We spend the next 25-minutes answering questions and quite unique ones at that. We get asked, what was our favorite part of the show, what was the hardest part, what was our inspiration to get into opera and what opera is our least favorite. Some of us couldn’t even answer that one. I also get asked about the set, how I designed it and put it all together. There’s a lot of interest at this school in the production aspects. We have to end the Q&A so the students can be released for the day. As the Young Artists get out of costume, we have several teachers come up to the stage. Their enthusiasm and appreciation is honestly overwhelming. They immediately ask if we’ll come back. They want a close up view of the set to see how I designed it. They want to know how I chose the props and set pieces. We talk to them for more than 30-minutes and then a couple of students who saw the performance come back in to ask a few more questions before they go home. It makes all the hard work of touring worth every single minute.
We get to the business of loading out and I get a text from Andres congratulating us on a wonderful performance. He has to drive back to Denver tonight. He’s also the chorus master for Opera Colorado and we’re starting chorus rehearsals for Lucia di Lammermoor tomorrow. Where has this season gone? As cliché as it sounds, it seems like we just got started. Parisa uses the time to practice for tomorrow’s A&E. Danielle brings me a piece of paper that a student gave her. It’s a card she made – apparently on a page of her homework. She really wanted us to have it so she could tell us how much she enjoyed the show. I tuck it in my bag so it can make the trip back to Denver with us where it will become part of our collection. Then I sit in the car and finally take time to eat my lunch while the others load the Denali. We put the ailing bar into the rental so it can be more comfortable.
Load out complete, we hit the road again, feeling really privileged to have been able to come to this school. Everyone was wonderful and completely genuine. Having a 6th grade boy tell you he “thinks you are all so talented” and he “liked that we did” – there’s no mistaking what a big compliment that is. We hope that we opened some people’s minds to opera today. I think we did. The weather is starting to move in. We need to stop at a hardware store to get supplies to fix the bar, but we also have to be at our next school in less than an hour to set up for tomorrow’s performance. Seems that supplies will have to wait.
We see lots of critters again. Piglets and brand new baby cows. Parisa and Allison are now lobbying for an Opera Colorado mascot. I’m not opposed to the idea but I’d prefer to have something that won’t eventually be able to trample me… Back in Steamboat, we make it to our second destination of the day, this time it’s Steamboat Middle School. Parisa jumps out and goes inside to check in. Then our contact and the principal come outside with her to greet us and show us where to set up. We’ll be performing in a space that’s knows as a cafetorium; part cafeteria, part auditorium. The stage has ample space and a piano – so we’re in good shape.
We start load in for the second time in one day. Readers… that’s a whole lot of work. But, there’s no complaining. It’s what we signed on for. Parisa practices while the others tackle task by task until the set is up. The piano hasn’t been tuned in a while, so it sounds like something from a saloon in an old spaghetti western. Strangely fitting for our production of Elixir of Love. The group has fun trying to match the various pitches, one key is especially interesting. That turns into a discussion on baroque music and tuning and then Ryan and Omar improvise acapella harmonies. To the outside observer, this might seem strange. To us, it’s pretty much normal.
We have completed the second set up, minus the bar and the stage does look a little unfinished. We let our contact know we’re leaving and we head to the hardware store. Charles and I go on the hunt for what we need and manage to find things we think will work. Before we can check out, we’re waylaid by one of the employees who tells me I’m doing it all wrong. I’ve been shopping for a while now and I’m pretty sure that I’ve got it down to a science. Apparently my skills are not transferable to a hardware store. Here you can’t just buy screws and washers. You have to put those screws and washers into a little bag and write an itemized inventory before you can buy them. Wow. This is why I like shoes. We get what we need and even manage to procure a couple of bottles of apple juice so we don’t have to make another stop. We remove Allison from the aisle of mugs (she has a fondness for mugs) and then head back to the house.
We’re all tired and we have a very long day tomorrow, so instead of going out to eat, we’re taking advantage of leftovers. Ryan and I make some extra items from what we have in the fridge and dinner comes together. Charles makes a quick run to the store to buy toothpaste. He’s very particular – but having white teeth must be a requirement of being “Hot Charles.” (He’s a very charming guy and an even better sport) While Allison, Danielle, Omar and Parisa rest, I blog and Charles and Ryan operate on the bar. There was some minor loss of sap and a few splinters, but the guys quickly recover and we think the bar is fixed. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to be certain. After cleaning up the kitchen, we all sit down to go over the repertoire for tomorrow’s A&E and then do a notes session. Parisa joins us halfway through, she’s been fighting a headache and napped for a bit which seems to have helped. It may also have been the brownie therapy.
We make a plan for our very early morning and then everyone decides how they want to spend the rest of the evening. Danielle goes to bed – fifteen minutes late too. Night owl. Allison practices. Omar, Charles and Ryan head down to the basement to watch a movie. Ryan comes back up to play us a clip of them singing a jingle they wrote. It’s called “Mansplaining” and features Allison and Ryan. … OK. Parisa and I? We work. Tour is an enjoyable time, don’t get me wrong, but it is not a vacation. It’s work, but it’s work that we love to do.
I finally decide to call it a day and head upstairs to my room. Time to rest and recharge. Hope you have a restful night as well readers.