Early in the fall, when fourth graders at the Springs School were brainstorming ideas for their annual opera, which they would conceive, write, and ultimately perform next week, they had to look no farther than the end of School Street.
There, students were watching and learning from an ambitious East Hampton Town project to restore Pussy’s Pond, enhance its ecosystems, and establish a small park on its shores. “They found that material engaging enough, that in their extra time, it was just kind of on their minds,” said Meghan Lydon, the fifth-grade teacher who is coordinating the opera program for the first time this year.
The project became the inspiration for “Beyond the Duck Pond,” which the 75 Watch Us Live Opera Company will open on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Guild Hall, with additional shows next Thursday at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and Friday, Jan. 27, at 9 a.m.
The story, explained Lily Griffin, a student stagehand, “is about these two students who go through a portal into future Springs.” There, they warn the people they meet that some of their habits, like feeding bread to the ducks at Pussy’s Pond, are unhealthy, both for the ducks and for the pond.
“This actually teaches a lesson to the kids in the younger grades,” said Janpol Munzon, a performer who plays Mr. Quackers, the owner of a big bread company whose last name made him the target of childhood bullying and led to a lifelong resentment of ducks. “It starts in the present, goes into the future, and then back to the present.”
Working after school with a team of teachers and other adults, students developed the story, wrote the songs and script, created the costumes, sets, and makeup design, and even handled public relations. There are 20 or so performers, and over 50 more who do all the hard work it takes to mount a full-scale production.
This is the 20th year that the school’s fourth graders have presented an original “opera” — actually more of a straight-up musical that had its roots two decades ago in the Metropolitan Opera’s Creating Original Opera program for schools. The performance has become a cornerstone of the fourth-grade experience at Springs. This year, every one of the 75 or so fourth graders (the number has fluctuated since the school year began) has a part to play in the production, Continued from A1
be it onstage or behind the scenes.
“We told them all the responsibilities of the different positions in the production,” Ms. Lydon explained. “Everyone picked their top three choices, and everyone got one of their top two choices.”
James Moret, a stagehand, thinks he would like to have that job in another production some day; he likes being able to go on stage during scene changes and see the audience while they cannot see him.
“In this show, there is an emphasis on more child-created content, getting more students involved in costume and makeup,” said Angelina Modica, a music teacher who is the production’s musical director. Being involved in so many aspects of the show “gives them so much more ownership of it,” she said. “They really care about it.”
“A lot of these kids have never been on stage before,” said Ashley Dellapolla, a third-grade teacher who shares directing responsibilities with Amanda Waleko, a second-grade teacher. “They’ve never felt what it’s like to perform.”
“They’ve taken the initiative to learn their lines, learn the lyrics. They really come focused and prepared,” Ms. Waleko said.
“They’re bringing everything they’ve got to it,” Ms. Lydon said.
“This is our moment,” said Angie Guaman, who plays one of four ducks and also helps out with public relations.
The company began rehearsals in November and started working on the Guild Hall stage last week. In the hallway outside the theater on Tuesday, Angie and her fellow ducks — Aileen Jimenez, Alejandra Jimenez, and Amanda Barros — practiced their big number, a cha-cha, for a visitor. All four like to sing and dance, but Amanda said she “wasn’t planning to be a performer” at first — “I got nervous, but I wanted to help the dancers,” she said — but she had experience from classes she had taken at Dancehampton. In the end, she was bitten by the performance bug, but she also enjoys her other job working with the costume team.
Asked what was the most fun about the production, Aileen said, “There’s a lot to choose from, but I think it’s when everyone gets together and sings ‘Beyond the Duck Pond.’ ”
“When you act, you’ve got to bring the character to life, and it makes me happy because ever since I was little, I always used to sing for my family,” Alejandra said. “It makes me think, ‘When I grow up, should I be a singer?’ ”
“I became a performer because it sounded interesting. . . . And I wanted to make my mom proud,” Janpol said. He has a solo that will surely do that.
All told, there are 12 or 13 songs in the production, some for just a few performers and several for the full cast. Caleigh Barletta, who helped compose songs and plays a talking dog named Spot, said she liked one called “Welcome to My Wonderful Town” because she got to be onstage with her twin sister. Her favorite is “Pollution Solution,” a rap.
Kyril Bromley, who has worked with the opera for most of its years, composed the arrangements and plays piano for the production. John Gibbons, another Springs music teacher, plays guitar. Alex de Havenon, a Springs art teacher, and Lisa Weston, an artist, headed up the student team of set designers, and Tracy Larkin, a family and consumer sciences teacher, oversaw costume and makeup design.
Sue Ellen O’Connor, who was in charge of the program from its inception, no longer teaches at the school, and Colleen McGowan, an art teacher who worked in tandem with her, is not directly involved this year.
“I think we tried to stay with the heart of the program that was established,” Ms. Modica said.
“We’ve developed a really great team,” Ms. Dellapolla said.
“We try to keep everything as student-driven as we can,” Ms. Lydon said. Even though the work is done outside the classroom, the “project-based learning experience . . . does kind of mirror what they do in school.”
“It’s a special moment that every child should have in their life at some point,” Ms. Dellapolla said. Since September, she has watched the fourth graders grow into their roles as writers, performers, and crew members. “It’s been pretty great to see that change and that dynamic. It’s why I became a teacher in the first place — to make a change and create a great experience for the kids.”