Arizona Artbeat: Arizona Opera’s “Arizona Bold” Initiative


TED SIMONS: Arizona opera has announced the public phase of Arizona Bold, an initiative that will help focus on the state's history and its natural, cultural and economic diversity. Arizona director Ryan Taylor is here now to tell us more. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

RYAN TAYLOR: Thank you for having me.

RYAN TAYLOR: What is Arizona Bold?

RYAN TAYLOR: Arizona Bold is an initiative we've created after a series of community conversations and interviews with our funders and our audience to redefine what opera is all about in the coming years. We see people that really enjoy the classic pieces by Mozart, and Puccini and Verde; they're not going away, but we're supplementing them with each year is a couple of productions that are focused on segments of the population that we don't traditionally serve, or haven't traditionally served as an opera company.

TED SIMONS: And this is focusing on Arizona history, and looking at the state's diversity, what is that all about?

RYAN TAYLOR: For example, our company was born in Tucson, moved here to Phoenix, but we continue to serve both cities. The first production we have next season is a piece called Arizona lady, and it's a 1953 operetta about a horse raised in Tucson that wins the Kentucky derby. We had no way to know that Bob BAFFERT's horse was going to come in and win the derby this year but it is a nice tie-in and it really speaks to the kind of history we have in the state.

TED SIMONS: I know this all kind of coincides with the fundraising capital campaign, was it 4 year 5 million?

RYAN TAYLOR: Four year, 5 million, yeah.

TED SIMONS: Talk to us about that.

RYAN TAYLOR: We have been extraordinarily lucky to have a passionate group of staff and board members helping to launch the quiet part of the campaign. In the first 10 months of the four years now, we have raised $3.1 million towards the $5. We have a little bit of headway into the campaign and a little work ahead of us but we're very pleased with the way it is going.

TED SIMONS: Does a performance like "Arizona Lady" and I know this "Florencia en el Amazonas, so I want to talk about that one as well because it sounds like it's very diversity oriented, do those things help raise money or do you find that those things can be a hindrance?

RYAN TAYLOR: They actually have -- the 3.1 that we have seen come in so quickly is because we're doing those pieces. Absolutely connected to those pieces. So, in a way it is helping stabilize the organization and it is also helping fund some of the pieces that are terrific classic works that the public is less interested in supporting philanthropically because they have seen it before. It's not as innovative and different and fun to support something that's been done.

TED SIMONS: It is important to have the two, I think, Arizona lady with the dialogues in English and Spanish, correct. And the second one I mentioned, that is from a Mexican --

RYAN TAYLOR: A Mexican composer Daniel Catan.

TED SIMONS: And that's entirely in Spanish?

RYAN TAYLOR: Entirely in Spanish, written for the Seattle, Los Angeles and Houston operas just about six, seven years ago now I think and it tells the story of an opera diva who is traveling the Amazon river in search of her missing husband. Incredible piece of music and very -- what you would think of as opera, big story, grand music, very tuneful for something that was written in the latter part of the 20th century. It is an impressive piece and one that we're excited to present.

TED SIMONS: Did I read it was inspired by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez?

RYAN TAYLOR: It has a lot of magical realism in the story, in the plot. She is in search of her husband, who is a missing butterfly hunter and when she cannot find him, when she gets to him in the house, there's a cholera outbreak, she is transformed into a butterfly and flies into the forest to see if he can find her.

TED SIMONS: Sounds like Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. But it's important to have that along with Arizona lady, but you have your Carmens, your Don Giovannis and your Falstaff, correct?

RYAN TAYLOR: Absolutely, and we have never presented Falstaff at this company before. So that's in and of itself a big premiere for us, but certainly Carmen and Don Giovanni, we've seen here before, though every show we are doing this year is a new production. You will never have seen anything we are doing this year before.

TED SIMONS: Challenges for live opera in this high-tech world. There are so many opportunities for the eyeballs to go wandering. How do you get folks in the theater, in the performance hall, sitting down and paying attention?

RYAN TAYLOR: I feel very lucky in that regard, because I was raised as part of the generation that had TV news broadcasts with the crawl and inset reporter and the stock ticker and time and date and temperature, and there is so many things that we have grown up learning to look at and adjust in our -- all of our senses are bombarded at once. Opera is the original multimedia art form. We've got your translations above your head. The costumes, dancing, acting, live music and live singing. We don't use microphones. It's this sort of miracle of what the human body can do over a 45, 60 piece orchestra. So, I think it is actually a lot of fun once you get there and it is just about compelling someone to attend the first time.

TED SIMONS: And, again, it seems as though in order to move forward, does opera have to be more, I don't know, more visual? Does it have to be more special effecty? I mean, what does opera need to do to get the crowd that you need to get for the coming years?

RYAN TAYLOR: I think it is just about properly reflecting the community that each of us serves as a company. There are many opera companies across the United States that serve one city. We serve a state. We are one of the only two city opera companies in existence in the country. The most efficient opera out there right now because of that. So, for us, it is about providing balance, making sure that the meal you have on your operatic plate is not just meat and potatoes but there are a dessert, and maybe an aperitif, a nice side course to go with it.

