Friday, October 10, 2014

The Ten Commandments of Watching Opera

Confession: I love opera. I try often (and embarrassingly) to perfect my rendition of "O Mio Babbino Caro" when no one's listening. I have pajamas with a Wagner aria printed on them. I tidy up my house to Bizet every weekend. Phew. That felt good to get off my chest.

It can be tough to find a fellow opera fan! When I invite friends to join me at the Met, they usually turn down the invitation, saying that they don't understand opera, or that it's a highfalutin' art form that feels irrelevant. To that, I could offer many recommendations for contemporary operas, or invigorating re-interpretations of classics (Isango Esemble's The Magic Flute is a shining example of just that!). But there are also a number of ways to make traditional opera feel fun, exciting and accessible.

If you and your family will be attending your first opera at the New Vic next month, but are feeling trepidatious about your ten-year-old's reaction to Papageno, read my Ten Commandments for Watching Opera below. A little preparation will help you to get the most out of your experience!

Remember that you might already be a fan
Opera pops up everywhere—from Skittles commercials to internet memes, so there's really no reason to feel intimidated!

Honor the music
The great part about opera is that the music says it all! Even if the set design, costuming or lighting is gorgeous, opera is first and foremost about the music, and painstakingly composed works communicate emotions and story through music alone (the rest is just extra!). As The New York Times put it, "in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first."

Thou shalt not worry about hearing every word
Many operas are in foreign languages, but even those sung in your native tongue can be tough to understand. Opera singers do their best when it comes to diction, but part of opera singing technique requires singers to modify spoken pronunciation in order to sound their best (especially on the high notes). Let the music tell the story if you're feeling lost.

Thou shalt not listen to stereotypes
"It ain't over til the fat lady sings." Ugh... When you become a fan, you'll realize that opera is way more than some stereotypes make it out to be.

Thou shalt get to know the classics
As an opera beginner, your best plan for getting to know the art form is to start with the classics. Find a playlist below that I curated, and have a listen. You'll hear favorite songs, many of which I'll bet you've heard before!

Thou shalt have an opinion
Sometimes there's the misconception that just because something is lauded as a "classic," you have to like it. Listen to or go see a few operas and decide what you like—a crisp Mozart tune is very different from a undulating Puccini score.

Thou shalt know the singers
It's hard to go wrong when seeing any trained, professional opera singer perform live. But hardcore opera buffs will go to shows just to hear certain singers. Here are a few names to get you started: Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko.

Thou shalt know the vocabulary
Here's a list of terms that will help you on your first trip to the opera (click to enlarge).

Thou shalt know the composers
Most of the famous composers that you can name probably wrote an opera, but there were a few that really perfected the medium. While Beethoven wrote one opera, symphonies were more his specialty. Who are considered the best opera composers, then? Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini are recognized as a few of the greats.

Thou shalt avoid snobbery
When you've become an opera fan, make sure you spread the love, and help people understand that opera isn't high-brow and stuffy! There's nothing wrong with getting your Wagner knowledge from the Looney Tunes episode when Elmer Fudd sings "kill the wabbit" to the tune of "Die Walkure."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Get to Know Our New Teaching Artists!

If your kid attends one of our partner schools, if you make a habit out of joining us for our Family Workshops, or if you love TXT Marks the Spot, you have surely crossed paths with one of our incredible teaching artists! This group of talented, New York-based artists have expertise in a variety of art forms (puppetry, clowning, dance, musical theater, etc.) and are integral to our operation here at the New Vic.

For each show, the New Vic teaching artists help our Education team develop lesson plans and activities, and then facilitate in-classroom workshops, professional development for teachers, as well as our Family Workshops, Arts Express, Kids Weeks and TXT Marks the Spot events. Some of our teaching artists have worked with us for over 10 years! But with each new season, we also have the opportunity to hire new artists to join the team. Below, we've profiled the first-season teaching artists joining us this year. Look for them around the theater and get ready to learn lots from them in the coming years!

I'm Robert Stevenson and I'm a theater-maker and performer.

I'm a native New Yorker! I started doing Shakespeare when I was 14-years-old, then went to NYU and studied Educational Theatre so I could keep learning and teaching. Now I make theater for adults and young people.

As an adolescent, my favorite book was The Search for Delicious. It's about a boy who has to poll the kingdom to find what food should stand for Delicious in the royal dictionary.

