1. Always begin with a group activity singing or acting. This encourages the class to work together and allows creativity to flow! It lets the students know right away that working on an opera is fun! It establishes a relationship with all participants quickly and effectively.
2. There will always be a few who could write the opera themselves. These students are accustomed to being the only ones brave enough to express themselves in front of a group. Be appreciative of their willingness to contribute. Try to avert this situation by explaining upfront to the class that this is a group opera and you would like everyone to have the opportunity to contribute. Ask them how they will help their friends keep the second rule of OBC (Everyone Participates) if they notice some of their classmates are not sharing. You may also ask a student who has shared lots of ideas which of their friends they would like to hear an idea from who hasn’t contributed yet (This question is a good one to ask right after listening to one of their ideas). Then ask the friend to think about a specific part of the story and that you would like him to share when he is ready. Allow him some time to think about it before getting back to him. See Three Rules: https://operabychildren.org/training/html/1_presection/presection1.htm
3. Instead of having the students raise their hands to share ideas, throw a beanbag out. Point to a student or use name sticks or other devices you have created for tracking participation. Giving every child an opportunity to share by going around the classroom works if you let the students know that if they don’t have an idea to share when their turn comes that it’s fine or if someone shared the same idea they had before you get to them you would still like to hear it. It is okay to have the same idea.
4. If there are two ideas that do not meld well together and there is a clear choice of one or the other to be made, act them out and see which one works best. Improving scenes to create recitative works well too! Acting out complicated staging ideas is always a good idea! If the students want a character to fly for example have a student stand up, and ask the class how they can make “Suzie” fly right now. “No, we don’t have wires. But what can make ‘Suzie’ fly right now?” Suzie flaps her arms and runs in curves and moves her body to high and low levels to show movement. “Great! That made me believe you were flying!” Talking about staging ideas now during the writing process saves head and heartaches later. It makes the process so much better! Do not wait! You don’t need to go in great detail, but the libretto must be created in theatrical terms not cinematic.
5. Limit suggestions. Have a time limit for ideas; for example, take 60 seconds to share “setting” ideas. Or limit by number: throw three beanbags or take the first three hands raised.
6. When you ask questions make sure the students answer that question. You might even say, “Only raise your hand to tell me ‘such and such’.” Someone in most classes loves to slip in a complicated situation for the story instead of transition!
7. Only vote when absolutely necessary! Help the students find as many connections between the suggestions given so that all the ideas can be used with little or no modifications. You can also take one good idea and run with it! Just enthusiastically start assisting the class members to contribute and build that idea.
8. Limit the amount of writing by emphasizing the five story sentences. Make sure they are simple sentences!
9. Opera journals are wonderful idea receptacles. It is great to have each student have one to write their ideas as they think of them so that they don’t forget them when the time to share them comes.
10. Once the story is decided on, nothing is added! Sometimes clarity comes during the libretto writing process and an idea may change as long as the entire story structure is not modified but rather clarified. This is not adding but rather replacing. Ideas that do not assist the story can even be deleted or modified at this point.
11. Limit the amount of writing in the libretto process by developing 4-5 lines of recitative and one aria for each of the five sentences. Add more songs rather than recit because you can express so much more in a song than a sentence. Songs can and should be repeated. Consider how a song could be utilized again to help tell the story.
12. Break into groups whenever possible! More students participate and more is accomplished during the opera creation session. Spread the verbal contributors out between the groups or put them all into one group then they won’t dominate the others.
REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN AND VALIDATE! Don’t forget the philosophy of TRAG (Trust, Risk, Affirmation, and Growth)! This is why we write operas–to give each student the confidence to succeed in life! See http://www.operabychildren.org/trag.php
More information may be found online here: https://operabychildren.org/training/html/3_Story/story1.htm
Whenever you feel you need help working on operas in the classroom do not hesitate to post a BLOG, email me or even call!
I may not have all the answers, but as we problem solve together a solution may always be found.
Utah Festival Opera
Opera by Children
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