Back to school: Interview with school shows artist Connor Willmore
5th September, 2022

Back to school: Interview with school shows artist Connor Willmore

We spoke with school show touring artist Connor Willmore about what audiences can expect from the 2022 school shows: The Frog Prince and La Bohème.

First, some background on The Frog Prince and La Bohème

The Frog Prince & La Bohème leap into the 21st century with all the transformative joy and wonder you can expect from Opera Queensland.

In a modern retelling of the classic Grimm tale The Frog Prince, a spoiled princess encounters a sassy frog and an unlikely friendship blossoms. They embark on a fantastical and uplifting journey, learning lessons about friendship and the importance of looking after the environment along the way.

The Frog Prince is suitable for ages 12 & under.

An ideal introduction to opera for young adults, Puccini’s La Bohème is re‑awakened with a contemporary spin that explores how young people cope with uncertainty and change in today’s image conscious world

This intimate retelling of the great opera follows a group of misfit friends learning to survive, falling in love, finding their voices and facing adversity as they set out on a new life together.

La Bohème is suitable for young adults, ages 13+.

Tell us a little about your background in the arts?

I grew up in a rural town in New South Wales and was introduced to musical performance through local concerts and musicals in the region.

I was lucky enough to study with the same music teacher for 14 years, who was incredibly supportive and gave me the confidence to go into music full time.

After high school, I began at the University of Queensland under Shaun Brown and I look forward to completing my studies there in the coming years.

What are some misconceptions about opera and kids?

Opera is a multilayered thing but much like any form of music it consists of melody and words.

Through the great musical direction of this production, the team have managed to combine a number of classical melodies that people have heard before in media or even in advertising so there is a sense of familiarity there.

We’ve also looked to reword the lyrics to move away from older style texts to make it more accessible for the kids watching.

What was the creative process behind creating an age-appropriate performance?

Every audience you perform to is different and its always important for an artist to understand the audience they are performing for.

We have created these productions that deliver classical music in a way that is palatable and consumable for the targeted age group, but it’s also on us as performers to deliver the dialogue and jokes as best so that we can create an enjoyable narrative outside of the music.

At the end of the day, we are looking to convey these important overarching messages in a way that won’t see kids disengage, but rather embrace the experience.

When it comes to  La Bohème, how are works from opera greats like Puccini still relevant today?

I think in opera it’s always important to understand where you’ve come from to know where you’re going.

The creative team have done a fantastic job in condensing a full-scale opera in 50 minutes, while still staying true to the core plot point of the story and revamping the setting into a modern context.

Despite these changes, the original source material can be said to have never been more relevant to modern times. Our characters continue to suffer for their art in a harsh world while struggling from the impacts of an unknown illness. We can see these moments clearly playing out in the world today and to me that reiterates the worth and relevance of inspired writers like Puccini.

What is your favourite part of performing this show?

My character Rudy is a romantic at heart, which I feel like I can relate to. His character can be a bit depressive, and he struggles to find joy in the life he leads. But I love the moment when he is first introduced to Mimì and she becomes this ray of sunshine in his life. It’s a very life affirming story and Rudy’s subsequent clueless nature and dorkishness is really fun to play.

What should teachers consider implementing these performances in schools?

We find that the live theatre component of the touring shows works hand in hand with the curriculum. While much of the classroom work can be theoretical, these live performances can support that in classroom experience, while also showcasing the many roles that are needed to put a production together. It not only speaks to the work done in class but highlights the arts as a viable career opportunity.

How have you found the experience so far?

This is definitely one of the most fun foot in the door projects you could do as a young artist.

Growing up in a rural area we didn’t get many opportunities like this when I was at school so being able to provide that to kids living rurally like me is a very exciting experience.

I hope that students that see our productions are inspired to continue into the field of arts and see the many different options that await them on and off the stage.

Brisbane audiences can look forward to performances of these shows in the September school holidays.

Tickets to The Frog Prince can be bought here

Tickets to La Bohème can be bought here

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