One of my favorite things to do is to make things with other people. When I was a kid, my brother and I would make short movies, build forts, write stories and engineer little machines. We didn't always finish our projects, but even then we felt accomplished. I still love making things and I even keep a list of the different things I want to make -- plays, songs, puppets, lots of things! Then, when I want to start a project, I just go to the list, ask a friend if they'd like to help me, and start imagining what we could do. It's amazing what you can make if you just get started.

My name is Marisol Rosa-Shapiro. I am a theater-deviser, movement-based creator, clown, mime, performer and director.

I am a native New Yorker. After college, I went to study movement-based theater-making in Italy for three years. It was amazing--I got to live in Florence! Birthplace of the Renaissance! There, I studied movement analysis, clown, mime, martial arts, voice, acrobatic play, mask play and mask making, commedia dell'arte, tragedy, comedy, melodrama, bouffon, slapstick and much more. I completed my studies in May of 2014, and recently returned to NYC after time spent performing, facilitating and teaching in Israel and the West Bank, Jordan, Princeton and Philadelphia. It's been a delightful whirlwind!

When I was a kid I LOVED watching my VHS tape recording of Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods and also used to watch The Wizard of Oz over and over again. I guess that I was always drawn to highly imaginative and slightly dark tales.

I am so happy to be working at the New Vic and I can't wait to meet you!

My name is Sam Gold. I am an actor, puppeteer, and theater artist, though I usually just tell people that I make stuff for the stage and for screens of various sizes.

I came to New York and the New Vic by way of Southern California, where I trained as a stage actor and Corporeal Mime before receiving a Watson Fellowship to travel the world exploring different traditions of puppetry. I’m still at it because I love it! And— in large part— because a not small number of friends, family, teachers, and colleagues along the way all encouraged me to keep going, to continue training, experimenting, making, collaborating and learning from those around me.

As a kid, these were some of my favorites: Book— the Frog and Toad series. Movie— Hot Shots! Part Deux. Play— The 8th Grade Musical Review at my middle school. Activity— Legos.

I’m looking forward to sharing that special kind of excitement found in making something out of nothing and in discovering that you can do more than you thought you could.

My name is Liz Parker and I am a performer, puppeteer, deviser and community director

At my hometown High School in West Windsor, NJ, I had the opportunity to direct a play about school shootings that concluded with an audience talk-back. After witnessing the impact of the production, I knew I wanted to pursue theater and use the theatrical experience to connect with audiences beyond the performance space.

As a little kid, I was fascinated by poems and a book called Geraldine's Blanket by Holly Keller about a little pig who won't give up her security blanket even though she's too old to carry it with her. Eventually, she turns the blanket into a dress for her doll! I guess I've always appreciated object transformation.

I hope to bring joy to New Vic families.

My name is Chesney Snow. I am a beatboxer/poet/actor/songwriter/producer.

I moved around a lot as a kid so it's hard to pinpoint exactly where I'm "from," but I identify mostly with Wisconsin, Mississippi and, of course, Brooklyn!

My favorite books as a kid were the Hardy Boys series. My favorite movie was Stand By Me and my favorite activity was writing short stories and performing them.

I look forward to sharing the magic of beatbox and human vibration through storytelling at the New Vic!

My name is Josh Rice and I'm a theater artist. Specifically, I am a puppeteer, physical theater-maker, clown and improviser.

I'm originally from Silver Lake, NY, and I got to the New Victory by way of Shakespeare's Globe in London, Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY, the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre in Little Rock, AR, graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College-- all that sprinkled with some luck, working really hard, being nice, and doing what I love! I love being in NYC because it's an epicenter of arts and culture that I am constantly learning from and stimulated by. My favorite activity as a kid was playing outside, especially during the summer, because we could go swimming for hours in Silver Lake.

Something I'd like to share with kids and families is the idea that we all have an artist inside of us. We all can make, do, express and create. If I can empower an artist within someone to open up, imagine and play, then I feel like I've done my job as a teaching artist.

My name is Adia Tamar Whitaker. I am dancer, choreographer, vocalist, playwright, educator and visionary.

I am from San Francisco, California. I got to where I am today through the power of hard work, my ancestors, guardian angels, community and parents. I also made a decision not to believe anything anyone else had to say about who they think I am or should be, which has taken me far.

As a kid, The Wiz was my bible. I also loved Kindred by Octavia Butler-- it changed my life. I grew up memorizing music videos and making up dances with my friends.

