As part of his first production at Lawrence University last spring, Copeland Woodruff, the college’s new director of opera studies, surveyed his audience, asking them to share instances of feeling unwelcomed or as an outsider.
He was so moved by the outpouring of responses he received, he knew he had to do something to further address some of the experiences that were shared.
That “something” became the collaborative project “Expressions of Acceptance” that will feature more than 40 Lawrence student singers, including 30 from the Improvisational Group of Lawrence University (IGLU), and instrumentalists simultaneously performing 13 “micro-operas” — each about 5-8 minutes in length — in the lobby of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton. Every nook and cranny of the four-story lobby will be utilized for performances, including stairwells, seating areas, the bars and even the elevator.
The performance, Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m., will be preceded by a walk through downtown Appleton by organizers and community partners starting at 7 p.m. in front of the Lawrence Memorial Chapel and ending at the PAC. Anyone is welcome to participate in the walk, which is designed to embrace community and celebrate Appleton.
Following the performances, the audience will meet the cast and creative team and spend time together digesting the experience with community leaders in the Kimberly-Clark theatre.
“I was so excited and inspired by the audiences’ need to reach out and tell their stories last spring, that I knew that we had to continue the dialogue,” said Woodruff, director of opera studies and associate professor of music. “We are all strangers, even to ourselves sometimes. When we recognize that, it gives us courage to reach out to another soul, who is also a stranger.”
“Expressions of Acceptance” grew out of Woodruff’s production of Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” last February, an opera written during the Senator Joseph McCarthy trials that explores themes of “the stranger among us” as well as “the stranger within.”
“I hope through this event we can find ways to reach out and connect with others regardless
of any perceived difference, either in others or ourselves and be open
to the miraculous, healing qualities that each of us possesses.”
— Copeland Woodruff
A collaboration between Lawrence’s student organization GLOW and Celebrate Diversity Fox Cities (CDFC), Riverview Gardens and COTS, the campus and local organizations hosted pre-show and post-show events. Each audience member was asked to complete a four-question survey that asked them to describe a time in their life when they felt like an outsider, why it’s common for people to be wary of strangers or newcomers, what can be done to help people feel welcome and accepted and what obstacles do newcomers to Lawrence or the Fox Cities face that might prevent them from enjoying all that the community can offer.
“I would like for us not only to celebrate our differences, but to find the common threads we all share: we all want to love, be loved, be accepted for who we are, and be allowed to grow with regard to our varied experiences,” said Woodruff. “I hope through this event we can find ways to reach out and connect with others regardless of any perceived difference, either in others or ourselves and be open to the miraculous, healing qualities that each of us possesses. We are so much more than what appears at first glance, or second glance, or one-thousandth glance.”
While Copeland has produced and directed walk-through events before coming to Lawrence, “the level of integrated involvement with so many different community and university organizations is a first for me.”
The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region is a co-sponsor of the “Expressions of Acceptance” project, supporting it with a $2,500 grant.
In addition to the partners who worked with Woodruff on “The Tender Land,” additional community collaborators assisting with the “Expressions of Acceptance” production are Kathy Flores, the diversity and inclusion coordinator for the city of Appleton, African Heritage, Inc., INCLUDE, Casa Hispana, E.S.T.H.E.R., Goodwill, and CODA.
“It has been a life-changing experience for me working together with Matt Turner, Margaret Paek and the IGLU students,” said Woodruff, who earned first-place honors in the prestigious National Opera Association’s Best Opera Production Competition, Division V last year for the fifth time in the past eight years. “Many of the students didn’t know each other until this project and to see them learn from each other is mind-blowing. Watching them work together, reaching across many performance-practice boundaries to swim in the scary deep end of the improvisation and post-modern theatre pool has been a landmark in my career as an artist and an educator.”
“Getting out and working with the community has helped this outsider feel more a part of the conversation in Appleton and the surrounding area,” Woodruff added. “Finding similar and differing opinions and points of view, learning and growing from them, that’s what the human experience is for me.”
About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College” and Fiske’s Guide to Colleges 2016. Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.