Hesburgh reflecting pool stages ND Children’s Choir performance

From The Observer

Notre Dame students, faculty and community members will be able to rediscover their inner child at the Notre Dame Children’s Choir’s performance of “Noye’s Fludde,” taking place Friday and Saturday at the Hesburgh Library courtyard on a stage above the reflecting pool.

The children’s opera (pronounced “Noah’s Flood”) tells the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark. Children’s Choir director Mark Doerries said adult actors would play the characters of Noye, Noye’s wife and their three older children’s wives. Eleven-year-old Benjamin Capedveille will sing the voice of God, members of the older children’s choir will play Noye’s children and town children and members of the younger children’s choir will play the animals on the ark.

Doerries said while past productions of British composer Benjamin Britten’s opera have focused on the story of Noye and his wife, this performance is different.

“[The performance] is from the point of view of the child, and what would it be like to imagine, to create, to build, and then to inhabit, to bring all these animals into the ark from the point of view of the child,” Doerries said.

To create this feeling, Doerries said the children have been involved in every step of the production process. Younger choir members chose which animals they wanted to play and drew pictures of them. Student production designers then created exact frames for the costumes, and before each performance or rehearsal, the children finish the costumes themselves, he said.

“I met with the designers, and we were trying to come up with a way to get the kids involved. We thought, ‘who out of all of us has the best imagination?’ And it was the kids,” Doerries said. “The kids’ imagination is unsurpassable, so that’s why we decided to use them as the starting point.

“Coincidentally, this is exactly how the original [1958] production did it. They had the kids design and build the costumes they used in the original productions, staying true to children’s operas’ community character.”

Sophomore set designer Olivia Bratton said the children also put together the prop representing the ark during each performance, representing a change in scene.

“The idea is really playing off how imaginative kids can be,” Bratton said. “[The performance starts in] an art classroom, but especially for young kids, it’s not as much about teaching them art as it is about giving them materials and seeing what they can do themselves.

“They teach themselves, because especially within art kids have such an innate ability to create. The idea is that Noye is the teacher within a specified area, and then the kids’ imagination goes wild and they create the ark, and they have these materials by which they can do so.”

Doerries said the performance will be interactive, with attendees receiving coloring books, bubbles and sidewalk chalk.

“We want to invite the audience to rediscover that imaginative space of the child, that so often we lose when we grow up,” Doerries said. “We become overly-structured. This is really my first year working full-time with children, and I have been inspired by the way that they think and the way that they imagine the everyday. What is mundane to us is exciting and new to them. It would be incredible to recapture that ability to see the world as a fresh, inspiring place.”

Joseph Mace, who plays Noye, said the audience interactions mirrors the journey of the adult characters of the show, who start off as cranky, unimaginative and contemporary and undergo a change during the show.

I’m most pleased at the concept coming in, which is this idea of a rediscovery of my own childhood as an actor and as a singer,” Mace said. “It’s been personal, but artistically too; to see Noye at the beginning of the opera is a very stodgy, uptight art teacher, and as he’s teaching the children’s imaginations create this story that we tell of Noye.

“He becomes Noye, and his journey of accepting that creativity and that spark of imagination, and then for me by the time the animals show up … he goes in and out of understanding his own creativity and his own spirit and his own life that’s more than what he allows it to be as a cranky grown-up.”

This is the Notre Dame Children’s Choir’s first year. Doerries said it currently has about 50 members, and he hopes to expand to 100 or more in the coming years. He said it draws staff members’ children as well as children within the community.

“I like singing, and I like singing with people who like to sing also, and it’s fun being there because I get to be with my friends,” nine-year-old Lilia Lyden, who plays the dove in the show, said.

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