By Katherine Semcesen, Associate Director, Education and Outreach
ASOP participants learning about baroque dancing for Theseus and the Minotaur
It's hard to believe, but the Canadian Opera Company's After School Opera Program (ASOP) is already in its 15thyear! In celebration of this milestone, we're looking back at the past 15 years and highlighting some of ASOP's most notable achievements.
In 1997, the COC embarked on an ambitious project to start an after-school program that focused on introducing children to opera. Dean Burry, an enthusiastic young composer from Gander, Newfoundland, who was working in the COC’s Ticket Services at the time, leapt at the opportunity to share his love of opera with young people. His proposal won over the COC’s education and outreach staff and, under Dean’s direction, ASOP has engaged and introduced 4,876 children and their families to opera over the last 15 years. In addition to Dean, 45 guest artists including designers, mimes, choreographers, baroque movement specialists, stage combat instructors, make-up artists, Peking opera artists and North Indian Kathak dancers and other musicians have collaborated with the young participants to produce a total of 48 brand new operas.
Dean Burry and ASOP participants rehearse A Pirate's Life, 2000.
Being a composer and having a background in piano, saxophone, singing and acting, Dean wrote all of the music and libretti (scripts), and for the first few years also designed backdrops, props and costumes and staged all of the operas. But the children have also played an integral and active role in the creative process and plot development. Detention Stories (2001) is a perfect example of an opera where the children were encouraged to contribute to the plot by constructing their own scenarios involving detention – hopefully they weren't taken from personal experience!
In 1999 Dean's hard work paid off and he accepted the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts on behalf of the COC for its substantial outreach initiatives. Already ASOP was proving to be a powerful and positive artistic force with children in their communities.
All the ASOP operas involve wonderfully original and colourful themes as well as twists on Greek mythology such as Theseus and the Minotaur or familiar stories such as Cinderella, Titanic, and Romeo and Juliet. The operas have been linked to current events, like the Olympic Games in 2010 and the rapid technological developments over the past decade, or operas presented on the COC's main stage, including The Magic Flute and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sometimes these operas have been comic, about love, tragedy, or even a spy story. At other times they contained themes that carried a deeper message about life that could be appreciated by the children. All it takes is a visit to a rehearsal to realize how much the kids love exploring these stories through opera and the sense of achievement they feel!
Over the years, ASOP has run at various centres in the GTA including the Columbus Centre, Cabbagetown Community Centre, Samuel Hearn Sr. Public School, St. Lawrence Community Recreation Centre, East York Community Centre, and currently runs at Ourland Community Centre in Etobicoke, Barbara Frum Recreation Cenre in North York, and St. Christopher House and the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in downtown Toronto. The success of the program encouraged the COC to expand into East Scarborough in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in the fall of 2012, and the COC welcomed conductor, director, and choreographer Markus Howard into the ASOP family as a new lead artist.
ASOP's 15th anniversary is a true testament to the hard work and passion for this program from all the participants and their families, artists, program partners, program assistants, administrative staff members and volunteers, as well as the generous support from various funders and donors over the years.
Given the positive response the COC has received from the community about this program, we're optimistic that ASOP will continue to inspire and engage young people in the arts and in opera for many, many years to come.
To find out how you can support ASOP and other COC education and outreach activities, contact the COC's development team who will be happy to walk you through the steps of how to make a donation!
Photo Credits: (top) ASOP participants and artists from Opera Atelier practice baroque dancing for the COC ASOP production of Theseus and the Minotaur, 2013; (middle) Dean Burry and ASOP participants rehearse the COC ASOP production of A Pirate's Life, 2000; (middle) A participant in the COC ASOP production of Island of Thunder, 2005; (bottom) Participants pose for the camera in the COC ASOP production of Wild and Free, 1998. All photos by the COC.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001