Released: December 6, 2010
By Seanica Reinke and Courtney Pitts, UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications
Lincoln, Neb. - On Sunday, Dec. 12, the School of Music will take Amahl and the Night Visitors on the road to Holdrege, Neb., as part of a unique collaboration with the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) and the Nebraska Alumni Association.
One collaboration on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus involves two colleges most probably wouldn't expect to be working together, but the deans of those colleges say it's a perfect combination.
When Jack Oliva became the Endowed Dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts 10 years ago, he said he was interested in finding a way to get the arts into Nebraska communities. Oliva found the best way to do so was through collaboration with the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR).
"UNL is a land-grant university with a cooperative extension," Oliva said. "Over time, I started looking at ways to work with those in extension and 4-H to get arts experiences into rural parts of Nebraska."
CASNR Dean Steve Waller said the UNL campus really is 500 miles wide with university faculty in 83 out of the 93 Nebraska counties. He said projects focused on getting the arts into every area of the state are "natural" for the two colleges because Hixson-Lied has contacts with the schools and music departments and extension educators have community ties.
"We want to have an impact on the state," Waller said. "We want people to be proud of UNL on a first-hand basis, not just based on its reputation."
The latest effort of the two colleges is the performance by the UNL opera of Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Tassel Theater in Holdrege on Dec. 12. There will be a pre-event talk about the two colleges and their programs, the actual performance and a reception afterward for meet and greet with students, alumni and community members.
Rachel Morgan, Tassel Performing Arts Center Executive Director, said the Tassel's benefactor wanted to have the UNL opera department perform at the Tassel a couple of years ago, and they made it happen. This is the third year the Tassel has worked with UNL for an event.
"Holdrege is a small community of about 5,500 people," Morgan said. "Getting opera into Holdrege is close to impossible because productions are so big in scope, and with our budget, getting traveling productions is hard to do."
She said the Tassel staff never thought they would be able to get an opera production on their stage, but they did. Morgan said community involvement is the Tassel's "big thing."
"The great thing about the Amahl project is that the chorus is made of local high school students from Holdrege and surrounding communities," Morgan said. "When Dean Oliva and I talked about it, we were most excited about the community involvement because it's a great opportunity for the kids to be part of the production and a great opportunity for all of us."
According to Waller and Oliva, the events they create together, like the Holdrege event, provide all Nebraskans opportunities to experience art they may not have been able to experience any other way.
"Many people assume what is done academically can't be taken from UNL to places across the state, but it can in innovative ways," Waller said. "This program touches communities in powerful ways."
The Nebraska Alumni Association also played a big role in putting the show on the road. The non-profit organization boasts 60 chapters and 25,000 members, said Shelley Zaborowski, senior associate executive director of the alumni association. The group worked to spread the word about the performance of Amahl and the Night Visitors in Holdrege. They are also hosting the pre-event and post-event receptions.
"There are many UNL alumni living throughout the state of Nebraska," Zaborowski said. "With the School of Music students performing at the Tassel Theater, we wanted to be sure alumni in the local area knew about it and were encouraged to come to the performance."
The group works on many collaborative ventures and the opera at the Tassel Theatre seemed like the perfect opportunity to support the different colleges. Not all members of the alumni association are Nebraska graduates, but their love of the university unites them, Zaborowski said.
"The performance is an opportunity to take a little piece of the university on the road to alumni and friends," she said. "Not only will they enjoy a high quality show, but the university connection will be meaningful to them as well."
The performance is also sponsored by the University of Nebraska Foundation's Bruce C. and Carol S. Hendrickson Fund for Excellence.
Both Oliva and Waller said the benefits from the collaborative efforts of the colleges and alumni association apply to the communities and the students.
"Events like the Holdrege event bring UNL closer to communities in other parts of Nebraska," Oliva said. "Anytime you can bring live arts events to a community, you enhance what might already be an interesting arts climate."
Oliva said these events give students the opportunity to play somewhere outside of their hometown and shows them they will have a rich life if they take art outside of their circle of comfort.
"A main focus for students at land-grant institutions should be outreach and engagement in the community," Oliva said. "These events reinforce what UNL feels is important, and that is you have to give something back to the community and state."
He said the Hixson-Lied College tries to teach their students about how the quality of art they create will be influenced by the places they live, the people they meet and their engagement with the community.
"There are certain things you learn through courses and others through experience, and this is something they learn through experience," Oliva said.
For the seventh consecutive year, Professor Bill Shomos has taken on the task of directing the holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors. In the past, UNL students have performed this opera with the help of Lincoln high school and elementary students. Every year Shomos visits Title 1 schools to talk to children about the opera.
"Ninety-nine percent of the children I visit have never seen live opera, but those kids are so open and available to new ideas," said Shomos, who's been the director of the UNL opera program since 1994. "They get it."
The collaboration between the Arts and Agriculture College has made it possible for Shomos and UNL students of opera to take the show on the road for the first time. The opera revolves around the story of a young shepherd named Amahl and his mother who are visited by three traveling kings. The principal roles will be played by UNL opera students and the "Shepherd's Chorus" will be made up of Holdrege students.
The School of Music will perform the holiday opera Amahl and the Night Visitors Dec. 9-11 in Lincoln.
- Performances will take place Dec. 9-10 for school children at the Lied Center for Performing Arts' Johnny Carson Theater in Lincoln.
- Performances are free and open to the public on Saturday, Dec. 11 at the Johnny Carson Theater at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Space is limited. Call (402) 472-2494 to reserve seats.
"Local music teachers from the Holdrege area have chosen outstanding young singers from their community, and are in the process of teaching them the music," Shomos said.
The UNL students and the Holdrege students will meet for the first time on the morning of their performance. They will spend the day rehearsing, costuming and teaching the students blocking.
"After a few hours of work, we'll have ourselves a show," Shomos said. "It will be a wonderful way to connect to the community. It's very exciting in that we'll be meeting, for the first time, a group of about 30 young people on Sunday morning, then in about five hours, we'll all be doing a performance together."
In the meantime, the UNL students will also be rehearsing. Because of the intense mainstage schedule, the opera students have about three weeks to prepare for their performance of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Before rehearsals even began, the students in the show had to memorize their music. However, for many of the performers this isn't the first time they've been in the show.
Such is the case for Bryce Bartu, a UNL senior music performance major. This will be his third time in the opera and this year he'll play King Kaspar.
"I'm looking forward to the performances," Bartu said. "The kids we perform for always come up to us after the show waving Sharpies in our faces; asking us to sign their programs. It makes you feel like a champ."
"UNL has a long history of producing opera," Shomos said. "Opera performance of some nature has always been a part of its voice curriculum."
The Amahl and the Night Visitors performances are especially special to Shomos.
"This is one of my dearest projects ever," he said.
The most exciting part of the project he said is "working with so many talented young people. Telling this remarkable story through the medium of opera and conveying its message of the power of giving to as many people as will listen."
Anyone interested in attending the first-ever collaborative performance in Holdrege can purchase tickets by calling (308) 995-2717. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and youth. The pre-event talk begins at 1:45 p.m. at the Holdrege Middle School at 600 14th Ave. Those who RSVP for the pre-event receive a $2 discount on their ticket. The opera will begin at 3 p.m. at the Tassel Theatre. Refreshments will be served afterward and the audience can meet the performers.
For more information visit www.huskeralum.org/events/tassel or contact Lindsay Carr, AdventureLied Coordinator for the Lied Center of Performing Arts and Outreach Coordinator for the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, at (402) 472-3215.