The LA Opera’s summer camp, filled with children ages 9-17, will be performing “Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle,” on Saturday, Aug. 8 at 12 p.m.
The show will feature scenes from four different operas that focus on social justice, including “Brundib√°r,” an opera that was originally smuggled into and performed at the Terezin concentration camp in 1943; “Friedl,” the story of an Austrian artist who taught children in secret at Terezin; “The White Bird of Poston,” the story of a friendship between a Japanese American girl and Native American boy inside a WWII internment camp; and “Then I Stood Up,” which focuses on young adults of the civil rights movement who helped change a racist social system.
Content specialist for the LA Opera, Karen Bacellar, said the opera camp was created “in an effort to spread a love of opera and the company’s mission of socially responsible art.”
“This is not your average summer camp. There are no tire swings and song singing by the campfire,” Bacellar said. “Instead, campers spend an intensive two weeks rehearsing and doing dramaturgical work for a final operatic performance. Kids and teens explore issues of social justice and are challenged to familiarize themselves with each story’s historical significance and modern relevance as part of their own artistic preparation for the performance.”
Two of the campers in the program are John Adams Middle School students, Amelia Mardesich, 13, and Aoife Schenz, 12. Both have been with the camp for five years.
“I became involved in Opera Camp through my grandmother, who is a lifelong opera lover and an LA Opera subscriber,” Mardesich said. “She learned about the camp through the Opera for Educators classes, which she was invited to attend because she is a former elementary school teacher.”
Schenz, who auditioned after her close friend Mardesich joined, loves the camp and hopes to stay with it until she is 17.
“It exposes me to a type of music most kids are never introduced to and lets me express myself in that music. Most people just watch opera. I get to be a part of opera,” Schenz said.
Mardesich, who hopes to pursue a career in classical voice or opera, as well as professional ballet, says opera combines several things she cares deeply about, including singing, acting, dancing and “addressing serious issues through live performance.”
“Opera Camp offers [me] a very special opportunity to spend two intense weeks with a community of people who share those interests, as well as an interest in social change,” Mardesich said.
There are three characters called Spirits in the opera “Then I Stood Up,” and each girl is playing the role of one Spirit.
“The Spirits are similar to a Greek Chorus, characters outside of the story line whose voices from the past encourage and support the other characters as they struggle for justice and equality,” Mardesich said.
Schenz believes the Spirits are the conscience and inner voice of the characters throughout the civil rights story, giving the characters the strength to do what they believe in and know is right.
Both girls are excited to be a part of the production and what it stands for.
“Even though I have only heard an excerpt from ‘Then I Stood Up,’ it is my favorite LA Opera Camp production because I am particularly interested in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and because I have always tried to speak up when I see something unfair or wrong,” Mardesich said.
“Then I Stood Up” will be performed at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre at 4800 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles on Saturday, Aug. 8, at 12 p.m. For more information, visit www.laopera.org.