As a teaching artist, I want to remind NYC kids and families that "it's a beautiful world out there," like my grandma Dot always says.

My name is Jamie Dibos Roach. I am an actor/playwright/filmmaker/physical actor.

I am originally from San Diego, California. I am here following many travels (across 6 continents) and interactions with incredible people along the way. I am here in New York to collaborate with inspiring artists, to create beautiful and fun art that asks important questions to find ways to better serve the world at large.

My favorite activity as a kid was theater! Particularly, acting. My favorite play as a kid was my first, Oliver! I loved singing out without any judgment of myself or artistic merit back then.

To families and kids, I'd like to say that I am just as much an explorer and learner as you are. I hope you can teach me things and help me to learn from your perspective, as well as allow me to share mine. I hope that we can discover new ideas together and create beautiful moments of artistry together that contain joy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview with Toby Mitchell, Director of Tall Stories' THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE

Beloved tale The Snail and the Whale arrives at the New Vic for a limited (one weekend!) engagement on October 18. Though the show is only here for two days, the tall tale of a tiny snail that's ready to travel the world is sure to make a huge impact on NYC audiences! We sat down with the show's director, Toby Mitchell, and learned a little bit more about the imaginative production.

Without giving away too much of what makes the show so special, can you describe what the challenges were of telling a story within a story?

At Tall Stories we've loved Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's fantastic story about the snail and the whale for years. The original challenge was thinking about how to put that story on stage – with those two very different characters. Reading an article about Storybook Soldiers gave us the idea of telling the story with a young daughter (representing the snail) who desperately wants to go round the world with her Royal Navy father (the whale). Then, it was a question of fitting the two stories together seamlessly and clearly, so the audience knows where they are within each one.

How were you challenged or invigorated by the idea of adapting such a beloved story? How were the authors of the book involved in your process, if at all?

This is the fourth Donaldson/Scheffler book we have adapted and we're always invigorated by their brilliant stories. When we first had the idea for how to adapt the book, we spoke to Julia about it, and while she wasn't sure how the two stories would fit together, she trusted us to work it out. She also came up with the idea of using live music. Meanwhile Axel’s fantastic pictures inspired many scenes in the show – like the ninja crabs and the penguins. Both Julia and Axel have seen the show – and enjoyed it. Phew!

I know The Snail and the Whale has played in a lot of different places. What's the process like of moving a show around like that? How does it change in each city? Or, is there a point where the whole thing is really set in stone?

The show has played around the UK, in Poland, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bermuda – as well as in Canada and the US. And it’s off to Sydney Opera House in January! It’s broadly the same in each place, but it’s never "set in stone." As with any truly live show – and especially live shows for family audiences – it changes each time, depending on how the audience reacts.

What, would you say, is the core message or take-away from the show? How do you hope kids and families leave feeling?

The core message of Julia’s story is that small things can achieve big things. The message of the show is to love stories and use your imagination. As the dad says, a good story can take you all round the world, without even leaving your room. We hope kids and families will leave feeling energized – and ready to go home to make pillow forts, tell stories and sing songs!

Can you tell us which character is a favorite, or what you love about all of them?

My favorite is the chief penguin (one of many characters played by the very imaginative dad), because he’s so grumpy, but he loves it when the audience gets his song right. And then the snail herself is so brave, so resourceful, so excited by life, that you just have to love her. Meanwhile, the narrator (the daughter as a grown-up) is our friendly guide through both stories, with her fantastic electric viola, creating all the music and sound effects herself.

If a kid or young person told you they want to be a theater director when they grow up, what advice would you have for them?

Watch a lot of theater! Read books and scripts. Think about how you would make characters and scenes come alive visually on stage. And – above all – remember that theater is different from film and television. You can tell stories brilliantly in both those media, but theater is different. Theater is live. Think about what that means. All of us – actors and audience – are in a room together experiencing a story. How does that affect the way you would tell it?

Why should New Yorkers come see The Snail and the Whale at the New Vic?

To experience two stories brought together in one show, complementing each other seamlessly. To laugh, sing and once or twice wipe away a tear. And of course, to appreciate the theater’s fantastic facilities and friendly staff!

Keep an eye out for a fun contest featuring the fearless Speedy the Snail on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on October 6. You could win a copy of the The Snail and the Whale and tickets to see the show!