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When my little sister got hauled off to a two-month yoga camp this summer, she resigned herself to the inevitable punishment—by the end she would be able to fold her legs over her head. “Yay,” she told me. But her mom could see nothing but value in it—I suspect, much like parents choosing to send their offspring to the Washington Opera’s annual summer camp for kids. I mean, really, how many kids are into opera? But, given my sister’s new-found fascination with Portishead, she would probably pick opera over yoga any day. Do the kids at this camp not know how lucky they are?
On Monday afternoon at the Kennedy Center, inside a room with rows of red chairs, 33 children aged 10 to 14 are debriefed on proper stage etiquette. “Energy, concentration, commitment,” the stage director, Mary Gresock, says as she points to a pad with bold capital letters. She defines each concept in relation to the expected behavior once the staging rehearsal for Thunder of Horses begins. After nodding in agreement, the kids bolt into an adjacent room with high ceilings and burst into a storm of chatter.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” comes the solemn call from the stage manager, Molly Haws. “Focus!” They simmer down temporarily and find places along the margins of the fluorescent green tape demarcating the stage. In the center stands a wooden structure that will later become a teepee. Gresock designates who will be scouts, teepee girls, and chasers, then begins the walk-through. “Who are we?” Sarah Lee asks the cluster of children next to her, who haven’t been chosen for anything yet. “Just people,” someone responds glumly.
Heather, the first scout, wanders past the wooden structure, looking rather out-of-body. The pole people lethargically add more wood. The teepee girls, dressed like players in an MTV commercial, are in the corner commenting on other people’s performances, but when it’s their turn, they can’t even open the cloth to put on the teepee. And the chasers, the youngest of the group, collide into each other and fall to the floor, giggling.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, one, two, three, four…” Gresock demonstrates the circle dance. But no matter how many times they go over it, one little guy’s right sandal keeps hitting the floor long after the beat. “Rhythm,” groans Yvette Holt, the curriculum director, under her breath. “C’mon, Nate, left foot.” She shakes her head in disbelief.
This is only the second staging rehearsal for the one-act opera, based loosely on the Blackfoot legend, so there’s still hope. —Ayesha Morris