A Sea Womp Romps In, Is Sighted Onstage

A troupe of 61 Springs students bring opera to the masses with “The Tale of Sea Womp” at Guild Hall today and tomorrow.
A troupe of 61 Springs students bring opera to the masses with “The Tale of Sea Womp” at Guild Hall today and tomorrow. Morgan McGivern

    What, exactly, is a sea womp?
    It’s a sea monster that has blown into Accabonac Creek with plenty of attitude, wreaking havoc with the local flora and fauna, and it is the brainchild of the Springs School’s fourth grade.
    Last night the Super Fun 61 Opera Company (composed of 61 fourth graders) brought the curtain up on “The Tale of Sea Womp” at Guild Hall to a packed and appreciative audience.
    This foray into the land reserved — at least in the minds of most elementary school students — for rousing renditions of “Kill the Wabbit” was begun by Sue Ellen O’Connor and Colleen McGowan, two art teachers at Springs, 15 years ago, after Ms. O’Connor became aware of a Metropolitan Opera program called Creating Original Opera.
    “They offered to train teachers,” Ms. O’Connor said when she sat down for a few minutes on Sunday during the dress rehearsal at Guild Hall. There wasn’t the time or money that first year to send anybody to the program. There was, however, a manual describing the finer points of putting on a full-scale opera with children. “We went by the book,” she said with a smile. “We did it cold.”
    It started with a rumor: “The Rumor,” the first opera produced in the school’s commons room, was a collaboration by the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades.
    Ms. O’Connor loved the program right from the get-go. “I saw students empowered and excited,” she said. “I had never seen anything like it before.”
    The fourth grade is in charge of the creative process from beginning to end, from soup to nuts, from the first line written to the last bow taken. The students come up with the idea, write the play, design the sets and costumes and the lighting and sound, generate the program, and manage sales and promotions. “It’s authentic education,” Ms. O’Connor said.
    There are, of course, some adults involved. This year, in addition to Ms. O’Connor, the staff includes Eileen Goldman, Kate Rabinowitz, Margaret Thompson, and Lisa Weston, with music provided by Kyril Bromley and John Gibbons.
    But it is about, and for, the kids. More than 600 students have participated in the opera program over the past decade and a half, and it has become a part of the Springs School tradition.
    “The kids from kindergarten on know about the opera,” Ms. O’Connor said. “They’re excited in advance — ‘Oh, my sister was in that one,’ ‘I saw that one last year.’ The standard has become very high.”
    Sure enough, Ally Friedman, who plays an electric eel, said she is looking forward to it. “I saw my sister do it a couple of years ago.”
    Colin Freedman is playing the part of a snapper. He said he enjoyed the writing process, although he was a little nervous about the impending opening night. “But I’m excited to do it,” he said.
    Jeremy Vizcayno, the flounder, was flip-flopping for a while. “I did want to do it, I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “Finally, I did want to.” He is especially excited about the fourth-grade trip to the Met in February, when the students will get a chance to see a performance of “Aida.”
    This year’s production is chock-full of local references and humor. “One character says, ‘I’ve been all the way to Louse Point and back,’ ” Ms. O’Connor said. She hopes the students come away from the experience “feeling that they can do almost anything,” she said, “and with a love of theater.”
    There are two performances today, at 9:30 and 10:45 a.m., and tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. The shows are free, and the public has been invited to attend.