Laurie Peebler first joined LA Opera as a dancer.
She performed in all four operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle spanning our company’s 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 seasons. Prior to joining LAO, Peebler’s performance background was focused on classical theater and small dance productions.
“I considered myself a Shakespeare nerd with movement experience when I auditioned for The Ring beside a mix of actors, dancers, stunt performers, circus artists and puppeteers,” Peebler explains. “The director led us through physical storytelling exercises that uniquely suited my skill set. I booked the job, my first time working in the world of opera, and it changed my life.”
After working on the Ring Cycle, Peebler went on to be featured in LA Opera’s La Cenerentola as well.
Then personal developments led to a shift in professional priorities.
“I became a mom and wanted more control over my schedule,” says Peebler. “At the same time, I hoped to stay connected to this amazing company and to feed my love of performing.”
That’s when Peebler traded late night rehearsals and day-long auditioning for working with kids as part of our Secondary In-School Opera (SISO) program.
Secondary In-School Opera, or SISO for short, is a 10-week residency for Los Angeles county secondary schools. Teaching artists, like Peebler, go into middle and high schools to lead workshops. They help prepare these young students to become an opera chorus for an age appropriate, curriculum aligned opera. At the end of the residency, students perform for their teachers, peers, and families alongside LA Opera professional singers.
Since becoming an LA Opera teaching artist in 2011, Peebler has been an assistant director for multiple operas for our community programs including SISO, Elementary In-School Opera, and the Cathedral Project.
SISO, however, remains close to her heart.
“Working with kids through SISO satisfies many things in me,” says Peebler. “It’s very much a performative experience. I really try to engage the kids while teaching. I try to put on a good show for them that then encourages them to put on a good show for their families and peers.”
Peebler’s job is all about movement.
Sometimes her work includes choreography, while other times she focuses on posture and teaching kids to be present on stage.
“Everything we do with movement is in service of the story,” discusses Peebler.
For instance, students in SISO are currently working on The White Bird of Poston.
This 47-minute original composition by Eli Villanueva is set during World War II in a Japanese internment camp on the Mojave Reservation in Arizona. It tells the story of a Japanese-American teenage girl who takes a stand against prejudice and unfair treatment of the internees. Running from the camp to escape a stern sergeant, she meets and forms a bond with a Mojave boy. Through their friendship, they help each other rediscover their cultural traditions and find the courage and confidence to move forward as leaders in an uncertain world.
The White Bird of Poston culminates in a dance that all the Japanese American prisoners take part in to bring hope back to their community and connect with their roots. Peebler teaches this dance – called the Bon Odori – to the students.
At each rehearsal, they work on the steps and gestures, but they also come to understand the cultural significance of the dance.
It is part of a Japanese cultural traditional called the Obon Festival. It is also a celebration of life, death, and honoring ancestors.
“When The White Bird of Poston was first performed, the original creative team worked with members of LA’s Japanese American community to learn about the Bon Odori, focusing not only on the elements of the dance itself, but also its cultural origins. We try as best we can to honor that knowledge when we teach the dance to the kids and when they, in turn, perform it.”
“Witnessing the transformation in some of our students is incredible,” says Peebler.
“There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a young person who was initially shy about opera beam with pride after a performance.”
She continues, “And it’s a wonderful experience to teach with the power of LA Opera behind you. The company’s strong support of our mission is evident in the number of students we reach and the caliber of work we are able to produce.”
To learn more about SISO and our other community programs, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.