2019 Greater Colorado Tour – Day 3

The Beulah school gym, ready for a soon-to-be packed performance of “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

Day 3: March 7, 2019
Beulah, Pueblo, and back to Denver

Good morning readers! It began early and like something out of Wuthering Heights.

It’s foggy and not the kind of foggy that you can work with. This is the thick fog—the kind you can actually feel as you walk through it. While the others finish packing up and eating breakfast, I turn on my fog lights and head to gas in my vehicle and plot our route. I head back to the hotel and pick the others up. We pile in and begin our trek to Beulah, Colorado. The drive takes a bit longer than we anticipated because of the fog, but by the time we reach this tiny town located at the base of the mountains, it’s cleared up a bit. Rebekah checks us in and then we get very detailed directions on how to get to the load-in area. We’re off-roading, literally, and it’s a mud bog. By the time we reach our spot, all of the cars look like swamp monsters.

Our performance set-up today is unique. We’re in the gym, which is nothing new. We perform in a lot of gyms. But this gym is an old one. It’s got built-in bleachers, an old ventilation system, and some very unique acoustics. And then there’s the piano. It’s a small keyboard with two microphones pointed at it for amplification. There’s no pedal, so Tyler is going to have to improv his way through this show. But, staff is incredibly excited that we’re here, so we’re happy to work with what they’ve got.

Coach accompanist Tyler Tucker, ready to work his magic at the keyboard. Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

The students enter and we discover that we’re performing for the entire
school—kindergarten through 12th grade. Wow. I give the pre-show talk and then we’re off. The students are so responsive. Within seconds of the show starting, they’re laughing at Kira’s antics as Hansel. They applaud nearly every time there’s a break in the music. They shout “bravo” throughout the performance.  At one moment in the show, you hear the Witch singing from backstage and Aaren gives a crazy laugh. Then Rebekah, as Gretel, asks, “What was that sound?” One little boy in the audience, completely immersed in the show and clearly concerned about Hansel and Gretel’s safety yells (and I do mean yells), “It’s the WITCH!” It was priceless.

After the performance, I have to wait for the applause to die down a bit before I can start the Q&A. One of the questions we get comes from a young lady in middle school. She asks us, “When is the next time you’re coming here?” They loved it. As the students and teachers head back to their classes, I get “thank you” after “thank you.” The principal comes up to me and tells me that it’s the first time the school has ever had an experience like this, for all the students at once. He wasn’t sure it was going to work, but it did and he’s very impressed. I’d call that a success on all fronts. Plus—Tyler is a superhero. I have no idea how he managed to use what was basically a child’s keyboard and get everyone through the show musically when he couldn’t play even a sustained chord. At one point he actually had to drop a beat (yes, like beat boxing) in order to help the singers have something to hang on to.

We quickly start loading out because we’re on a super tight time frame. We’ve got just enough time to grab lunch and eat on the go as we make our way to the next school. As we pull away from the school, the kids are outside, waving. Kira and Rebekah find this to be especially cute.

I find a place down the road that looks like it’s got a few different options so people can get what they want. We pile in and head that way. The fog has lifted, but it’s still gloomy and overcast. We take a break to get what we want for lunch, pile back in the cars, and head to the middle school that we’re performing at this afternoon.

Our second school of the day included a lively farm, home to student agriculture classes. Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

When we arrive, we’re greeted and shown where to load in. As we start the process yet again, I’m stopped by chickens. No, the artists haven’t suddenly lost their nerve at the prospect of performing for preteens. We are literally stopped by chickens. They walk right up to Aaren and me. They’re clearly very healthy birds. There’s also a rooster calling and, in some nearby pens, there are goats, sheep, and more fowl. What I think is just the farm neighboring the school is actually part of the school. They have courses in agriculture here. The students even have a tilapia pond. How cool! We say goodbye to our feathered friends and continue load-in.

Romeo & Juliet takes a bit more time for the set-up process. Not because there are more pieces, but because we have to do a fight call before each performance. Anytime you have stage combat in a show, you have to run it beforehand to make sure everyone is safe. Between that, sound checks, and all of the other things that have to happen, we’re done with about 10 minutes to spare before the students arrive. Again, we’re performing for the entire school. They have actually rearranged their schedule for the day to allow all of the students to attend the performance. They’ve been working on helping them understand that there are different behavior expectations for different events. Meaning that what you do at the football game may not be the same thing you do at a live performance like this. (Although part of me would love to see the audience high five each other when the soprano hits a great nigh note).

I talk to the students before we begin and let them know what to expect and that it’s OK to react by laughing at the comedy, applauding, etc. We want to make sure that people know that opera is supposed to be experienced, not just watched. And the show begins. Performing for middle school students can be especially interesting. It’s a challenging age and they’re going through a lot. If you can manage to get them to listen to you for five minutes, that’s an achievement. This is an hour-long show and it’s packed full of emotional moments that can be hard to handle at this age. By the time Rebekah hits her first high note as Juliet, I think we’ve got them. I watch as a teacher rubs the goosebumps on her arms and the kids laugh at the bit with the cell phone. But it’s the beginning of the fight scene when I know they’re really with us. At the first slap that Nick throws to Aaren (Tybalt and Romeo, respectively—just to make sure our readers know they actually get along quite well), instead of laughing because they think it’s funny or because they’re uncomfortable… they gasp. Edward’s death scene as Mercutio gets a major response. From here until the end of the performance, you can hear a pin drop. It’s a powerful thing to be in the room for.

Vineland students waiting for the start of “Romeo & Juliet.” Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

At bows, they’re cheering and “bravos” abound. I start the Q&A and we watch something happen that I have never experienced before. There are so many kids with questions that they form a line by the stage and organize themselves so we can answer as many as we have time for. We start by introducing ourselves and telling them where we’re from. Eric gets the biggest reaction when they hear he’s from Denver. We get to all of them but three, and those three I talk to personally before they leave. It’s clear that the faculty are thrilled too. The school janitors even came in to watch the show. The principal is beaming and asks me when they can book us for next season. While I’m wrapping up conversations, the others begin load out.

Soon, we’re all packed up and ready to begin our drive back to Denver. Everyone is tired, but it’s been a good day. Anytime we can take opera to people and get this kind of a response—it’s a good day.

The drive back is fairly uneventful, but it’s LONG. We hit traffic due to a car fire, rush hour, and for reasons that may never be known. We arrive safely, though, and that’s the important thing. We’re back in town for the weekend before heading out again on Monday. So, readers, I’ll be back at it then.

See you soon,

Cherity

Cherity Koepke is Opera Colorado’s Director of Education & Community Programs and the Director of the Artist in Residence Program. To learn more about some of Opera Colorado’s many education and community opportunities, click here. To learn more about this year’s Artists in Residence, click here.

2 Comments to “2019 Greater Colorado Tour – Day 3”

  1. You are a God send for all you put into each part of this process called Opera. Without a dedicated, talented, supportive and loving person like you to lead a young group of performers so tenaciously into this fray, we would not have great performers and just as importantly, audiences to support this amazing artistic industry. Thanks!!

  2. So excited to see you again! Looks like you all are off to a rousing start. Please have enough stamina to make it to Lake City in May. Don’t come now! We’re socked in with avalanches and tons of snow. We’ll make sure it’s all thawed before you arrive!

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