by Dave Warner

The Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts has presented opportunities for the last two years for students to enjoy free excursions to Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown to see professional productions.

The students receive back-stage passes for tours, lectures, and workshops. According to Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts, Executive Director, Jane Malin, “The program is called Arts Wide Open and it started as a brainchild of a woman named Joan Shkne, who is a retired family court judge in Utica.”

“She and I met and sat down for breakfast and we started coming up with all these ideas. She is the driving force for this, and she’s done a lot of grant writing to support it.”

The MVCA is the primary organization for the program in Herkimer County, and several other organizations in Utica support the program. “It’s all expenses paid, for students 13-18 years old. We have workshops, we take them to Glimmerglass, they see a production, they have backstage passes to see costumes, and stagecraft, makeup, etc. Then, they get to meet the principal actors, meet with the conductor, and have lectures all day long,” she said.

The group even gets a free lunch and ends the day with an evening performance. Everything is paid for through the fundraising and grant efforts.

Only a handful of students have participated from Little Falls, and the Art Center is making an effort to get the word out to increase local participation. “We’re really trying to get the buzz going now. I had 50 tickets last year and I had to give most of them back to Onida County. There were used, they weren’t wasted, but I’d rather send 50 kids from Herkimer County,” Malin said.

All Malin needs is for each student or parent to send her a little note to let her know why they want to participate in this program. “Pretty much anybody that applies right now will be able to participate,” she said.

One hundred and fifty students participated in the program last year, and they are attempting to increase the number of students who can participate in 2020. Malin expects to have slots for at least 50 students for each play. “It could be one hundred different students, or fifty go to both performances,” Malin said.

They do not have specific dates yet, but the first performance is usually in July and the second in August. Malin said, “It’s really exciting because Glimmerglass is being very attentive to the program and making sure that they have performances that we can go to.”

“They are thrilled to be part of this program and they want more people from Herkimer County and the local area to be interested in Glimmerglass and to purchase tickets,” she said.

The program also lets the students know what jobs are available in the industry. “They get to see how the costumes are made to match the period of the performance and how they put the stagecraft together. They put these elaborate sets together and they have to design them to be collapsible so they fit in a tractor-trailer because they then sell the performance to other places in the country,” Malin said.

They don’t get plans sent to them, all of the sets are created from scratch at Glimmerglass by engineers and stage personnel. “It’s fascinating. I’ve gone for two years now and I learn something new every time I go down there,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for kids to really get neck-deep in what’s going on to put these performances on.”

Next year, MVCA plans to include “The Sound of Music” and “Don Giovanni,” hopefully with workshops. They also hope to add the Shakespeare play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with a workshop as well.

“The kids love it, and I just want to get the word out about it,” said Malin. “We’ve got the funding, we’ve got the tickets, we just need the kids.”

This program is entirely free to all students. All expenses are paid for through gifts, donations, and grants. They are asking teachers and community members to share this information and help them by encouraging students to apply. People can also decide to sponsor a student if they want to.

For more information and an application, contact Jane Malin via email at director@mohawkvalleyarts.org or call 315-823-0808.

Photos submitted