Backstage at San Francisco Opera > May 2012 > Meeting a Two Headed Snake
Meeting a Two Headed Snake
In March the San Francisco Opera Scene Shop in Dogpatch welcomed 88 Kindergarten, 1st and 3rd grade students from Rooftop Alternative School along with their teachers, and parent chaperones for a much anticipated field trip as part of the Education Department’s ARIA Network program. What awaited us was the most amazing, exciting and inspiring experience ever! From the moment the scene shop crew ushered the students into the shop’s cavernous space, and handed them fluorescent pink, blue, green and yellow goggles, they knew they were in for something special. No ordinary field trip, this!

There was a path laid out for the groups to follow, and it might have been the “yellow brick road” taking us to Oz. Each step led to something new to look at, think about, touch or make. An array of materials, wood, paper, metal, fabric, foam, plastic, paint and wire, were organized in the vast space amidst all kinds of very cool tools and machines, waiting to be magically transformed into something amazing. Plastic, metal and wood became a giant, sinuous two-headed snake; cardboard, paint and foam rubber became elaborate crowns, thrones, boulders, trees, or animals; light and paper became glowing fire. There was a prop-making station, where the students could make a “magic” flute or bells, a painting station to create colorful trees and print making with sponges and stencils. As they progressed through the shop, our scene shop tour guide answered all our questions, pointed out interesting things to look at and even let us pick up and touch what we wanted. The students (and the adults!) lifted “heavy” foam boulders and gold nuggets, put their hands in flame, tried on crowns and sat on a giant throne.

For many of the students, the highlight was seeing the workings of the gigantic two-headed snake, which will be featured in the upcoming production of The Magic Flute. For those boys and girls who are lucky enough to see the production, they will most certainly have an immediate connection. [Right: Students get a hands-on treat at the Scene Shop.]

Getting in on the behind-the-scenes action, having the professionals in the scene shop share their process and explain their techniques doesn’t take away any of the magic, as some might think. If anything, it enhances it. You just had to look at everyone’s face—child and adult alike—to see the wonder and awe and respect for the hard work, ingenuity and talent at work.

And oh, the generosity! It was obvious how much time, thought and preparation went into making this a fun and meaningful experience for the students and teachers. There was not one thing overlooked, from the goggles to the aprons and gloves for painting. The kids felt like professionals and they were treated with patience and respect. Just the fact that the field trip took place during an actual production work day was unique. What a once in a lifetime experience! One for which we are truly grateful.

Now, inspired kids and teachers are eagerly collecting materials to build sets, paint backdrops and create props for their own original operas and they’ll even have a Production Artist visit from the scene shop to assist in making their ideas come to life.  What’s additionally exciting about exploring the production process is discovering connections. There’s science, math and physics in exploring the properties of materials. Just what does it take to make cardboard stand up, paper hold its shape or colors mix together? Good communication and organization skills are needed as well. How do you describe a process, explain an idea, delegate jobs and create schedules? The students learned that a process needs to be in place in addition to all the fun. [Above: Rooftop students show off their paint-covered hands.]

There was something for everyone that can be used anywhere, anytime, in school or out. For sure, lifelong learning happened the day we visited the opera scene shop and a lifelong memory was made. We all gained a deep appreciation of what it takes to make the magic of opera come to life.

But best of all, the kids learned that they can make magic too.

Posted: 5/10/2012 10:48:46 AM by Mary Ann Cruz (Kindergarten teacher)
Filed under: education, TheMagicFlute


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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