A summer theatre course with a difference

Opera Holloway will present its Gingerbread Project, a chance for 12- to 15-year-olds to perform alongside a professional cast at Toynbee Studios, in July and August.

Sitting down with Lewis Gaston, the Music Director of Opera Holloway, I’m intrigued to find out why is he’s so excited about this summer’s project. It’s Opera Holloway’s seventh opera in four years, and what sounds like its biggest project yet.

Louise: Opera Holloway was formed in 2009, but this year you gained charitable status—why is that?

Lewis: Opera Holloway’s focus has always been broader than simply putting on a show, initially we set up the company to provide opportunities for talented young singers who find themselves in a catch 22 at the beginning of their careers. They require stage time to improve, but can’t get a role without already having that experience on their CVs as most companies are unwilling to take a risk.

Callie Swarbrick is our Education Co-ordinator, and she was keen to take opera, as a performing art, into schools where many children have no idea what opera really is. We won various awards to help facilitate our education projects, including Waitrose Music Matters Grant, and we’ve run a host of workshops in collaborations with schools and classes in the holidays.

Our charitable status recognises our continuing pledge to take opera to new people with relevant and contemporary productions and performed in our own English translations.

Louise: How young are the children you’ve worked with?

Lewis: We’ve held workshops for 6-year-olds, up to 16-year-olds. We’ve also run workshops with adult choirs, teaching an opera chorus and getting them acting in a concert. As long as the music chosen is safe and appropriate for young voices, it’s a really fun genre to work in at any age.

Louise: Opera isn’t usually considered the most thrilling or accessible art form…

Lewis: I agree that is the usual opinion by people who have never been to see a professional opera, but even by people who have tried it and who don’t particularly enjoy it, I am certain there are operas they would love. When we start with the younger children, they have no preconceptions, and they throw themselves in. They get to sing, act and perform all at once—the firm favourite with all the children is the "Soldier’s Chorus" from Carmen.

Louise: What’s on the cards for this summer?

Lewis: This year we’re working on our Gingerbread Project, a three-phase operation working on Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. We started rehearsals with our extremely talented cast at the beginning of May, and having heard them all, it sounds like this will be our best show to date.

Callie: What are the three phases of the project?

Lewis: Our team will offer a three-day workshop at a London location to children of aged 12 to 15 during the first week of the school summer holidays. Following the workshop sessions, we will stage two full performances of the opera at a Toynbee Studios, incorporating the the workshop participants. Finally we have to leave the children behind, as we will be taking the production to the Edinburgh Fringe where we are staging a two-week run in the Space Surgeon’s Hall.

Louise: Twenty-five teenagers and only three days to learn the parts—is it possible?

Lewis: Absolutely—it’s amazing how quickly children can learn. There will also be scheduled singing coaching and acting and movement workshops. It doesn’t matter whether the participants have done anything like this before; they just need to enjoy performing or need to be given the confidence to perform.

Louise: I’m sure many teenagers would love to take part in a professional production but is it really accessible to the local community?

Lewis: Anyone can take part, as we have had a number of donations ensuring there will be full and part bursary places available. The full fee is also only £115, for the whole project as our workshop leaders are donating their teaching time. The fee covers the unavoidable costs of theatre hire, insurance etc.

Louise: Are there spaces left?

Lewis: Currently, but they are starting to book up quickly. If you’re interested please do get in contact at [email protected], or take a look at our web site. We really do want anyone who’s interested to be able to join in, so no matter what your financial situation is please do get in contact.

The workshop runs from Tuesday 30 July to Thursday 1 August 10AM to 4PM with performances on 2-3 August at 7PM. See www.operaholloway.co.uk for details.