A couple of Santa Monicans are learning about social justice and civil rights history this summer, and it’s happening not in the classroom, but on stage.

Sabina Egan and Valentina Shelton, a camper and counselor respectively, are currently at the tail-end of their stay at the Los Angeles Opera Camp. The camp is a pre-professional opera camp for 72 kids and young adults ages 9-17, teaching them the ins and outs of putting together a full-fledged opera. 

This Saturday, campers will perform the culmination of their camp efforts into a production dubbed “Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle”. The production stitches together the suites of music from previous Opera Camp productions, which focused on the Terezín concentration camps, Japanese internment camps, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

When campers aren’t crafting their costumes or getting their staging just right, they’re provided contextual history lessons about social injustices throughout history via field trips, special guest speaker talks and more. 

Soon-to-be 11-year-old Egan says she’s learned lot thus far in her three weeks of camp. 

“It’s super fun and it’s hard work but I love it,” Egan said. “I’ve learned how to read music better, learned a lot about the history of the operas were doing and learned a lot about the civil rights movement, internment camps, concentration camps.”

In their three weeks, campers had the opportunity to meet community organizers such as the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, son of James Forman Sr. Chaka Forman and Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine. 

Meeting people not long removed from racist acts profoundly affected the young Egan.

They’re so brave,” she said. “It amazes me what they went through and I hate the fact that they had to go through that. Why did people do that to them?”

Shelton, a Santa Monica-based counselor for the camp who’s in between semesters at the University of Miami, says she chose to work at the camp this summer instead of vacationing because she believes in the work the camp does, noting she went through the camp herself when she was younger. 

I think that learning through the arts and music is one of the most critical ways we can teach and have people learn things now,” she said. “To learn about people who were and are suppressed and relate that to now…there’s just so much relevance to what they’re singing about now and they’re learning that it in an interactive way.”

For more information, visit LAopera.org



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