LOGAN – Its 2020 stage productions have been cancelled due to the coronavirus, but performance education for children is continuing at the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre.
“Our education programs are proceeding carefully,” says UFOMT impresario Michael Ballam, “in a diluted form.”
Those programs are the year-round Musical Theatre Conservatory, the “Broadway Bound” summer camp and the “Opera by Children” program. While acknowledging that all of those programs have been disrupted by the ongoing pandemic, Education Business Manager Kevin Nakatani explains that the festival opera is still maintaining contact with its performing arts students through online technology.
The first of those programs to be impacted by the coronavirus was the Conservatory, which is directed by UFOMT veteran performer Stefan Espinosa.
The Musical Theater Conservatory is aimed at children ages 4 to 18 that aspire to become musical theater performers. The program offers year-round classes in acting, dance and singing that instill confidence, performance skills and self-discipline.
Nakatani says that the coronavirus outbreak not only prematurely ended those face-to-face classes in mid-March but also prohibited the live performance that normally climaxes each year of the Conservatory.
“In the spring,” Nakatani explains. “we always do a musical show with our 13- to 18-year-old Conservatory students. We were planning to do ‘Pirates of Penzance’ by Gilbert and Sullivan when the coronavirus outbreak occurred … We had to cancel that show and move our programs to online instruction.
“When the local coronavirus restrictions somewhat loosened earlier this summer, Stefan and I decided that we’d still like to try to do ‘Pirates,’ but cautiously.”
The idea was to rehearse and perform the operetta in an outdoor setting that would allow both the youthful performers and the audience to comply with statewide social distancing guidelines. The wearing of masks and gloves would also be thematically woven into the costume designs for the production.
After seeing reports that some theaters that resumed performing have suffered COVID-19 outbreaks within their casts, however, the UFOMT educators now intend to record individual performances by Conservatory students and assemble those video segments into a production that can be distributed online to families and friends.
“While recording separate scenes and songs is obviously less than ideal,” Nakatani adds, “there’s actually some educational benefit to this process. A lot of auditioning is done through online communication nowadays, so giving our students some experience with those techniques is actually helpful.”
Ballam says that similar online technology will be employed to carry on with the festival opera’s “Broadway Bound” summer camp.
That week-long program is traditionally held during the UFOMT summer season in July and August. With some 300 performers, musicians and technicians normally on-hand for the festival, “Broadway Bound” students work intensively with those company members to fine-tune their skills and to stage a showcase of their talents at week’s end.
The one-on-one interaction between the students and their professional mentors will now be via long-distance online technology and their talent showcase will be assembled with pre-recorded video segments.
The festival’s final educational initiative is its “Opera by Children” program.
Over the years, that UFOMT outreach effort has provided training for public school teachers and opportunities for more than 75,000 children to create their own operas in a classroom setting. Ballam says that teachers throughout Utah and other western states use this teaching tool to promote self-discovery and enthusiasm for learning in their classrooms.
The teachers normally attend an “Opera by Children” training workshop, after which they are eligible to participate in the year-long program.
“I’ve just come up with a new manual for our ‘Opera by Children’ program (to replace the in-person workshop training),” Ballam explains. “We’ll also provide mentorship via online technology for participating teachers throughout the year.”