TED SIMONS: And as far as the opera itself we talked about the capital campaign, how is the opera doing in general?

RYAN TAYLOR: In general, quite well. Our annual campaign has risen between 6 and 8% over the last two years. We have run a couple of sort of heavy-hitter debt relief campaigns over the last three seasons, $2 million Mays and most recently a 50 for 500 campaign where we got donations from all 50 states in the union, District of Columbia, and Japan. We have the nation's attention on what we are doing with our company and we are excited to have that.

TED SIMONS: How much do finances impact what you are going to put on the stage

RYAN TAYLOR: Well, we have to be able to afford it. It is a careful balancing act. We have had a couple of meetings in the last few weeks. We are looking at the 16-17 season and what is beyond that, 17-18. It is matter of knowing what we can fund, what people are excited about and how many tickets we will sell and what it costs to put it on. It's a careful puzzle.

TED SIMONS: I was going to say, a lot of checks and balances there, aren't there? And ok we have Arizona lady, we have Florencia en el Amazonas and we got Carmen, Don Giovanni and Falstaff, and all next season, correct?

RYAN TAYLOR: All next season, both cities.

TED SIMONS: What about in the future? What's on the horizon?

RYAN TAYLOR: Part of Arizona Bold, we're looking at which shows properly reflect Arizona. So, we have a world premier of Riders of The Purple Sage based on the Zane Grey novel of the same name. That will be the first wild west opera written by an American composer living in the west. So we're looking forward to that.

TED SIMONS: Very good. Good to have you here. Continued success. Thank you.

RYAN TAYLOR: Yes, appreciate it. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Summer vacation can mean a variety of things for kids, but for one group of young people, it's a chance to create kid-friendly mobile apps. Producer Allyson Cummings and photographer Langston Fields takes us behind the scenes at Pearson kids co-lab.

ALLYSON CUMMINGS: A team of young innovators come together every week in Chandler for Pearson's kids co-lab. A network focussing on educating students.

LISA MAURER: Pearson's kid's co-lab is based on 20 years of research out of the University of Maryland. We instantiated the Chandler kids co-lab last year and it has been going on for one year.

ALLYSON CUMMINGS: The lab is involved in creating content for an early literacy mobile app, this is designed for preschoolers who are starting kindergarten.

LISA MAURER: The purpose of the app is to expose the kids to a lot of new vocabulary words and not just the things that they might experience in their life, but the descriptions of those things, maybe what verb or adjective might be going along with that. But the kids don't think about that. They're just exploring and having fun. A typical day for Pearson's kids co-lab into summer is that the kids will show up, will have a snack and everybody will make name tags for each other and then we'll have a circle time question. And everybody sits on this circle and answers the question regardless of their age. Everyone shares their name, their age, the adults alike, and that question will get the kids primed for the task up ahead. And then we will work on a different design challenge that we're given for that day. We have a variety of techniques that we might use, everything from using open-ended art materials and recyclables and building a low-tech prototype to using sticky notes and evaluating a prototype that has already been built depending on where that team is at in the process.

ALLYSON CUMMINGS: The kids perform hands-on activities that translate into the app. 12-year-old Michael France talks about a racetrack they made to help expand preschoolers vocabulary.

MICHAEL FRANCE: We have this app, there's this kids room named Joey on the iPad you can show it and next to his toy box he has a racetrack and it's just like a car and the track and some grass, what else should be on there? So they gave us a paper with the track, the car, we put the fans, stuff the fans are doing, like what are they doing? The checkered flag the would swing, all of that, and the guy to fix the car if it gets messed up all that.

ALLYSON CUMMINGS: What they come up with then becomes product. In addition to that working on projects teaches the young team members skills that are useful beyond Pearson.

LISA MAURER: What we're hearing from the kids themselves is saying that they are becoming more leaders, kind of honing their leadership skills in the classroom as well as being a little more creative about different problems that the teacher might present to them.

ALLYSON CUMMINGS: For Lisa, the experience is worthwhile.
LISA MAURER: Pearson's kids co-lab has been a way for me to merge things that I am passionate about, like the fact that I was a former teacher. Being able to look at the benefits that we are giving to these kids while they're also helping us to solve some of our biggest problems as well as helping kids who will be using these solutions some day. Those are the things that I get excited about with Pearson's kids co-lab.

TED SIMONS: And for more information, you can check out their web site at researchnetwork.Pearson.com.

VIDEO: We want to hear from you. Submit your questions, comments, and concerns via email at Arizona [email protected]

TED SIMONS: Thursday, on Arizona Horizon, it's time for southern exposure, our monthly news from south of the GILA and we'll hear about a book from the 1919 Chicago White Socks scandal. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Arizona Opera has announced the public phase of “Arizona Bold,” an initiative to present works that focus on Arizona’s history and it’s natural, cultural and economic diversity. Along with the initiative, Arizona Opera is seeking to raise $5 million. Arizona Opera general director Ryan Taylor will tell us more.

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Ryan Taylor : Arizona Opera General Director

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