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Jan 12, 2010 7:07 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

The Springs School Fantastic 52 whip up a perfect storm

Jan 12, 2010 7:07 PM

The Springs School Opera Company is in business again at Guild Hall this week, as an ensemble totalling about two-thirds of the school’s fourth grade prepares to present an original production of “The Storm,” a tale based on Hopi and Zuni stories about the importance of teamwork in the face of the forces of nature.

The Fantastic 52, an ensemble of 52 of the 70-plus students in the grade, has been working since September to craft the tale of a crew of woodland creatures who all fear a hawk, not knowing that the hawk, played by August Gladstone, plans to help protect them during the storm.

The opera program was begun 13 years ago, when teachers at the school, encouraged by composer Stephen Dickman, took the Metropolitan Opera’s “Creating Original Opera” program and began helping students to craft their own productions.

“They come in with such boundless energy and enthusiasm. Some just can’t wait for the fourth grade experience. The children go through an audition process, and they go through several assignments to do jobs. Some get second jobs as well,” said artistic director and art teacher Colleen McGowan.

Academic Enrichment teacher Sue Ellen O’Connor coordinates each production, first grade teacher Eileen Goldman acts as stage director and music teacher Margaret Thompson acts as musical director, while pianist Kyril Bromley works with the students to arrange and compose the six to seven songs in each production.

Ms. O’Conner and Ms. McGowan this year worked with students Joey Berti, Tali Friedman, August Gladstone, Nina Gonzalez, Brooke Santiago, Madison Schenck, Izzy Swanson and Ethan Wickline to draft a story about friendship and responsibility to others, using the Native American symbol of the Kachina doll to represent animal spirits who are preparing for the arrival of a storm.

“It’s about being there in times of need. They’re all afraid of the hawk because he’s a predator and they feel he’s out to get them,” said Ms. McGowan. “But he and the snake (played by Carolina Ortega) read the stars and weather conditions and prepare them for the weather that’s coming.”

Also appearing on stage will be Madison Schenck as Turtle, Brooke Santiago as Mouse, Nicholas Sigua as Squirrel, Sophia Ledda as Chipmunk, Isabella Aguero as Quack, Indigo Weston as Beaver, Claire Belhumeur, Raymond Ledda and Noah Lappin as the Storm and Nina Gonzalez as Rabbit.

“We put a lot of emphasis on the process. This becomes the children’s production. We really want them to grow and change throughout the process,” said Ms. McGowan, who also helped a troupe of 10 champion fourth grade makeup and costume design artists, including Ace Albertini, Hannah Baker, Manfred Barros, Maria Chavez, Riley Duchemin, Lauren German, Marketa Grant, Madison Hallman, Claudia LaFountain and Lizette Maurath, to design costumes inspired by nature, the Kachina headpiece and the work of environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy.

Songcraft is crucial to the production of all of the Springs Opera’s shows, and composers Claire Belhumeur, Dorian Charron, Juan Flores, Noah Lappin, Xavier McCormack, Daniel McDonough, Taylor Murph, Roon Ortiz, Alex Swickard, Henry Talmage and Alexis Vargas have been working since September to weave the music into the storyline.

“The composers wait until they get at least the outlines for songs from the writers,” said Mr. Bromley, who will accompany the production on stage. “We’ll look at ‘What’s the mood here?’ What I ask them to do is say ‘Sing this line, any way you like.’ Three kids will give me three different things, and we’ll shape the words they’ve given us. What I try to do is take musical fragments they give me and weave them into a song. By changing one or two notes, it changes the whole mood. My function is as an arranger for them. They come up with musical ideas and I fashion something. This year, they had three songs by the time I first heard them, and they were pretty much intact. I add harmony and give them an opening and an ending.”

This is the second year that the opera will be held at Guild Hall, and only the first time since the renovation that was completed early last year.

“The kids enjoy it so much. When they get on that stage, they begin acting. Guild Hall years ago was not receptive to doing anything like this at all, but they’ve really reached out,” said Mr. Bromley. “In the intervening year they sent techs over to the Springs School to do sound and lighting for us. The Guild Hall people have been extremely helpful.”

Though Guild Hall has its own sound effects that the production will use, fourth grade percussionists Roon Ortiz, Juan Flores, Henry Talmage, Alexis Vargas, Dorian Charron, Xavier McCormack and Taylor Murphy will drum up a storm, while shadow dancers Olivia Brauer, Tali Friedman and Izzy Swanson will also contribute to the performance.

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Go Springs School!
By LocalTeacher (23), Southampton on Jan 15, 10 5:59 PM
also along with the kids, congratulations to Margaret Thompson, Sue Ellen O'Connor, Colleen McGowan, Helen Goldman, John Gibbons and Kyril Bromley. You guys rock!! This was an amazing performance
By MaryB (19), East Hampton on Jan 16, 10 8:46 AM