This past weekend, fifty-three children and teens took a stand through art. LA Opera’s summer opera camp performed, Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle at Barnsdall Theatre Gallery in Hollywood. With scenes from four operas promoting themes of social justice, campers showcased not only their talent, but also their desire to create a better world.Saturday’s first show began with a talk to the campers by Holocaust survivor, Ela Weissberger, who played the cat in Brundibár (one of the operas in the cycle), during her imprisonment at Terezín in 1943. She spoke to the children about how fortunate they are to be free and have the opportunity to experience this kind of camp. Ela also wished the children well, stating, “The greatest talent you have is to be a good person and to help each other.”
Following Weissberger’s talk, the campers gave a performance that left little doubt of their great talent and passion for social justice. One of the most powerful moments occurred during a scene from Eli Villanueva and Leslie Stevens’ The White Bird of Poston. Fifteen-year old Akiko (Katie Lee) has just escaped from the government run internment camp, where she and her fellow Japanese Americans are being kept during World War II. She longs to roam free, but does not want to leave her family and people behind. During this brief moment, the spirit of Akiko’s grandmother (Elyse Johnson) sings to her about the importance of faith and family, rejuvenating Akiko. It gives her the courage to fight against her prejudice circumstances, become a shining light in the community, and take a stand towards those who seek to dim her light.
Other scenes were taken from the operas Friedl, Brundibár, and Then I Stood Up. In Friedl, campers sang about the titular art teacher, who dared to give children the beauty of art in the darkest moments of concentration camp imprisonment. Brundibár saw children rise up against a man who shunned their young voices. Finally, in Then I Stood Up, a fifteen-year-old African-American girl named Claudette refused to give up her bus seat, nine months before Rosa Parks would do the same.
Yet, opera camp is about much more than a final performance. It’s about the experiences shared by a community of young artists in the two weeks leading up to the show. These kids come together and learn to take a stand for what they believe in. There’s nothing more beautiful.
Click here for an Opera Camp 2015 photo diary.