World-renowned playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it means to be a human being.”
For UW-Eau Claire junior Kayla Murray, Wilde’s words really hit home.
Kayla, a vocal performance and theatre major from Kimberly, has paired up with the campus theater for her service-learning project.
Each year, the UW-Eau Claire music and theatre arts program organizes what they like to call Opera on Wheels.
“Opera on Wheels is our way of giving back to a community that embraces our craft,” the department website says. “We travel to elementary schools and introduce children to the world of opera.”
As for Kayla, she learned about Opera on Wheels in one of her classes and was surprised to discover that something she loved so much, vocal performance, could count as a service to her community.
“I didn’t understand how performing could be considered a service project,” Kayla admitted. “But that became more clear as we went through the course.”
Although they have yet to perform an Oscar Wilde play, the group decided on another classic: "Hansel and Gretel."
Preparing for their performance was a big undertaking, and required much more than just memorizing lines. Kayla explained that, in addition to time spent outside of class, the group dedicated a lot of class time to making sure their performance would come out flawlessly.
“We would study and learn our scenes, and then learn more about the time period, the story overall and our individual characters,” Kayla said. "The performers had to be extremely diligent about studying the show, as they needed to be prepared for the Q&A sessions they would hold with the elementary students following their performance.
“When we performed, we made the show kid friendly and allowed a Q&A session at the end of each show,” Kayla said. “It really allows the kids to explore opera and understand what, exactly, we are doing.”
For Kayla, there were many rewarding aspects of her service project, but the best by far was being able to witness the impact it had on the children.
“We didn’t have a very elaborate set and I was worried the kids would see through our props and either not understand or not enjoy the show, but I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Kayla reflected. “It showed me that you don’t need the big and fancy things to impact someone musically. If you put yourself in your characters’ shoes, and think, as my professor Dr. P. says, ‘This is life or death, raise the stakes for your character; only then can you make a very believable story.’”
Overall, Kayla’s project has proven that the ways in which we give back to our community are always important, but can be that much more impactful when it’s something we love doing.
“I loved this project because it didn’t feel like a burden or something I have to do before I graduate,” Kayla said. “It was fun and a great learning experience.”
As for Opera on Wheels, Oscar Wilde would be proud of this Blugold tradition and its dedication to sharing the human experience through art and service-learning.