The After School Opera Program (ASOP) is a core outreach initiative of the Canadian Opera Company’s education and outreach activities. ASOP is an exciting community arts program that involves children between the ages of 7 and 12 in the creation and presentation of opera! Under the guidance of award-winning Canadian composer Dean Burry, choreographer, director, and conductor, Markus Howard, and other guest artists, participants learn all about the different elements that make up opera – music, drama, theatre and design – during the 10-week session. Along the way, they create and rehearse their own mini-production, and perform it before an audience of friends and family at the end of the program. Currently the program runs out of five community centres in Toronto, Etobicoke, North York, and in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of East Scarborough.
ASOP celebrates its 15th anniversary this year with a special celebration in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on June 13, 2013. Each week until then we’ll take special look back to some of the participants, artists, program partners, and volunteers who have made the program such a huge success over the years!
“ASOP taught me the importance of being a good role model and how much of a difference it can make to young people."
This week we kick off with Anand Bery who first began participating in ASOP as a child performing Dean Burry's The Splitting of the Clan during the 2001/2002 season. (He's third from the left in the photo below!) After “graduating” the program as a participant, Anand returned as a volunteer and a few years later was hired as a program assistant and took on more leadership and mentorship. His experience as a participant in the program made him a great role model for the budding young opera performers in ASOP.
As a program assistant, Anand supported several productions by Dean Burry. An opera that Anand felt an especially deep and personal connection to was Dean Burry's The Serpent's Love (2008) based on an North Indian folktale.
“It was a story I could relate to culturally, given my background. It dealt with complex themes like loss and despair, but only on a level the kids could understand, which is a testament to Dean Burry's skill as an artistic-educator. The broader message was one of hope, support, and tolerance of other cultures, which is what I think the ASOP is all about.”
But perhaps the most rewarding experience for Anand was seeing the positive influence he could have upon the children. On many occasions he saw shy and quiet children come to the program only to find their voice, exude confidence and discover hidden talents that were revealed through the ASOP!
“ASOP taught me the importance of being a good role model and how much of a difference it can make to young people. The program helped me develop leadership, teamwork and compassion in very different ways both as a child participant and an assistant.”
Anand is now in his third year of post-secondary studies in neuroscience and continues to have a keen appreciation for both opera and theatre which he credits to the ASOP. “The arts are a universal expression of emotion—and they can be appreciated by everyone, not just those with talent or formal training. The After School Opera Program did a great job of introducing me to the arts, as it continues to do for young people from many communities across the city, many of whom would probably not have the opportunity otherwise.”
Photo credits: The After School Opera Program, 2012. Photo: COC. Anand Bery (centre) participates in the 2000/2001 After School Opera Program’s production of The Splitting of the Clan. Photo: COC; Anand Bery in 2013.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001