Students' night at the opera Composers: Students at Colgate Elementary in Baltimore County have written an opera on the perils of drug abuse and peer pressure.

June 06, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Hey kids, let's put on a show!

And let's not settle for some tried-and-true play -- let's write our own script and compose a score. Let's rig the lights and build the sets, then work the phones to drum up publicity.

It will be a night at the opera -- staged by a troupe of fourth-graders.

The youngsters are from southeastern Baltimore County's Colgate Elementary School, where more than 60 students -- with help from the renowned Metropolitan Opera -- created a work called "The Mix-Matched Friendship." Their parable of peer pressure, innocence and vice opens a two-show run with a world premiere tonight.

Mike Amoss, a freckled 10-year-old who is assistant production manager, explained the plot while preparing for a dress rehearsal: "It's about these bad guys and good guys. The bad guys do drugs and all, and the good guys try to stop them. All of them go to a drug rehab center at the end."

Lacy Bright, who helped write the 31-page script, described the play's message: "Drugs mess up your mind and make you hurt yourself and other people's feelings."

Other topics, including the environment, were considered but rejected, said teacher Mary Gabriel. The students, who come from working-class neighborhoods near Eastpoint Mall, wanted to write about the daily pressures presented by drugs and guns.

"I was amazed at the knowledge they had of different types of drugs," said Gabriel. Recall-ing the script's early drafts, she added, "We really cut a lot of the violence out. It was very, very violent."

Last summer, Gabriel and school music teacher Diana Ciccotelli attended a workshop presented by New York's Metropolitan Opera Guild. Representatives from the opera company's education department provided a blueprint covering all aspects of creating an opera.

"Our teachers deserve some credit for exploring an opportunity like this and bringing it to the kids," said Clinton Marshall, coordinator of music for county schools. "The easy thing to do, if you want to put on a show, is to pull out a book and find a play."

The Creating Original Opera program has been popular in New York and New Jersey in recent years and is used in 700 schools in 18 countries, said David Dik, program director for the guild's education department. The program not only exposes youngsters to the art form, but allows children to identify and apply their strengths in a team effort, he said.

"Kids are going to gravitate to the kind of job that works best with how they learn," Dik said. "They have the most authentic work experience there is."

At Colgate, the students auditioned for roles and applied for jobs in a production company dubbed the Sweet Opera Treat.

Local businesses donated paint and hardware. Students picked up tips during trips to the theater department at Dundalk Community College. They were visited by Clark Johnson, a star of the television series "Homicide: Life On the Street."

Everyone in the opera company knows his role -- and knows that if he doesn't come through, the entire process can be derailed. On Monday morning, one crew made up the actors' faces and sprayed their hair, while another group worked on the program. Another crew applied final paint.

On the school's cafetorium stage, the "bad guys" (actually two boys and two girls) joined in song: "We are sneaky and mad, anger and confusion are in the air. We upset our friends, and we don't care."

But the lyrics from another song, "Thoughts of Anticipation," best convey the opera's message about peer pressure:

"We feel very nervous to meet our friends tonight. Their choices may be wrong. Our concern is very strong."

The "Mix-Matched Friendship" will be performed at 7 p.m. today and tomorrow at Colgate Elementary School, Gough and 51st streets. Admission is free. Information: 887-7010.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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