24 Hours of Opera and Improv

Posted On:03.29.2017

by J.Hill

This year the Atlanta Opera partnered with Dad’s Garage Theatre for the 24-Hour Opera Project®. As soon as I heard the news, I knew I wanted to be involved. I’m fortunate to be part of ImprOper, a group of Dad’s improvisers and singers who play musical improv games and perform improvised operas. From that experience, I knew hearing professional singers unleash their beautiful, powerful voices to make fart jokes is a very special kind of joy. And with Dad’s company members as writers, I was fairly sure this year’s performances would include at least a few fart jokes.

The Process

The project felt lightening fast and painstakingly slow at the same time. On Friday morning at 8:30am, the lyricists and composers arrived on-site. We were randomly paired into 5 teams, and then each group picked one prop to inspire their story. Next the project organizers told us this year’s theme: alternative facts. With that, we were off and running! Each team had 12 hours to compose and write lyrics for a 7-10 minute opera.

Jonathan Spuhler and I were a writing team for the lyrics, and we were matched with composer Lauren McCall. Jonathan and I suggested we kick-off the day by telling a tag team monologue inspired by “alternative facts.” Lauren jumped right in! Our group was excited about the idea of telling a fairy tale about children learning that they can’t always listen to the traditions (or alternative facts) their parents tell them.

After we had a general outline for the story, Lauren got to work composing on her computer and experimenting on the piano. Jonathan and I developed lyrics, and shared them with Lauren as soon as they were ready. I’m in awe of the beautiful and complicated score Lauren created in less than one day! After 12 hours that included playing improv games, writing, snacking, laughing over the Truffle Aria, and reworking story endings (sometimes your story just wants to be a tragedy, and that’s all there is to it), our piece entitled A Forest to Table Fable was born.

The teams were back bright and early at 8am Saturday morning to meet our music directors and performers. I was the stage director for our piece, and I was lucky to be paired with music director Brendan Callahan-Fitzgerald. His leadership and positivity got our team through the day. I was thrilled to also work with Jayme Alilaw and Abby Halon, two amazing singers who also are part of ImprOper, and who played the human family in our fable. I hadn’t met the other singers before. But, Jessica Wax and Andrew Pardini were all smiles when I told them they’d be playing the bear family. They were wonderful. After 6 hours of rehearsal to learn the music, practice singing and stage the action, it was time to go to Dad’s Garage for the performance!

The Performances

I wish I could describe all five pieces in detail, but I wouldn’t do them justice… and I also hadn’t slept much, so I’m probably hazy on a few details. I remember feeling over-the-moon when my team performed. I was also excited to see and hear the pieces the other Dad’s artists helped create.

While watching each piece, I was amazed by how different they all were. On Friday morning, we all started with the same information. But, by Saturday night we had all ended in very different places. There was a fairytale about friendship. A quest of anonymous gamers balanced the real lives waiting for them. A couples counseling session took a turn for the better. And, yes, there were even sillier plot lines. One group told the saga of a megalomaniac magician and the people in his wake. Finally, the arc of a couple’s relationship was explored in a Mexican restaurant, complete with a singing burrito.

Improv emphasizes the importance of saying yes to other people’s offers. You never know where that will take you! The 24-Hour Opera Project® provided five unexpected and delightful examples of the truth behind that idea. I’m also proud to report that in A Forest to Table Fable the singers lamented “GI frustrations” (which is the opera way of describing farts).