There were many firsts when Tiana Jones took the stage in the Cobar High School auditorium.
It was her first time in a stage production, the first time she had sung in front of an audience, the first time her family knew she had won a lead role in her school musical.
“I didn’t tell them I was one of the main protagonists because I just wanted to see their real reaction,” Tiana said.
After a year of COVID-related frustration, West New South Wales high school students have ventured into more dramatic territory this year.
Thirty students in grades 7-12 spent four days creating, writing, directing and performing their original pop opera as part of the Opera Express Creative Arts Program in Sydney.
Creative director Murray Dahm traveled the program from Rockhampton to Hobart, but admits it was his first trip to the outback.
“I was wondering if they would be willing to give opera a try, but these students were so open-minded and welcoming from the start,” he said.
Laura Andrew has been a music teacher at Cobar High School for three years, making the trip west to Sydney on a rural scholarship for new teachers.
The students were to stage their biennial musical before the pandemic ended their plans.
“With COVID last year, we started to need to think about other ways to present our musical in school,” Ms. Andrew said.
“I saw Opera Express when I did my music teaching internship in Sydney and I always had it in mind when I went out to Cobar.”
Opera Express’s mission is to make the performing arts accessible to school-aged children, providing an outlet for creative expression and play.
“What we have found, more than doing an opera, when young people create and express themselves, it gives them more self-confidence,” said Mr. Dahm.
It was also an opportunity for students to collaborate across age groups and experience levels.
“It was kind of an eye opener to see students get involved in creating their own music,” said Ms. Andrew.
“I think I always knew that the students supported and encouraged each other a lot, but seeing them working together during those four days took it to another level.”