Introducing school children to opera has obvious challenges in a country as big as Australia. Sheer logistics make it difficult for our opera companies to tour regional and distant areas to bring the experience of opera into classrooms.
As with so many other areas, technology can come to the rescue, and Victorian Opera has devised an interesting solution that has met with much success.
As of this year, the company has been offering primary schools in Victoria a series of livestreamed workshops that explores the nature and workings of opera for children from Foundation to Year 6. Called Access All Areas, the special part about this program is that it allows opportunities for interactivity between the students and the company’s cast and crew.
The first time Access All Areas ran was in May to June this year for a production of Hansel and Gretel. Four 45-minute online workshops were hosted by Angus Grant and introduced the singers, story, the orchestra, and looked into costume and lighting design. These workshops took place in front of a live audience of children drawn from local primary schools; and at various times they took to the stage with singing and dancing. The workshops culminated a full live streamed performance of the opera from Arts Centre Melbourne.
But for students at schools located more than 150 kilometres outside Melbourne, they were given the chance to join in via an interactive online forum while viewing the workshops on screen. All children were therefore given a sense of involvement and participation, says Ioanna Salmanidis, Victorian Opera’s Education Officer and manager of the Access All Areas program.
“The biggest challenge was ensuring that students were engaged during each workshop,” she told ArtsHub (paywalled article). “To achieve this, we invited local primary schools to bring a classroom of students to our studio-based workshops to ensure interactivity – our very own live studio audience! A secured live chat forum was also available for students and teachers online to engage in real-time.”
Salmanidis says the Access All Areas has so far reached over 1,000 students. “Some of these students were from schools in areas such as Indigo and Penshurst, places where the company has never performed”.
“One of the best aspects of this project was getting to watch the absolute wonder and joy experienced by the students each week watching our singers perform live for them. We saw this both in the studio and relayed to us online.”
See a short video of the Hansel and Gretel workshops here.
Alice through the Opera Glass is the next production for Access All Areas in 2019. A pastiche built around music by Bizet, Delibes and Puccini, it will be similarly directed by Elizabeth Hill, and Simon Bruckard will conduct the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra. Workshops will run 22 May to 12 June and performances from 14 to 17 June. All schools in Victoria are able to take part.
Details including registrations here.