Opera company joins anti-meth fight

2010-02-22T23:33:00Z Opera company joins anti-meth fightCLAIR JOHNSON Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 22, 2010 11:33 pm  • 

 “American Opera Idol” — a mix of operatic music and an anti-meth message in a play about a singing contest — made its debut Monday at Laurel Middle School.

 The students applauded and cheered, especially for one of the “contestants,” their own Jennifer Perkins, a music teacher.  The meth message wasn’t lost on the middle school children, either.

 “I thought it was really good,” said Jordan Myers, a seventh-grader. “They should do the performance all over the country” to inform kids about drugs, Myers said.

 Morgan Leggett, another student, also thought the production was good. “Meth can kill you,” Leggett said.

 Written by Rimrock Opera’s Doug Nagel, general director, and Sandi Rabas, pianist, the play is part of the opera company’s outreach program. There was such a positive response to Rimrock Opera’s earlier program on tobacco that Nagel wanted to find a creative way to present the dangers of meth to the students.

 “I contacted the Montana Meth folks. They were all over it,” Nagel said. The Montana Meth Project, one of the production’s sponsors, is known for its graphic ads and educational materials depicting the dangers of methamphetamine use.

 The half-hour, four-scene play features three final contestants in an operatic singing competition. Contestant Kurt Gregory, played by Matthew Wilkinson,  sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” made famous by Elvis Presley, and befriends another competitor, Jess Robinson, played by Jocelyn Bjornstad.

 Gregory reveals he’s under stress because his brother is jailed for meth and explains to his new friend the dangers of the highly addictive drug.  A supportive Jess helps Gregory through a difficult time.

 Nagel said he wanted to convey that “life still goes on” in the midst of things like singing competitions. After the production, Nagel talked to the students about the risks of meth and abuse prevention.

 Rimrock Opera gave two performances of “American Opera Idol” at the Laurel Middle School gym and will present the play at Will James, Castle Rock, Riverside and Lewis and Clark middle schools in Billings during the rest of the week.

 The contestant role played by Perkins is performed by someone from the school where the production is being held, Nagel said.

 Perkins couldn’t find a student willing to take on the role, so she stepped in and “it was a riot,” she said.

 Blending an anti-drug message with the arts will be better received by kids, Perkins said.

 The opera company provides participating schools with a study guide, which also is available on its Web site at Rimrockopera.org. Nagel urged the students to take an online self-test about meth and to send in their comments.

The “American Opera Idol” project is sponsored by local foundations, businesses and opera donors. Laurel Ford helped sponsor Monday’s performance.

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