Even though our children’s touring opera, The Billy Goats Gruff is done for the season, we thought we’d extend the fun a little longer! To give some background, a key component of this program is providing a question-and-answer session with the singers and accompanist following the performance, to give students a glimpse ‘behind the curtain’ and the chance to learn more about opera, singing, and the performing arts.
To give you a taste of what a student q&a session is often like, enjoy the following questions, submitted by first grade students at St. Marcus, and the answers by our Studio Artists.
Denaijah asks: Why was the sign spelled wrong?
Erica Schuller: The signs were spelled wrong because the bully wrote them. In the bully’s first song he says that he doesn’t need to go to school to “learn a lot of really stupid stuff.” He thinks he knows enough already. But since he doesn’t go to school the way you do, he doesn’t really know how to spell the words correctly. Luckily, at the end, he realized that he “has a lot of work to do, especially in spelling!”
Jameel asks: How did the bridge break?
Julia Elise Hardin: Well, there are a lot of people you don’t to meet on the tour, one of them is the set designer, and we were lucky to work with a designer from First Stage Children’s Theater. The Set Designer reads the play or opera, then decides what he/she thinks the stage would look like, what the character’s environment would be, then they figure out how to draw and build it.
Our designer knew we had to have the bridge break over and over, without damaging anything. On the back, like the front, there is a top railing and a bottom railing, But unlike the front side, the ones in the back attach only fully to one side. The top piece only has one medal rod that fits into the slanted railing piece and it can swing open since it is only resting on the opposite side. The bottom piece has a hinge, and then a piece a Velcro on the other side. So both of the pieces can swing open like a door when Scott (the bully) needed to “fall off the bridge”. Scott bumps it with his hip and both parts, the top and the bottom, swing open and he jumps off making it look like he fell!
Aaliyah asks: How did you know that you were the right actors for the parts?
Scott Johnson: The composer of the opera (the person that wrote the show and put it all together) decided what voice types (Bass, Soprano, Tenor, Alto) he wanted to sing each part. Then, the casting director (the person who hires the singers to perform in the show), looked for people with the voice types that the composer decided upon for each character. These are two important steps that are taken before any opera or musical performance is seen by an audience-it would have sounded pretty funny if out tenor Matt had tried to sing the part that was written for a soprano!
Jordan asks: Why did the bully shake?
Matthew Richardson: When we are up on the stage we have the excellent opportunity to get to pretend to be other people. You may have done that before when you were at home pretending to be a ninja or a doctor. When Scott, the actor pretending to the bully, was shaking, he was showing that the character was upset after he fell off the bridge.
Rachel asks: How did you take the bridge apart?
Julia Elise Hardin: We have to take the set into a lot of different places, so the Set Designer knew it had to be in as many pieces so that we could take it apart and put it back together. The bridge comes apart into 10 pieces: 2 stair pieces that attach with bolts underneath, 4 slanted railings that fit into the stair pieces, 2 top railings and the 2 smaller railings below those that fit into the slanted parts. They all kind of go together like a big puzzle! We can fit all of them into our van like a puzzle too!
Tyler asks: How did you put the bridge back together?
Scott Johnson: We are very lucky to work with a group called First Stage Children’s Theater, who built the set for us. The set designer came up with a really cool way to make the bridge come apart into10 different pieces, both so we can fit the set in our van and take the show with us to lots of different schools, and so we can make it look like the Bully breaks the bridge every time he falls off of it. In this case, the back section of the bridge was made kind of like a door. The top piece is connected to the rest of the bridge by a long metal rod that allows the railing to swing back and forth, and the bottom piece is on a hinge and connected to the other side with velcrow. That way all Scott has to do is nudge the railings with his hip and they open up, and we can then put it all back together just like new!
Diego asks: How did the troll not get hurt when he was pushed off the bridge?
Erica Schuller: In the story, the bully fell off the bridge accidentally when he and Lucy are wrestling for the doll. However, in the performance, everything you saw us do for you was carefully rehearsed so that no one would get hurt. We also had some help from our set designer, who made the back of the bridge to swing open like a gate or a door, so all Scott had to do was nudge the back pieces with his leg and they swung open for him. Scott practiced very hard to make sure that he could jump off the bridge safely. Since he’s so tall the jump isn’t very far for him. As actors, we sometimes have to do things that look scary on stage, but our first priority is making sure that everything we do is safe and comfortable for us. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.
Ashley asks: What did you use to show the swamp?
Matthew Richardson: Since we couldn’t bring in a real swamp, we used a piece of blue fabric under the bridge to help us pretend.
Brendan asks: Did it hurt when the troll fell?
Erica Schuller: No, it didn’t hurt when the bully fell. Scott was able to jump down safely off of the bridge, but because he’s such a good actor he made it look a lot scarier than it actually was. We practice very hard to make sure everything we do on stage is safe.
Jaelyn asks: How did you learn to say the same words at the same time?
Scott Johnson: Just like you might go home and practice your math or go to basketball practice, we go home and we practice singing. In fact, just like your teachers went to college to learn how to be good teachers, we all went to college to learn how to sing better. One of the things we learned as we studied music was how to sing at the same time as other people. To be a professional singer, you need to practice singing and learn for many years. In fact, those of us who have studied all the way through graduate school are in about 21st grade, with most of that time spent practicing singing!
Ameree asks: Why did we use the black thing to cover up the side of the bridge?
Julia Elise Hardin: When we first got the set and started working with our director, we didn’t have the black piece of cloth, the Designer didn’t originally design the set to include it. We realized that you could see the bully hiding behind the bridge, and it’s much more fun if it’s a surprise when he come out for the fist time. Adding the black cloth helped with that! That way, if you were sitting in front of the bridge you might not know that he was back there till he comes out at the beginning. It also allowed us to hide the bully’s signs that come out at the end of the Opera.
Julionna asks: Was the troll really a bully in real life?
Matthew Richardson: In real life, Scott, the singer who pretended to be the bully, is not mean at all. He was just acting like he was so that we could tell the story.
Josh asks: How did you get the piano and set to our school?
Julia Elise Hardin: The set all comes to each performance in a large van that has no seats in the back. The set pieces are all fit just right in the back so they don’t move around a lot when Casey (our tour manager) is driving. We worked really hard to find the perfect arrangement of each piece so that everything would arrive to each show in great condition, since this is the only set we get! The costumes and Lucy D (the doll) travel in the back of the Van too, though sometimes Lucy gets to ride up front. The piano was already at your school! Sometimes we bring an electric keyboard with us, which travels in the van if we need it. It would be pretty crazy to have to drive around a grand piano to each show! Not to mention heavy. I’m really glad we have a keyboard!
Sanaa asks: why was the bully being mean to everyone?
Matthew Richardson: Well, the bully was being mean because he really wanted to have more friends, but no one had taught him how to make friends. He thought it was easier to be mean than to be nice to the other billy goats. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and the other goats didn’t want to be his friend until he had learned his lesson that “kindness is contagious!”
Jaiah asks: Did the girl really like the doll?
Erica Schuller: Have you ever had a stuffed animal or action figure that you really loved to play with? The character Lucy in the play loves her doll in the same way. It’s her favorite toy – the one she loves most. So in the show, yes, Lucy loves the doll very much. In real life the actress, Erica, does not love the doll in the same way. But as actors, we have to pretend to feel things we don’t always feel in real life…just like if you play make-believe games at home.