OperaUpClose's Creative Learning Programme

This year the Ulla’s Odyssey cast and creative team joined Big Wheel, a Theatre in Education company, to devise fun and educational workshops inspired by the opera. The workshops explore Greek myths, humans’ impact on the environment and introduce children to different musical instruments and some of the tunes from Ulla’s adventures. We’re thrilled that this workshop will tour alongside Ulla’s Odyssey performances in 2017, following a successful launch at Cambridge Junction. You can find out more about the training sessions here.

A significant theme in the workshops is Ulla’s attitude towards the environment and the sea in which she sails. Using plastic bottles and a healthy dose of imagination, the practitioners create an entertaining way to approach these issues with younger audiences. The workshops have been designed to make the most of the specific skills of each performer. For example, Ruth Whybrow, our woodwind player in Ulla’s Odyssey, shows the children how her trio of instruments - which she alternates between during the show - create musical drama and enhance the imagery of the story, demonstrating the different timbres and effects achievable on the flute, clarinet and saxophone. Flora McIntosh, who plays the powerful Goddess of the Sea, encourages the children to play with some of the physicality used in the production. Actions representing the North, South, East and West winds get the children moving, and introduce part of the story, which was met with shouts of recognition when they saw it on stage later.

The performers also introduce the puppetry used in the show, showing how Binnacle the cat is brought to life. By keeping the format flexible and thinking on their feet the performers can adapt workshops to suit different audiences on the day. Jeni Williams from Big Wheel said: “At the end of the workshop the children created their own ensemble scene using words and themes from the show – a real insight into how you can use voice, movement and music to create atmosphere and story” - which is of course what opera is all about! The room was operating in 3-part harmony, using words, rhythm, melody and movement to respond to Flora’s conducting to vary speed and volume. It was an amazing sight.

This workshop, and the show itself, went down a storm with the children and their parents. Although we suggest an age group of 7-11 (Key Stage Two), several families attended with younger siblings too. Our 2-year-old audience member thought the sea monster was a little scary, and was very pleased when her favourite character Binnacle the cat escaped from Scylla’s clutches. Many said that attending the workshop enhanced their experience and made the performance more accessible and more fun. 88% of children who answered our questionnaire said they would come to an opera again. We’re thrilled to have been met with such a warm reception, and to have introduced opera to so many. “Do more, it’s great!” wrote one child, with others describing it as “funny”, “adventurous” and “exciting”. Over the next few months we are touring Ulla’s Odyssey, and the accompanying workshops, across the UK. To find out where we’re going visit our calendar.

This project is kindly supported by Arts Council England, Foyle Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Golden Bottle Trust, Golsoncott Foundation, Lucille Graham Trust, Radcliffe Trust, and Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust.

Author: Ava Podgorski, Trainee Producer at OperaUpClose