For this rehearsal, you will need a tape recorder, or modern counterpart. Lacking one, I actually used a video camera. You will also need a notepad and writing utensil. It is important to take notes during the script-writing process because you will need a tangible reference for what you have covered, who has contributed, and what still needs to happen. The voice recorder is only for your reference when you do your homework after the rehearsal.
The libretto is the text script for your opera. Tell this to the children, and explain that in the grown-up operas, somebody different from the composer usually writes the libretto. “In your opera, you get to write both, but the libretto comes first.”
Step one: Read the summary that they wrote last week. Ask them if they still like it, and if there are any changes that they need to make. If so, make them quickly, and read it again for their approval. Step one should take five minutes or less.
Step two: If you have a chalkboard, make a list of the characters, and decide who will play each part. With my homeschool group, this was easy because each member had decided who they play the week before. The only change was Optimus Prime became a ninja because he already had a ninja costume, and the mother was concerned about coming up with an Optimus Prime costume. I don’t blame her! Cinderella also had to drop out because of family obligations. Be flexible!
In the Cache Children’s Choir, we were working with about 25 children split between two groups. For the Raggle Taggle Town Singers, we had 4-5 each of donkeys, dogs, roosters, and cats, and a large group of robbers. Casting happens now. The girls all wanted to be cats and noone wanted to play the donkey. However, when we suggested that the there doesn’t have to be a donkey, we could have a different animal, many children objected. The children who were most adamant about keeping the donkey played the part. Suddenly the donkey was very important to them!
Step three: Let the children re-tell the story in their own words. Let each child contribute part of the story. If you have a small group of children, each child will write their own solo. Keep notes during this process, and turn on the recorder.
For example, in the homeschool group I worked with, all of Sleeping Beauty’s lines came from the girl who played the part. Read a brief part of your summary, and ask the children to retell it in their own words. It is very important that you use the exact words in your opera that the children speak. It needs to be THEIR composition.
The hardest part for young children will be get them to speak the words in first person. They love telling stories, and they love pretending, but child’s play is often narrated in third person. Prompt the children to rephrase the line in first person. For example, when I asked the girl playing Rapunzel to introduce herself, she said, “Rapunzel is a princess with pretty long hair.” I told her that in the opera, she will be Rapunzel. Her line was finally rephrased as “I am Rapunzel. I am a princess with pretty long hair.” I did not edit these words during the week. The girl playing Rapunzel said them during the script writing process. This is important, and as a teacher, your job is to help children to say the lines that they will actually be singing during the performance. This opera belongs to the children, and as much of the opera as possible should be written by them.
Step four: Look over your notes and make sure that the story is complete. If it isn’t, ask the children to fix it. This completes the children’s part.
Follow-up work: Type up your notes. Then listen to the recording and see if they match. Every line in the opera needs to be written by the children, but not every line written by the children needs to be in the opera. Use your judgment, but it is okay to cut some of the lines out. The opera needs to be short. The limelight should be fair unless the children specifically chose one child to be the star. If there are solo lines, a shy child will not have spoken as many lines about their character as an outgoing child. Modify the script accordingly, but do not add any lines that the children did not actually speak.
Here is one final note: Build repetition into the script. This will help the children to memorize the opera, and give them a comfortable spot to springboard into the next section. This chorus is a “safe zone”. Following is the final script for the homeschool opera we created. Our repetition, or chorus, was “We are homeschoolers at a party. We are lost in a cave. We want to find the castle up above.”
The format for the homeschool opera was as follows:
Characters each introduce themselves
Characters each tell us why their character is homeschooled
Cast tells us about homeschooling
Children tell us about their conflict
Characters each tell us how they can help
Finish by solving the conflict. Opera ends on a modified chorus.