Scallywags’ Delight

Classroom Extension Activities for the The Pirates of Penzance Digital Production  

By Kevin Nicoletti 

This blog is sponsored by NAfME Corporate member Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Ahoy mateys, and happy Leap Day! Did you know that Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) has a FREE digital production of The Pirates of Penzance available to use in your classroom this semester? This production was originally produced during the pandemic in 2021 and was a huge hit reaching 87,000 students from all 50 states and 10 countries on 5 continents! This article will focus on extension activities you can use with your students.

Where to Start

Sign up for this free program here. Now you have access to several great resources. The study guide is a great place to begin as it will introduce your students to the characters and plot. You might also take them through the stage movement or patter song workshops as a warmup activity. Of course, the highlight will be watching the opera. And if your school allows it, you might even provide some popcorn! After viewing the performance, allow time for reflection and discussion. Let your students voice their opinions by talking about what stood out to them, which character or aria was their favorite, and what things may have been unclear.

 

scene from Pirates of Penzance from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis with one woman singing and ship scene in background

Mock Casting Exercise

Have your students become artistic directors and give them the opportunity to cast the opera. My students enjoyed this activity as it challenged them to be critical listeners. We started by reflecting on the story and each character so students had an idea of what they should listen for (tone quality, characterization, style, etc.). You can even provide a simple rubric to help them organize their thoughts. Next, play about a minute and a half of each recording. Consider playing just the audio so the students are forced to use their ears instead of their eyes. Be sure to emphasize that there are no right or wrong choices. Feel free to use the recordings below from YouTube:

Mabel Frederic Major General Ruth Pirate King
Singer A Singer A Singer A Singer A Singer A
Singer B Singer B Singer B Singer B Singer B
Singer C Singer C Singer C Singer C Singer C

 

After the students have a chance to choose their favorite singer, lead a brief discussion and see which vocal elements the students picked up on. Their answers are always fascinating. From there, you can analyze the data and see which singer most of the class ended up choosing. At the end of the mock casting exercise, you may want to talk about some of the other factors that go into casting such as scheduling conflicts, the director’s vision, or salary negotiations. Doing this activity before showing students the opera is a great way to get them acquainted with some of the music.

scene from Pirates of Penzance from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis with three cast members interacting

Patter Song Challenge

Many students are drawn to the Major General’s aria and the incredible speed and skill of the patter song. The patter song workshop provided will show students some rehearsal tips for how to master this skill. After you’ve given the students a chance to rehearse, you can then have students square off as individuals or as teams to see who can give the clearest or fastest versions of the text. You could even try assigning different groups different stanzas. Be sure to reference the patter song lesson plan in the study guide that goes through its history and includes several contemporary examples.

You can also take this exercise a step further and have students create their own parody of this aria. Many great examples already exist all over YouTube using everything from elements of the periodic table to Pokémon. Start by letting your students explore some of the existing parodies. Then challenge them to come up with their own theme by writing 1-2 stanzas. This process gives them an opportunity to reinforce literary concepts such as rhyme scheme and syllabification. Rhyming dictionaries can prove to be a valuable resource. Once complete, have the students share their parodies with the class.

Costume Coordinator Activity

Giving students a turn as a costume coordinator is another fun activity. Supply each group with the cast list and a budget and let them “shop” online for the costumes. You can expand this activity for older students by having them shop for props, wigs, or furniture for the set. Another fun twist is to give each group a different historic time period or theme. Some good places for online shopping include: Light in the Box, Johnnie Brocks, HalloweenCostumes.com, Spirit Halloween, and Party City. You can also add to the fun by allowing groups to earn a bigger budget through various means such as singing a snippet from one of the arias for the class. Google Slides is a great tool for students to use to show what costumes they chose and how they spent their budget.

About the author:

Kevin Nicoletti headshotKevin Nicoletti has taught vocal music for 11 years in the St. Louis area. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from Washington University in St. Louis and Master of Music Education from Central Methodist University. Kevin is also a published composer and has been a guest conductor for multiple local honor choirs. He now works full-time with the education department at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where his primary focus is teaching students to imagine, write, produce, and perform their own original musical works.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

February 29, 2024

Category

  • Repertoire

Copyright

February 29, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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