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Something Else: Delta Academies Opera Program

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Forget everything you know about the word “opera.” That’s what Paige Hansen had to do when watching the Vancouver Opera’s presentation of Stickboy.

Stickboy is a book by Shane Koyczan set to a libretto opera and paired with visual effects on the stage with music that has pop culture overtones of music from the late ’80s or early ’90s.

“I sat in the audience and at first I was skeptical about taking the work of a slam poem and putting it to music,” recalls Paige. “And then after a while I was like, this is amazing. I was blown away.”

A former teacher of theatre for 18 years in high schools that included South Delta Secondary, Paige is now the district’s vice-principal of academy and choice programs in Delta and the catalyst behind a new high school arts program partnered with Vancouver Opera.

The goal is to register children in grades 8-12 from Delta secondary schools for enrolment in classes set to begin in September, 2016.

“I’m thrilled that I get to be in a school district that is creating more options and choices for students because ultimately that’s what it’s all about,” says Paige, adding this is the only partnership between an opera company and school district in North America.
SOMETHING ELSE…
But as she tells the story, the true credit for the idea belongs to Tsawwassen resident and director of education and community engagement for the Vancouver Opera, Colleen Maybin who wanted to collaborate with a school district to teach kids about opera.

“We started thinking, man, it would be extraordinary if we could somehow work with the Vancouver Opera,” she recalls.

Students will watch the Vancouver Opera, earn credits toward graduation, work with master teachers, write their own opera and will even get to perform at the end of the year in full costume with an orchestra.

“It’s pretty awesome to think that we could introduce a 15-year-old to the professional theatre world.”

But it’s not just about opera. Paige says this opens up a whole world of careers from set and costume design to hair and makeup, writing, music marketing, etc. The list literally goes on and on.

Surely the question now is whether kids will like something as grandiose as opera? Paige disagrees.

“I don’t think the question is, ‘Will kids like opera?’ I think the question is, ‘Do we understand what opera is?’ And I don’t think we do.”

Paige admits she is fairly new to opera herself, despite her nearly two decades in musical theatre. And when most people think of the word “opera” they immediately think of the famous helmet horns of the valkyrie Brunnhilde in Richard Wagner’s opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.

That, or Bugs Bunny in Kill Da Wabbit with Elmer Fudd.

“There is, however, a bit of a “pink elephant in the room”, as Paige puts it. “Kids can’t sing opera. Physiologically they don’t have the ability to sing opera yet. So what they would be getting from the Vancouver Opera is classical music training.”

That training just might launch a career in anything from music to the arts and beyond.

Registration for the program opened in February. Contact deltaacademies.ca for more info.

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