Giving Opera “Campers” the tools to engage in their communities is one of the important missions of LA Opera’s Opera Camp, an annual three-week intensive where youth from all around Los Angeles gather to sing, dance and learn how to tackle deeper social issues using the power of music and acting. Last week, we enjoyed the culminating performances of our 2018 session with The White Bird of Poston and The Prospector. Though we spent ample time teaching the kids about opera, we also took the time to teach our LA Opera Teaching Artists as well.
Last month before LA Opera welcomed more than 70 campers, ranging from ages 9 to 17, staff members spent some time together on July 23, 2018 for a Professional Development Day to deepen their understanding of the themes explored in this year’s productions, which include friendship, cultural traditions and history during a period of fear and the unknown, and self-expression.
Stacy Brightman, Vice President, Education and Community Engagement, emphasizes the importance of professional development as a process of deepening the staff’s understanding and knowledge of these themes and the mission of LA Opera and Opera camp.
“In our mission statement, we say that we will produce ‘world-class opera.’ We think about what that means all the time: how do we define ‘world-class’ and how can we be ‘world-class’ for our artists, our audiences and our community?” says Brightman. “In order to be the best we can be in service to our community and audiences, we need to continually strive to expand our skills, our understanding and our aspirations through professional development.”
Opera Camp offers students all around LA County a platform to express themselves, and also to learn about the positives of awareness, kindness and self-expression. In years past, camp participants have explored various historical moments, some not always easy to tackle, such as the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement and the imprisonment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.
The Professional Development Day began with a visit from Heidi Duckler of Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (HDDT), a dance company creating site-specific performances, or shows that use the unique landscape and environment specific to a location, that provide not only learning opportunities but engage a variety of diverse communities through the power of dance. The LAO staff not only learned how to better connect with themselves by expressing their names through movements, but also how to take simple everyday elements — such as a desk chair — and transform them into a story. Duckler’s main message being that movement and dance is a positive way to transform the world and learn how to be authentic individuals who are comfortable in their own skin.
The program segued with Mary Hedra of Facing History, an organization that provides educators with tools and presentation methods for tackling important, and sometimes difficult, pieces of history. Hedra spoke about the power of restorative social justice and its role in history and presented stories of individuals who played powerful roles from a young age standing up for their beliefs during the World-War II period.
Her presentation focused on what it means to be an active and engaged citizen no matter an individual’s age, background or education. Hedra spoke of the value of “having a deep understanding of stories and history and how each individual has a unique power of making connections and uniting individuals through story-telling.”
Eden Luna of the Los Angeles LGBT Center provided insight on the important role that the center plays in the Los Angeles community and helped educate participants on how to be prepared, respectful and correct in terms of terminology and pronouns when addressing people.
“Using correct pronouns the first and most simple way of showing respect towards an individual,” said Luna.
The message of respect is one of Opera Camp’s main principals. When someone is referred to by wrong pronouns, it can feel invalidating, embarrassing or even triggering to that individual. The best way to know what pronouns a person prefers is simply to ask, because respecting using an individual’s pronouns is one of the easiest ways of being inclusive and showing support.
Brightman added: “The ability to host these three individuals and allow them to help us deepen our knowledge of the themes explored [shows] how fortunate we are to live in a county with amazing partner organizations who are willing to share their expertise and let us be students.”
The ability to partake in these events and collaborate with such amazing community partners as professionals is not only beneficial to strengthen our impact as professionals, but provides us with a deeper understanding of the world around us and gives us tools to help make a positive impact on the greater Los Angeles community. With the continued growth of Opera Camp, we hope to not only educate the campers and Teaching Artists with important these social issues, but also the public as well.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.