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Arts in the Park Kids Produce Original Operas

The Springfield Regional Arts Council's summer workshop program, "Arts in the Park," will present two original operas created by the students in the program. KSMU's Randy Stewart has more.

RANDY: The summer program, now in its sixth year, is designed to introduce children in grades K through 8 from the Springfield Community Center to various aspects of the visual and performing arts. In past years the kids would spend a week or two working with a representative from each arts group, but this is the first year that they've worked extensively for the whole 8-week period with ALL the groups to produce a show--actually two, one by grades kindergarten through 4, the other by kids in grades 5 through 8. Leah Jenkins, the Arts Council's Education Director, says the Springfield Symphony helped the kids write the music; Springfield Regional Opera worked with them on makeup and costuming; Springfield Ballet helped with the choreography; and Springfield Little Theatre built the sets, which the kids helped paint. The production's director Judy Luxton went to the Washington National Opera last summer on a professional development internship to learn about the program--

LEAH JENKINS: --in return that she would come and help guide us this summer with the program. It's called "Creating Original Opera." It's a completely creative curriculum, in that the teachers give the outline, the kids fill it in. You'd be surprised what little kids can do!

RANDY: The kids picked the subject matter for the operas during the first week Judy Luxton worked with them.

LEAH: She gave them an outline. She said, "Pick a theme." And from the theme, we came up with what the title was going to be, what the whole story was going to be about. Then they had to pick four characters that they gave characteristics, personality traits.

RANDY: I spent some time with Leah Jenkins and the K through 4th graders as they prepared to run through their show, called "Lost in the Rainforest." Leah said the original theme they wanted to work with was "animals," and that evolved into a rainforest setting. But is it really an "opera"?

LEAH: We use "opera" loosely! Really, getting them to sing as a group was pretty easy, but getting them to sing a solo at a young age was sort of difficult. So, to be honest, it ended up being more of a "musical!" (laughs)

RANDY: Marshalling her forces--and keeping them quiet enough that they could hear her instructions!--seemed to be Leah Jenkins' main obstacle. But once they started rehearsing, they entered into the story with gusto. It's about people getting lost in a rainforest and being taken home by a friendly young girl monkey whose parents are away on vacation.

[AUDIO OF REHEARSAL]

RANDY: Springfield Regional Arts Council Education Director Leah Jenkins leading, from the piano, a rehearsal of "Lost in the Rainforest," a totally original opera created by kids in kindergarten through fourth grade from the Springfield Community Center, participating in this summer's "Arts in the Park" workshop. It, and a show produced by the fifth through eighth graders from the Community Center, called "Lovin' Life," will be performed by the kids back-to-back this afternoon starting at 2:00PM in the Exhibition Hall at the Creamery Arts Center, 411 N. Sherman Parkway across from Hammons Field. Each opera runs about 15 minutes, and it's free and open to the public.