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Opera Express performers lead a discussion on bullying with Freedom School students. Enlarge Opera Express performers lead a discussion on bullying with Freedom School students.
Amanda Pagliarini Posted: July 28th, 2011 Amanda Pagliarini

“Someone who doesn’t feel good about themselves.” 

This was a young boy’s response to the question, "What is a bully?" 

The performers of Opera Express engaged the children at Shalom Park Freedom School in a dialogue about bullying and friendship after performing their similarly themed version of The Billy Goats Gruff. About 50 Freedom School students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, enjoyed the operatic version of the fairytale about three billy goats and a bullying troll. The performance and the dialogue that followed focused on seeing the humanity in bullies and using kindness to breed kindness.

Shalom Park Freedom School is a collaborative effort to provide free, quality summer education programs for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students in underserved areas. The first Jewish-run Freedom School in the country, students take park in a six-week literacy and enrichment program in an effort to combat summer break learning loss.

Opera Express, the educational touring company of Opera Carolina, made a special summer performance for the Freedom School students. During the school year, Opera Express visits 35 local elementary schools, performing operatic versions of popular children stories that offer broader messages. These free programs allow Opera Carolina to introduce opera to young people who might otherwise not be exposed to it, with a hope of demystifying an art form that many consider inaccessible. For the 2011-2012 school year, Opera Express will perform Pinocchio and lead Q&A discussions on the consequences of lying with students. 

Oasis, the Levine Jewish Community Center’s Senior Enrichment program, joined the Freedom School students for the performance. The show’s tongue in cheek moments weren’t lost on the adults in the room – if you act like Charlie Sheen, you will be alone. At one point, a Billy Goat who went to seek the help of an adult returned alone, stating he tried to find the Carolina Panthers, but they weren’t out of lockout yet.  

This event brought together three separate groups with significant differences in every measurable way. In the end, the message of the performance was just as evident in the audience as it was in the show: It doesn’t matter where you come from; kindness creates communities. 

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