Opera for the Young trains excellent musicians to become exceptional teaching artists.
OFTY is best known in the schools for these three salient characteristics:
- Excellent, accessible performances by skilled and well-trained professional artists
- Repertoire that has been specifically adapted for children in their various capacities as audience members, onstage choristers, and cameo performers
- Sensitive and encouraging leadership of young performers by OFTY cast members
OFTY has a tremendous word-of-mouth reputation within the young artist community concerning what it means to be a performer in this company. Our considerable focus on careful work with children – #3 above – is high on the list of qualities that make an OFTY contract special.
This focus begins during the audition process. Singers and pianists are screened not only for their performance skills, but for their impromptu ability to field a wide variety of questions asked by OFTY audience members. During auditions, staff members ask the questions and listen for straight-forward answers that reflect a grounded knowledge of opera and singing as well as a respectful ability to make explanations easy to understand. This is the first experience many young artists have to translate and express their sophisticated training and knowledge into introductory-level descriptions (and it’s a skill that is honed throughout an OFTY tour).
The next phase in the education of cast members as outreach artists happens shortly after they are hired. Along with the piano/vocal score to the opera, artists are given a tutorial CD recording that contains a very specific step-by-step process for teaching children. As they work on their own music, adult cast members become familiar with what children are hearing and learning regarding their preparation of the choruses and spoken dialogue.
Rehearsal week is our primary outreach training ground.
- The triple cast begins work with the Music Director on all of the chorus music in order to have a unified, mutually agreed-upon approach to working with young children. Artists receive the packet of Teaching Materials that elementary school music teachers use in their preparation of choristers. Significant time is spent on finding a balance between encouraging and enabling students do their very best (musically and vocally), and recognizing when that particular level is achieved. Helping kids feel good about their work during performance is a proud hallmark of OFTY.
- Staging rehearsals feature very specific blocking and choreography for the onstage choristers taught by the Artistic Director and learned by all adult artists whether or not they are going to be in that scene with the children. Everyone in the cast (including pianists) will work with the kids during the critical hour-long rehearsal before each school show.
- Singers are instructed to relate to audience members throughout the opera in ways that encourage attention, understanding and participation.
- Led by the Artistic Director and Music Director, the full cast works together for several hours to come up with a unified plan for ‘Kid Prep’ which is an established yet flexible approach to training the children for performance. It is clear to all the artists how important this is to our company, and great care is taken in this collaborative effort. A detailed document is created.
The final and most impressive phase of OFTY’s outreach training comes on-the-road. Over the course of a season, each OFTY cast member performs at least 60 times. They are able to test their instrument, take calculated performance risks, and incorporate their best into future performances.
Performers also have 60 opportunities to become great teaching artists. The first few in-school performances (and student rehearsals) are observed by the full company (second and third casts as well as all directors). The primary focus is on the efficacy of the ‘Kid Prep’ plan. Cast members who perform early during the tour encounter situations that necessitate tweaks and changes to the plan, and this experiential knowledge is passed along to other company members. The Artistic and Music Directors make frequent visits to schools to observe the student chorus rehearsal process and communicate their own observations and ‘Kid Prep’ edits. In addition, the Q & A process is scrutinized for clarity, educational messaging, sensitivity and good humor.
OFTY artists receive a lot of input from the Artistic Director throughout their tenure with the company. Artistic excellence is an understood expectation, and they understand the need to become equally great teaching artists, mentors and onstage colleagues for the young children at every school.
It is one skill to be an exceptional, professional musician, and it’s a different skill to teach and inspire children about opera as a craft and an art form. At Opera for the Young, we strive for our cast members to become both – excellent musicians and exceptional teaching artists.