As a mother of three – and former drama student – I require each of my children to participate in a theater production. Do I want them to become professional actors? God, no.
But theater builds character. It teaches self-confidence. It quells the emotion of embarrassment, which hinders so many of us from living in the moment. Theater teaches us to let go and not to take ourselves so seriously. Theater promotes social interaction and focus, which are sadly lacking these days. All that, bundled with the magic of a curtain call, makes for an invaluable learning experience that will stick with a kid forever.
This summer, my youngest tackled this rite of passage by participating in L.A. Opera’s two-week intensive summer camp for ages 9-17, sponsored by the Opera League of Los Angeles. This year’s production was The White Bird of Poston, which tells the story of a Japanese American teen in a World War II internment camp, and two unlikely friends she makes during her time there.
In just 10 days, my daughter not only learned the fundamentals of opera, she delved into the history and background of the story. She went to the Japanese American History Museum and the Autry Museum and took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the classes were held. She learned from renowned opera professionals such as director and composer Eli Villanueva, liberatist and movement coach Leslie Stevens, conductor Karen Hogle Brown and a host of accomplished guests.
Stacy C. Brightman, Ph.D., senior director of education and community engagement, heads the camp each year, helping students take home a greater understanding of storytelling through opera and a pocket full of memories to last a lifetime. “I think that our campers develop a true appreciation and respect for the art form and for what it takes to produce and perform an opera,” explains Brightman. “They also realize how the arts can address important subjects, such as — in the case of The White Bird of Poston — the history of the internment of Japanese Americans.”
Camp culminated with four fully staged, free public performances at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood, an amazing feat considering the tight rehearsal timeline and the large cast of 66 campers. “The biggest challenge of Opera Camp is staying calm when it seems we will not reach the finish line in time for the first performance,” admits Leslie Stevens who wrote and choreographed the production. “I remind myself that the teaching and rehearsing is a process of great value in itself. I am always amazed how differently children learn and how they come together as an ensemble by the end of the second week.”
And come together they did. The level of talent and professionalism and the richness of emotion these young performers displayed brought the house to tears.
And then there was that curtain call …
Learn more about L.A. Opera’s camp program here.