Friday, May 24, 2024

Shaldon Festival Outreach 2011

English Touring Opera: Beyond the Door of the Den

Children with leader in workshop
Beyond the Den photo

Supported by funding from D’Oyly Carte, The Shaldon Singers, Teignmouth Town Council, The Helen Foundation and the Shaldon Festival itself, English Touring Opera were engaged to run a workshop. ETO had in their touring repertoire Fantastic Mr Fox, a modern opera based on the story of that name by Roald Dahl. Using this as a source of inspiration, the team of three animateurs from ETO, tenor Nick Merryweather, composer Russell Hepplewhite and choreographer Bernadette Iglich worked over two days with approximately 15 Year 6 children from each of two schools – Shaldon and Inverteign – turning their ideas into their own 20 minute mini-opera called Beyond the Door of the Den.

The ETO team worked with the children in the newly built Shaldon School Hall and the workshop and performance was the first major event to take place in the new hall.  The children clearly enjoyed the whole experience and both Headteachers commented on how much they think the children gained from it.  The performance itself was a delight.  The children created a fox den and features of the forest simply by imaginative use of chairs and gym equipment and used the spaces in and around the set – and entrances and exits through the fire doors in a very active way.

Children in and on top of a metal triangle
Beyond the Den

It was abundantly clear just how much they had achieved in the two days of creating and rehearsing the work, starting with a few simple ideas on the Wednesday morning to a finished work on Thursday afternoon. The focus of the children on their task was truly remarkable. Their working together showed enthusiasm, creativity, discipline, attention to detail and an awareness of need to tell a strong story. The story itself involved a den of foxes under attack from farmers and poachers eventually triumphing and outwitting their enemies. The opera was full of invention, strong choral singing and engaging and catchy melodies that delighted its audience. The children from the two schools worked very closely together as one group, with no sense of division between them. It was clear from the children’s own reactions and that of the very appreciative audience how much they had gained from working with the professionals from the ETO. We are sure they will carry the experience as one of the true highlights of their time at primary school and look with new eyes at the idea of opera that before the project started might have seemed remote from their world.

The afternoon performance concluded with three songs by Shaldon School Choir, a large group of young people who brought their own enthusiasm and freshness to their singing and they insisted on an encore item called Dynamite that had everyone clapping and stamping their feet in appreciation.

Roger Kirk

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