Summit Middle School students prepare to delight on Thursday with a performance of "The Frisco Kid," a comic opera they created completely from scratch - including everything from the script to the songs and the set. The performance is the culminating event of "Build an Opera," a program from Central City Opera brought to SMS for a second year by the Breckenridge Music Festival's Music in the Schools outreach program.
The storyline of "The Frisco Kid" has it all - love and laughs intertwined with themes from immigration to terrorism - all set in a fictional Frisco bakery straight from the eighth graders' imaginations.
Though students began working on the project in January, SMS teachers Julenne Moore (drama), Donna Clark (choir) and Mark Koob (piano, theater tech) attended Central City's week-long Build an Opera workshop last July, where they studied the opera, "Carmen," as well as techniques needed to guide students through the process of creating their own opera.
"I'd never truly appreciated the genre of opera until after the training," Moore said. "We actually wrote our own opera - so we were the students going through the process. From that perspective, we were able to understand where students would be coming from in trying to write an opera."
Starting in January, the three teachers then worked with Judeth Shay-Burns, a teaching artist from Central City Opera, to lead approximately 40 students from four classes in the show's production. The first step was to write the script, which combined ideas generated by drama students. The drama class also wrote lyrics for the songs, after which piano and choir students worked together to create "a rhythmic sentence and melody" for each one, Koob explained. The theater tech class designed and built the backdrops and selected costumes and props for the show.
"Having room for each student to have a voice and to explore their own ideas is the most important aspect of the project, so this flexibility is crucial," said Shay-Burns, who is a member of the Central City Opera Ensemble and a voice teacher at Colorado College and Colorado Springs Conservatory. "The deciding factor is always the question, 'What has the most dramatic viability?'"
"Judy has worked very hard making the music and script that the students wrote fit into the style of an opera" and "making the opera they wrote become a reality on stage," Clark said. "Without the experience of a real opera person we would just be taking a stab in the dark."
"Any time you can get those real world connections, the learning process becomes easier for students," said SMS Principal Joel Rivera, expressing gratitude to the Breckenridge Music Festival and all the organizations and individuals who support Summit Middle School through direct involvement, volunteering and fundraising.
"Every year I go to a camp that's about acting and I don't think I'm very good, but after this experience I think I've really improved," said eighth-grader Emmy Moul, who plays Nuki, one of two inept terrorists bent upon blowing up the Dillon Reservoir dam.
Anakayla Carchi (Gunny) felt it helped her get better at the "business" of drama - "where to walk, what looks better onstage" and "what to do if I'm onstage and other people are acting."
Lexi Zangari (bakery worker) said she appreciated the stronger friendships that developed as she worked through the process with classmates. By getting out of her comfort zone onstage, Luisa Carreno (Madame Monroe) said she felt "more comfortable around others" overall.
Starring actor Ethan Davis (Olivier Monroe, the baker) said he appreciated acting as "another avenue for me to express myself."
The BMF will host a reception following the public performance of "The Frisco Kid" on May 24. There will also be a school-wide performance at 2 p.m. on May 25.
"The greatest thing about this project is the collaboration that takes place between all the classes," Moore concluded. "I hope in the end that students will realize how important collaboration is, and to get one show onstage takes the work of so many minds."
The Breckenridge Music Festival's Music in the Schools program is funded in large part by The Summit Foundation.