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Introducing Opera to Kids at ARIA Festival

April 26, 2016

One of the city’s important annual cultural events for children and families comes up on Saturday, April 30: the ARIA Festival, to be held at the Veteran’s Building in downtown San Francisco. It’s a daylong, free community open house where kindergarten through 12th-grade students, from schools all over the city, perform in various arts. 

The event is put on by the San Francisco Opera Education Department, in collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), and includes workshops and hands-on crafts activities. The event, formally known as Arts Resources in Action, is part of a nine-day event for the School District,

The festival, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature “Opera in an Hour” — screenings of four San Francisco Opera productions taped in HD, including such opera classics as The Magic Flute, Cinderella, The Elixir of Love, and The Barber of Seville. Young performers include Little Opera, San Francisco Boys Chorus, Young Women’s Choral Projects, San Francisco Opera Guild, and the San Francisco Opera Center’s Adler Fellows.

“One of the wonderful things about opera,” Ruth Nott told us — she’s the San Francisco Opera’s Director of Education — “is that it draws people in for so many reasons: the visual designs, the costumes, the story, the music, the dancing. It’s an art form that can appeal to everyone and to not have access to that would be such a shame.”

Nott has seen the positive effects again and again over the last six years, not least the way some young adults take charge and show a sense of leadership. One story comes to mind. Recently, the opera held its first ever Spring Break for Teens program, which grew out of a partnership with American Conservatory Theater, SFJazz, and the San Francisco Ballet.  Thirty students took part, including a 16-year-old named Armand, from Visitation Valley.  He goes to Downtown High School in the Portrero District and has gradually become attracted to theater class.

In the program, students were asked to choose a second artistic form — inasmuch as that’s in the nature of Opera. He chose dance and had an enlightening experience. As Nott put it, “He had never performed in front of other people, never danced before in his life, but felt this was a completely safe environment in which he was not being judged, unlike at school. The point here is to encourage the idea of collaboration and Armand completely excelled.

At one point, he rallied all the students together in a circle and talked about how significant this experience was to him. “Coming into this week I was tired, I was stressed,” he began. “I’m pretty sure we were all tired. But I can safely say I have found something special in every single one of you. And, even though I hope to, I may not see any of you guys ever again. Shed a tear. But I hope one day that we can look back on this and make this a very fond memory for everybody.”

Various schools are represented at the ARIA festival, including Mission High, Lafayette Elementary, James Lick Middle School, Chinese Immersion School, Minerva schools, and Argonne Elementary.

Performances and workshops will be held at the Wilsey Center’s Taube Atrium Theater, Bryan Education Studio, the Braby San Francisco Opera Archive and other locations on the fourth floor of the Veteran’s Building. 

The 30th annual SFUSD Arts Festival begins April 28 to May 6 and commemorates student creativity in visual, literary, media and performing arts. The Asian Art Museum, located at 200 Larkin Street in the Civic Center, will serve as the hub for this celebration. For more information about the SFUSD Arts Festival: sfusdartsfestival.org

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in ArtsJournal.com.  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is macnamband.com.