Clarksville, TN – Ever since March of 2020, life on the campus of Austin Peay State University (APSU) looks quite different. The way classes and other events are held are much different from their normal means of function. However, online classes haven’t stopped professors from giving their students an immersive learning experience in their designated fields of study.
Dr. Virginia Boaz of the APSU Opera Theatre provided her students with a unique performance opportunity.
The students of the Opera Theatre at Austin Peay State University have been working hard to put together an original production that discusses events of 2020 such as the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, unemployment, racial tensions, and mental health issues through music, theatre, and film.
This production, titled “Hope: The Work Begins,” is a pastiche of opera, operetta, and musical theatre excerpts, which are all connected by an original narrative the students decided on together.
Strawberry Alley joins collaboration
To bring light to the restaurant industry, which was hit the hardest during the pandemic, the well-loved Strawberry Alley Ale Works provided the APSU Opera with its Upstairs venue as the set for the project.
Students had creative control of the entire production. The characters, costumes, hair, and makeup, set design and other areas of the project were worked out by the students. A great deal of help came from the two graduate teaching assistants, Charles Anderson and Erin Hilderbrandt.
“With the help of my colleague and fellow GTA, Charles Anderson, and mentor, Dr. Boaz, we were able to compile a list of pieces that fit the voices and storyline perfectly,” Hilderbrandt said. “I’ve learned that productions like this are nearly impossible without the support from colleagues and respective departments.”
Boaz and her two graduate teaching assistants discussed stage design for the restaurant they wanted to serve as their setting for the project. Boaz said if they were going to use a restaurant as a setting, they may be able to use an actual location instead.
“Strawberry Alley was eager to collaborate, so the planning began,” Boaz said.
A multifaceted collaboration
This project was a collaboration that included the help of the Austin Peay State University Orchestra, staff, students, and faculty.
“The process was multifaceted,” Boaz said.
After the music selections were finished, the students began musical rehearsals with rehearsal and production pianist, Professor Jared Wilson.
Next came the task of staging rehearsals led by Hilderbrandt, one of the GTAs for the class and a second-year master’s candidate, who served as stage director. Hilderbrandt’s career goals include serving as stage director, so Boaz saw this as the perfect opportunity to allow Hilderbrandt to dip her toes in the water.
“It is a testament to the collaborative spirit of musicians willing to work together for the good of their students, that this was as accomplished with so many obstacles in our way,” Boaz said.
The last step in the process was postproduction for audio. Rhett Timmons of Timmons Productions filmed the production to give the final product a different look rather than a recording of a concert. While filming, the audio played on a phone so the singers could sing along with themselves. In all, it took two days of filming to complete the process.
“I think the COVID-19 pandemic has set limitations for live performances, making recordings and filming necessary for the foreseen future,” Hilderbrandt said. “I plan on implementing all of the new things I’ve learned this semester in my future direction endeavors.”
A testament to music and art’s role
To celebrate the end of this production, the APSU Opera Theatre students had their launch party on April 27th at Upstairs at Strawberry Alley. The production was also livestreamed on the organization’s Facebook page for those at home to view.
“Hope: The Work Begins” will also be part of a presentation at the National Opera Association Conference in San Augustine, Florida, in January 2022.
The pandemic has posed several roadblocks when it comes to students and their education. Many have missed out on opportunities because of the issues we face right now. However, these obstacles did not stop the Austin Peay State University Opera Theatre. Instead, they marched on.
“We have lost so much as artists during the pandemic. It was truly enlightening to be able to engage and create content with singers again,” Hilderbrandt said. “This has been the first opportunity to have a fully staged production with musicians in over a year.”
Boaz added: “Never in my 20-plus years of directing operas and musicals have I encountered more obstacles in a production, some out of our control and others man-made. But this production stands as a testament to how music and art have helped to move us forward past this most bizarre and confounding year where musicians were silenced and weren’t sure when they would be able to sing or play again.”
To learn more about music offerings at Austin Peay State University, visit the Department of Music website.