By Cherity Koepke
Happy Monday readers and welcome back to tour! After a wonderful Celebration Concert yesterday, we’re on the road again this week, headed to Lake City, Hotchkiss, and Parachute before returning to Denver on Friday evening. It’s a week packed with performances, workshops, and dinners with hosts and sponsors. Oh, and driving—lots of driving. And load-ins, set ups, strikes, and tear downs; late nights and early mornings. In the midst of all that there will be some pretty wonderful singing too.
Today we’re heading for Lake City where we’ll be for the next two days. We get on the road right on schedule and we make decent time to our first pit stop. Katie drank a lot of water before we left. We have a time table we have to keep today because we’re performing tonight and after we arrive in town we have to have time to set up, let everyone get settled in our housing, have a few moments of down time, and eat dinner. Back on the road (we’re good, Heath has more snacks), Jordan and Nick have a conversation about whether or not certain extinct or mythological creatures are real or not. Namely the Megalodon. They engage in quite a passionate discussion. Vanessa attempts to move them on to another topic by asking Jordan about beer, but there’s no dissuading them. We then move on to Nessie, Bigfoot, and the Tibetan tiger. It might be a good thing that they were so heavily invested in the debate, I mean the conversation, because it distracted them from the multiple road construction areas we encountered. When I say multiple, I mean that. The drive to Lake City should take about four hours. It took us seven. Yes, we stopped for lunch and coffee (Jordan and Nathan must be appeased), but seven hours?!
We drive through some nasty weather as we go over Monarch Pass and more road construction sites costing us even more time. My schedule is in shambles. By the time we make it to Lake City we have less than two hours before we’re scheduled to perform. The stage is small, so I opt to not use the backdrop of our Cinderella set. We could only use the center panel, which is the palace, so it wouldn’t have worked for the scenes in the house. It’s not a choice I like making, but in this instance it’s the best option and, in live theater, you learn to make it work (to quote Tim Gunn). Set up is fairly simple after we figure out how to work around the corners and backstage area. We run some music for tonight’s A&E (we’re doing a combo program tonight, Arias & Ensembles followed by Cinderella) and then we head to our lodging. We’re being housed in two beautiful cabins right by the river. There are lots of “oohs” and “ahs” as the Young Artists look through the cabins and decide who gets which bed. Jordan must have not made enough vocal exclamations because he ends up on the trundle bed. Jordan is a very good sport.
Dinner is being provided for us tonight and it’s waiting when we get to the cabins. Some of these small communities we perform for on tour welcome us with such incredible hospitality. We have just enough time to eat and change before heading over to the theater for the performance call. We’re back on schedule now, but barely. At the theater, Nicole discovers that the artists who perform in this theater can sign the wall. She hunts for markers—but we can’t find any. Not to be thwarted, we find wood repair markers in the road bag. Our signatures have a very earthy color palette, but it works. Our contact Dan comes backstage to see if we’re ready to start and we are, so it’s show time. Dan talks about the partnership between Lake City Arts and Opera Colorado and I go out to start the performance. We have a great turn out tonight and the audience is every age imaginable. They’re responsive right from the start so I know it’s going to be a really fun night.
As the A&E portion gets going, I get going on the blog for the day. I become so engrossed in my narrative, I almost miss my cue to introduce Heath. He whispers, “Do I just go out or what?” I dash onstage and the program moves on. During Nick’s “Dust and Ashes” there’s a sudden, brassy noise from backstage. There is a stack of gold metal plates back here, so I quickly turn to catch them, making the assumption that they’re falling from the shelf. Nope. It was Nathan sneezing – my bad. The group finishes off the first half of tonight’s program with “One Day More.” It’s ironic and poignant. I realize that after singing this piece for the past eight months, tonight is the final time this group will sing it together as Young Artists.
That bit of news seems to take Jordan back because he goes into the coffin. No, it’s not some strange figure of speech in opera. There’s a coffin backstage. It’s a prop. Not ours—it wouldn’t be something I would use in Cinderella. It belongs to the theater. I snap a picture of Jordan as he emerges. Costumes are donned. Slow motion videos are taken of backstage antics (Andrew loves this option on his phone) and hairspray fills in the air. The smell of Aquanet will always remind me of the theater. It’s time for Cinderella. This is the first of five performances of it just this week. It’s been incredibly popular with our audiences. I go out to do the pre-show talk and we’re off. As a director, there’s nothing better than listening to an audience responding to the show the way you hope they will when you envision it in your head. The audience is enjoying it in spades. The Young Artists seem to be having fun too… when they can breathe. Ah, altitude.
Andrew spits all over Katie in one scene. It’s a job hazard in opera. Honestly, you get used to it. Vanessa’s necklace breaks, things fall over on the table that aren’t supposed to, Andrew’s final conniption fit has a bit more connip in it tonight, so Vanessa pulls off getting Katie into her gown in record time—in other words, it’s a live performance. They’re learned to roll with whatever happens. Bows are met with applause and cheers. It’s in this moment that it dawns on me. I haven’t bowed once all season as the stage director, for Cinderella or The Elixir of Love. Well… I’ve been busy. I give the Young Artists a chance to catch their breath as I talk to the audience and then they join me for the Q&A.
We start by introducing ourselves, including where we’re from and where we got our degrees. I know that Nicole and Heath will be a crowd favorite because a lot of the residents in Lake City have relocated from Texas. To my surprise, I actually find some kindred spirits in the crowd too—there are three, count them three, people who share my alma mater. That never happens. Questions start off slow but after some encouragement, things get rolling. We get asked about the altitude, what’s next for each of us in our careers and, from a young lady in the audience, what inspired us to choose opera. I make sure to thank everyone for welcoming us so warmly, for providing our housing and our dinner and for coming to see the performance. Then we spend the next 30 minutes talking to the audience one-on-one as they leave. Quite a few of the people who came tonight are new to Lake City and have never seen us perform before. They want to know more about OperaColorado, so I take the opportunity to talk about our upcoming 2019 season (La Traviata and The Marriage of Figaro are two of the productions we’ll be doing). I have one gentlemen tell me he didn’t like the show he came to see here last month… but he really enjoyed our performance. Great!
While a few of us finish mingling, others begin load out. It doesn’t take long given that we didn’t use the set. I round everyone up outside and ask who will be helping me with tomorrow’s workshops. We’ll be conducting two interactive workshops with the 4th – 12th grade students from Lake City Community School and while I could fly solo, it’s really nice to have help. Honestly, I could just decide to have them all there,but I know that teaching isn’t everyone’s forte and I try to be a considerate boss. Nathan has already volunteered to help with both workshops… but no other hands go up. Andrew announces that he’s taking the day off. Hmm… I hadn’t realized that was one of the menu options… Nick volunteers and then Katie, so I’ll have two of the Young Artists with me for each workshop. With that settled, we head back to our lodging. The Young Artists and Jordan make plans to hang out at one of the cabins. I’m beat so I decide to get some work done before I run out of steam.
It has been a long day. There are a lot of them in this career. But, I realized a long time ago that if you love what you’re doing, it’s worth all of the time and effort because it’s for something that you believe in. I believe in opera. I’ve seen what it can inspire. I want to be a part of that for as long as I can.
Thanks for being a part of what we do, too, readers—we love having you with us on the journey.
Cherity Koepke is Opera Colorado’s Director of Education & Community Programs and the Director of the Young Artist Program. To learn more about some of Opera Colorado’s many education and community opportunities, click here. To learn more about this year’s Young Artists, click here.