By LILLIAN REESE — One class of third graders at Edward M. Felegy Elementary School are building an original opera from the ground up. Students are writing the script, composing the music, creating the costumes, building the set and even engineering the lights. Don’t believe it? They want to prove you wrong.
“Everybody outside of our room says ‘third graders can’t make an opera,’ but we’re going to prove them wrong,” said Felegy Arts Program Coordinator Julianne Martinelli.
The third-grade Imagicnation Opera Company wants their student-led production to amplify the message that love will connect everyone.
Each and every aspect of the opera is being handled by the students with meticulous attention. The writers have developed the characters, story line and songs, and the composers have created the musical score. The set and costume designers, electricians and performers are in the midst of bringing the vision for “The Gift Of the Mural” to life.
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“They really have come into their own through doing their jobs,” said third grade teacher Jamie DeLong. “I have had teachers come to me and say they see a difference in the way [the students] they are bonding and working together as a team because of the opera.”
DeLong and Martinelli said that this group of students, many of whom have developmental challenges, have come out of their shell through working on the opera. One of the composers, for example, was selectively mute for two years. Recently, he had a breakthrough and sang for the first time.
Earlier in the school year, students applied for three of the seven different positions within the company and their strengths were assessed by Martinelli and DeLong while they placed them. The two teachers, the directors who try to serve merely as guides, are aiming to teach the young students essential life lessons while simultaneously encouraging them to apply art concepts and things they have learned
“There’s an application process and [the students] have to apply like any real job,” Martinelli said firmly. “Why should we hire you? What do you do that would make you a good costume designer?”
Martinelli has made one thing explicitly clear to the third graders she works with daily: If they get stuck, they can figure it out. A production manager, also a student, facilitates any conflict resolution first, before going to a teacher.
“This is completely 100 percent student made. There are adults for support and guidance, but they have to figure it out, ” Martinelli said. “Ultimately this is their voice.”
While it may sound intense, the members of Imagicnation — a combination of “imagine” and “magical,” according to Martinelli — often voluntarily sacrifice recess and stay after school to work through challenges.
This is the first year Kids Create Opera, an educational initiative with the Washington National Opera and The Kennedy Center that inspired the production, has been integrated into any class’s curriculum at Felegy Elementary, and Martinelli has plans to continue the program next year.
The curtain will draw on June 7 at 6 p.m. in the Felegy Elementary auditorium for the first performance of “The Gift of the Mural.” The performance is free and open to the public.