Give a ten-year-old math student a tape measure and she might grow up to become the next great set designer. LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement Department knows that a lifelong fascination with the arts can take root one inch, one shoe box or one classroom at a time.
While many of the company’s outreach programs involve youngsters singing alongside professional artists, LA Opera’s recent initiative, Elementary In-School Opera PLUS (EISO+), does so with a twist—it creates additional opportunities for students to use their math, engineering and design skills to create stage magic.
Thanks to support from The Boeing Company, LA Opera has created a stage design workshops at six elementary schools. The EISO+ program is an extension of the company’s long-running in-school residencies, in which students team up with professional artists to learn and perform an opera for their classmates, family and community. In ten weeks, 4th and 5th graders read and analyze the libretto of an opera, learn their parts as members of the chorus and finally perform onstage with professional artists, lights and sets.
EISO+ enhances the existing performance residency and incorporates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) project-based learning. The students come together in teams to complete set design projects. These cross-curricular activities help them gain the skills to: accurately measure their school’s performance spaces, convert the measurements, and scale those dimensions for their shoe box model of the set. With this information they develop a set design that fulfills the physical requirements of the opera (such as different levels and entry/exit points), incorporates a specified set of materials, colors and scenery pieces, and meets detailed budget constraints. Each team then constructs a shoe box set model which they present to the entire class, explaining their design choices. Oh, and did we mention these kids also learn all about opera, including reading the libretto (or script) and listening to the music to inform their designs.
Once completed, the models are exhibited before and during the in-school performances.
At a time when many schools are challenged to introduce STEAM learning into their curriculum, LA Opera offers an inventive way to engage young people. EISO+ exposes students to the idea that careers in the arts involve more than performing; they can call upon engineering and mathematics skills, along with creativity and imagination. The set design workshops promote problem solving, teamwork and interpersonal skills, showing once again that LA Opera is greater than the sum of its arts.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.