Tag Archive for Eva

Is the Witch Always Evil?

At the start of my lyric writing process with the Humperdincks this year, I had some ideas I thought would be great ways to invite their literary voices out to play. With the right prompt or writing cue, I was certain I could tap into an inexhaustible supply of excellent, silly, original material. Is the witch always evil? Do the owls have to sleep in a nest? What kind of food would King Giraffe serve to his guests?

But asking my students, for example, to use a pencil on a piece of paper to write about emotions and relationships and the contours of a character’s personality (complicated and nuanced stuff for any writer to tackle) was like making a beeline for the most recognizable thing on the landscape — the ordinary ways of describing something: good, bad, sad, scared. That meant there were few detours on the way to the hive. It was a good start, useful in gathering momentum, but ultimately too circumscribed.

This is not to say that commonplace means uninteresting; it just means more obvious. I was being too technical with my expectations, too literal for the little ones. I also realized it wasn’t exactly “freeing” for the kids to write spontaneously when every other word represented a new spelling puzzle they had to solve.

I believe writing is an interactive art: what we write has to come from somewhere, has to have its root in some place, even when we write about something unprecedented, wild or unfamiliar to us. It demands that we act and interact, and engage dynamically with a story.

Zeke Acting Mouth Open

And oddly enough, acting has always been a kind of writing for me. It allows the chance to inhabit a space with more possibilities than are apparent when you’re just staring at a blank page. What I didn’t think about till a little later, humbled by my students’ honest responses to my “brilliant” invocations (“Miss Eva, this is boring”), is that inspiration doesn’t appear because we ask it to, or even when we ask the right question, necessarily. It happens when we are connected, when we are communicating with our experience of something, and letting it dictate to us.

I decided to give the kids an opportunity to “walk around” in our opera first, and connect with it from a place that relied less on their ability to match cause to effect and more on their instinct to stretch the truth. I introduced acting games that gave the kids a means to expand their view of what the characters in our opera might be thinking and feeling, anticipating and dreaming about.

Beginning the process of writing lyrics to our dramatic moments by first enacting those moments proved a perfect segue. After that, the kids were more eager to playfully push against the traditional ways to tell a story with language. At that point, metaphors came out to play, as did wacky rhymes and funny poems. I realized, too, that I could assume the role of scribe, while they could write by doing — acting, drawing, dancing, singing — and leave the perfect spelling to me.

– By Eva Langman
Lead Teaching Artist 2014-2015

True Stories

Children are full of stories. At least three times during every class, we’ll listen to a passionate digression about an exciting moment from their week, or a funny thing that happened involving a slide and a shoe. Stories are an integral part of what shapes our understanding of the world: the way we string together what we see colors our sense of belonging and our relationships to one other. And I’ve noticed that at a certain age, kids are poised at a precipice where they are concerned with being able to properly tell the “real- life” stories that surround them. They want their apples to fall close to the tree, because that is the truth of apples, and children are learning that the truth is one of the most significant virtues. As they grow to value that, it’s no surprise they want to show others that they do.

The first step in the process of story creation at Little Opera has been to honor the children’s appetite for talking about the ordinary, everyday stuff, and to creatively explore their roles in the many contexts and communities they are daily members of. It’s an important responsibility to be yourself, isn’t it? And it is understandably a source of pride for our kids to want to express themselves by starting at the source: sharing stories with each other about the things they feel and know.

Story brainstorm - H 10.1.14

Once we are more comfortable being ourselves, and can relish in that expression — “This is me! Here I am!” — our fantasies are free to run wild and we start to tell bigger stories with more features and less constraints. This is the part of story writing where we ask kids to answer the “never-ending whys,” since even in the highest realms of our imagination, there must be causes and reasons for things, however silly or strange; there must be an internal logic to it all. And in this process of getting at the “truth” of our tale, exploring its themes and characters, desires and consequences, we grow new skins — which can include feathers and scales, of course.

– By Eva Langman
Lead Teaching Artist 2014-2015

Planning for the Future Depends So Much on Looking Back

That’s why the first thing we did when our group of Little Opera educators and artists gathered to discuss the upcoming season was to re-member together, to summon pieces of the past into the moment as a way of shedding light on the road we’ve traveled.

Oh, it’s been an exciting road, that’s for certain. Contemplating the work we’ve done added not only momentum for envisioning what comes next, it also reminded us of our unique perspective as both artists and educators.

The specific overlap of these roles is a fertile ground. We asked ourselves, “What are the main tenets of our artistic discipline that are vital to teaching it?“

We pondered this question individually for some time. In dance and choreography, it is important to cultivate a comfort in one’s body, an alignment with one’s range of motion. In theatre, spontaneity is key, the opening into worlds of possibility by saying “Yes!” to whatever comes. Singing and composing hinges on one’s connection to melody, one’s relationship with the voice as instrument. Writing involves trust in one’s imagination and an awareness of the elements of story.

These are ingredients we have been throwing into the pot from the first day, deepening our own literacy in these fields through teaching and practicing, honing and adapting — and in no small part, learning from the kids themselves.

But the one thing that earned overwhelming consensus as the creative epicenter for all our disciplines was the element of empathy.

When can we say we “know” something? When we’ve felt it. When we’ve “tried it on” and been moved by it — literally, physically, emotionally. Empathy expands our repertoire as human beings, and strengthens our role as members of an ensemble, artistic or otherwise.

Empathy is an art. And cultivating our capacity to empathize with a wide range of experience is one of the main pillars to teaching anything, really. Specifically, empathy is at the heart of storytelling and performance because it allows us to come closer to the unfamiliar, to stretch our understanding of our own and others’ inner lives, in a way that makes us more adept at sharing our lives in meaningful ways.

And we cannot wait for the sharing to start!

— By Eva Langman
Lead Teaching Artist 2014-2015