Written by Carrie Beth Wallace
Images courtesy of Schwob School of Music
This week, Columbus State University will present a production of Speed Dating Tonight! in the Springer Opera House Saloon. The opera will be directed by Joshua May, Schwob School of Music's new Opera Director, and will feature a large cast of students of all ages.
Speed Dating Tonight! is not your average opera. The show was written by Hawaiian composer Michael Ching in 2013, and has risen to popularity around the globe. The show features multiple musical styles - yes, other than opera - making it accessible for audiences of all ages regardless of their previous exposure to the genre.
To better understand Speed Dating Tonight! we sat down with May over coffee to discuss the show itself, why it's a great fit for CSU's vocal students, and what he hopes will develop out of Schwob's commitment to bringing music into the heart of our community.
Q: What can you tell me about this particular piece?
A: Speed Dating Tonight is an opera written by Michael Ching. It's a one-hour interactive opera that is a mixture of musical theatre, cabaret music, American songbook, opera, and folk song as well. It's a collection of American music that Michael Ching put together with Dean Anthony at the Janiec Opera Company in Brevard in 2013.
This particular show is great for our cast because it features all of the different kinds of talent Schwob has in its voice area. As teachers, we're always striving to give a great diversity of age-appropriate repertoire to our students. It is through this repertoire that they develop stage skills and singing skills together. It's our goal with repertoire to create a really unique storytelling environment for them to sort of live in and to present to our audience.
What's great about this show is that it's only in hour. For people in our community that have never been to an opera, this is a great one to start with. It's not lengthy, it features a multitude of musical styles, and there is something for everybody in this opera. It's comic and it's heartfelt and it's relatable. Everybody knows what speed dating is like: you go, you ring a bell, and you meet somebody new every five minutes. That's the exact premise of this show. You get to see all of these different people telling their story on stage - who they are, who they think they are, and who they think they might want to meet. Some of the characters have fascinating backstories that you hear about, and some of them are just there for the first time looking for love and hoping for the best.
Q: Performances of Speed Dating Tonight will all be taking place in the Springer Saloon. What can audience members expect from this experience?
A: It's an intimate venue where our audience will feel as though they're a part of the story. You'll get to laugh with us, cry with us, and enjoy a cocktail during the show. It's a great way to get to know the opera singers in our community in a beautiful setting.
Q: How do the different styles of music play into the show? Do each of the characters sing different things?
A: Yes. Each of the characters have music written for them in different styles. You'll get to hear a large chorus at the opening and finale sections, a full operatic scene, and intimate American songbook and jazz music, and then directly into a trio of folk song women, and then into a full operatic aria or duet. It's a wonderful show and a great way to get a feel for what you like within American music and Western classical music overall.
The show is a really fascinating work that challenges our singers to be good at many things and learn about how to interpret their unique character within this world of various musical styles.
Q: This sounds really interesting. I'm pretty sure Columbus hasn't seen anything like this before.
A: Michael Ching is an amazing new composer, and this opera has gone over exceptionally well. It's being performed all over the world, and especially in college settings. In just six years, it's seen quite a few performances. Recently it was done in Savannah and Kennesaw in the state of Georgia.
I find that it's very easy to invite our community into this opera because it's such an interactive experience. The audience will be sitting in the bar with us, while the singers are mingling and moving around the room, listening to each other, and participating in everything from their songs to Broadway style dance numbers.
The story really makes the audience feel as though you're in a bar with us on a speed date yourself. By the end of the show, you're going to get to know over twenty-one singers.
Q: Twenty-one? Wow. That's a big cast for an intimate show like this.
A: Yes. Twenty-one. The cast includes freshmen to graduate students. This is a piece that encompasses something for everybody in our college, while simultaneously creating a unique story and experience for our community members.
Q: As a director, I see some obvious challenges to this piece. Can you describe the challenges you have come across with a show that has so much going on?
A: Sure. One of the challenges is that some of our students have such a large range of experience. Some of them have been in shows before, many have been in productions at CSU, some have been in an opera before, and then there are a few who it's their first experience on stage.
As part of our acting tradition at Schwob, I teach an introduction to lyric stage where we work on acting technique, stage combat, stage makeup, we have dance workshops, etc. Building and matching the skills of our freshmen and sophomore students to the experiences our upperclassmen and graduate students have been exposed to is a unique challenge.
As a cast, it's a challenge for our twenty-one singers to employ all of the different acting techniques they have to incorporate themselves into an interactive story together. We've spent a lot of time focusing on the motivation of their characters and how they each fit into the scene. This is done in their training each week. It's our job to work together to create a living tableau of singers.
Q: I love the focus you and your colleagues have on making the arts more accessible to locals.
A: Absolutely. Our goal is to bring opera into the community rather than having people always coming to us. It's really important to find a bridge for families, adults, and community members who aren't currently in our audience to say, "Maybe there's something for me." We want to make music that people love and want to be a part of.
Our hope is that you'll leave excited to come back and see more opera productions in the future. We want people to be encouraged to attend more concerts at the School of Music, to visit productions put on by our fabulous theatre department, and to seek out many of the other local opportunities that are happening in the arts downtown. ◼︎