The kids are getting sick. Amazingly, my two kids are breathing clearly and happily rolling around on their wood chip-crusted floors, but our little animal singers in Opera Theatre of Weston’s Noye’s Fludde are not so fortunate. The 24 animals who are destined to repopulate the earth have dwindled to 20 as the flu spreads in their tiny onstage ark. One of Noah’s three sons has left his wife a widow as these young singers work to save their family from the great flood. Apparently God has no pity even for flu-stricken amateur singers.
I have been working as the choreographer for Benjamin Britton’s Noye’s Fludde since shortly after Christmas and although we have been plagued by snowstorms and sickness, our simple production rings true with honest performances from musicians, singers, and dancers, beautiful costumes, a Vermont-made ark, and glorious lights. We are currently in the middle of a run of school performances where children from around the region come to see quality opera performed by professionals who fly in from all over and local kids who miss a crazy amount of school to be part of some theater magic.
I have been scrambling these past couple of mornings doing minor staging revisions to partner animals with new mates to perform their pre-board animal dances. Every morning is a surprise - Who will we have today? Yet the kids have stepped up by easily adjusting to last-minute changes and bringing their youthful positivity to the stage with them. I’ve also had good company as either Ror or Saul have joined me for every performance.
Aurora, who is 2, slowly plodded down to the theater’s basement with me to re-stage the animals entrance yet again at 8:30 this morning. She watched with her toddler awe as elementary, middle, and high school students decked in a rainbow of fabric shuffled around to make space for each other. Her awe grew even greater when they donned masks they had created with the help of our goddess of a costumer, Robina D’Arcy Fox. There was something happening that she didn’t quite understand but desperately wanted to be part of.
We visited with Angela, our musical director/problem-solver extraordinaire, who introduced Aurora to the instruments in the orchestra (I had a little motherly pride when she, unprompted, called the viola a violin) before finding some seats in the back corner of the theater, tucked next to local elementary school students.
I take my children to performances in part because it is such a gift to watch the show the way they see it. I have seen Noye’s Fludde many times now in rehearsal and performance. I have heard the music while doing outreach, my own choreography, and teaching. My brain has numbed some to the effects of the music, but as I feel my child tense at the beginning of the performance, her eyes scanning the theater for the location of the sound, I am reminded what it feels like to give yourself over to the power of performance. I see her fingers point with excitement as the child-animals skitter and stampede by her and for the first time notice the rainbow effect our lighting designer David has made with the lights when she whispers, “A rainbow!” The floor waters, made with billowing sheets of hand-dyed fabric become an actual flood as she says, “I see the water! I see the water!” and the handbells that grace the final moments of the production soften me as mimics the motion of playing them in her own tiny hands. The children next to us steal glances at her big enthusiasm only after noticing their own moments of magic in the production.
Benjamin Britton supposedly wrote the following about Noye’s Fludde’s premiere:
“We were very happy with the way it came off... and weren’t those kids good? There’s nothing much more moving than when children are really good, is there?”
Nothing except, perhaps, watching kids be moved.