My Opera Education

By Sam Kerns

If someone were to ask you what your most memorable summer vacation was, what would be your answer? For me, it’s easy: the summer of 2016, when I worked as a trainee for Cincinnati Opera. My time was spent alongside artists and experts who welcomed me into their craft. They treated me with respect, and trusted me. That was the best vacation, because I woke up every morning with energy and excitement for the workday ahead. It was glorious. However, the closest I got to a tan that summer was when the stage lights would hit me during rehearsal. Like I said, it was glorious.

The Opera Technical Theater Apprenticeship Program is a training program for School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) students developed in conjunction with Cincinnati Opera. It pairs students from SCPA with professionals from the Opera and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 5 and 864 to gain invaluable behind-the-scenes theater work experience. This four-week program, begun in 2013, provides real-world, professional training while on the job. “Classic OJT,” according to Glenn Plott, creator of the program and Cincinnati Opera’s Director of Production. “These students will also earn some R&R: impressive work experience to add to their resume, and a reference that means something.”

“Impressive experience” is an understatement. During my traineeship, I worked in the Rehearsal Department, and also shadowed Artistic Director Evans Mirageas. Every day, I experienced something new. I observed rehearsals, had a voice during production meetings, and learned how to write grants, hire artists, and plan an artistic budget. I attended and helped manage events, spoke to patrons, and even served as the guest panelist during an “Opera Insights” pre-performance talk. Once, I felt compelled to count all of the languages that I heard in a rehearsal. I counted six—English, Italian, German, Russian, Spanish, and French voices. These six different languages existed in one room, and each speaker was in collaboration with another. We were all bound by our universal language of art.

Above all, I gained a new love and respect for opera. Totally engrossed in its world, it was my traineeship with Cincinnati Opera that inspired me to form a nationally certified Teen Opera Council at SCPA. Opera gave me so much, and bringing it to my peers was the least I could do.

Who knows? This could be the best summer of your life, too. It was for me, and all I needed was an opera and a little bit of magic from the artists at Cincinnati Opera.

Photo: Author Samuel Kerns surrounded by fellow trainees on the set of Cincinnati Opera’s 2017 production of La Bohème. Front row: Iris Harmon, Robert Hill-Guarino, Gabby Barta, Briana Green. Back row: Malaysia Bell, Kailyn Durrett, Sam Kerns, Aliea Ray, Emily Muench. Photo by Philip Groshong.