Schmopera on tour: The Bremen Town Musicians

Schmopera on tour: The Bremen Town Musicians

Jenna Simeonov
I spent the month of November on tour with the COC’s Glencore Ensemble Studio School Tour production of Dean Burry’s The Bremen Town Musicians. We went as far as Manitoulin Island and performed almost 30 shows. The group included Iain MacNeil (the Donkey), Charlotte Burrage (the Dog), Aviva Fortunata (the Cat), Andrew Haji (the Rooster), Gordon Bintner (the Miller, the Wolf, the Poet, the Witch, and the Robber), Mike Barrs (Stage Manager) and myself (Music Director). While we were way up north, I had the cast sit down for an interview. They even let me put my camera backstage during a show. Below you’ll find the backstage footage, plus a look at an average day on the road with the COC Ensemble Studio.

Anywhere between 7:30 and 8:30am

We meet at the tour van outside the COC, exchanging sleepy greetings and tips of coffee cups. We pile in the van. Someone asks for some of the Halloween candy in the big bag that Mike (our Stage Manager) keeps for emergencies. Someone asks for hand sanitizer. A few people Google the address of the school we’re going to, and muse on the pros and cons of various routes.

Aviva Fortunata (the Cat) sometimes makes muffins for the van. (See above.)


Arrival at the school. A representative from the tour van jumps out to greet the school’s office staff, and to find the easiest path for lugging our equipment to the gymnasium. On good days, we’re greeted by a group of lovely students willing to help with the lugging. We begin an assembly line.

Andrew Haji (the Rooster) finishing a show set-up.


Time for show #1. The gymnasium is now filled with anywhere from 60 to 300 students, from kindergartners to sixth graders. A teacher quiets the crowd, either with a raise of an arm, a counting system, or some mini game of clapping call-and-answer. The kids hear a quick preamble about what opera is, what show we’re performing for them, and that the aisles must stay clear for the performers. This causes some stirring amongst the crowd. I get a nod from Mike, who is backstage and ready to start.


Mike, Gordon and Andrew are backstage, prepared to flex their puppetry skills with the entrance of the mice. Without fail, the children go absolutely, positively crazy for those mice.


The entrance of the Robber. Gordon opens his bag of stolen money and pours them joyfully over his head. Coins scatter on the floor in the vicinity, and the front row of children lurch forward to snag themselves a fake gold piece.

Gordon Bintner (the Miller, the Poet, the Witch, and the Robber)


The show has just finished, and we spend a few minutes taking questions from the audience. Plenty of inquiry about the origins of the costumes and sets, and several kids want to know how long the cast has been working as opera singers. Some infrequent concern about the health of my fingers, and the odd philosophical question: “Why did the robber steal?”


The singers scatter to dressing rooms to get out of costume and remove make-up, while Mike and I begin to tear down the set. It’s week 2, and our tour group makes an art out of delegation, packing up and loading the van in under 20 minutes.

The Rooster’s make-up kit.


We all pile back into the van. Someone asks for a piece of Halloween candy. Someone asks for hand sanitizer. We Google the address of the next school, and someone proactively searches for potential lunch spots nearby. We debrief about particularly funny kids in the audience, the state of the Donkey’s ears, or memorable onstage snafus.


Lunch decisions have been made. We notice that there have been a lot of ribs happening at school tour meals. No one is concerned. We marvel at Iain’s grand lunches and bother Mike for details about the afternoon’s school.

Iain MacNeil (the Donkey) enjoys the first snow, in Manitoulin Island.


We’re fed and caffeinated, and we arrive at the second school of the day. We battle a maze of hallways and unexpected staircases as we haul our beloved set through a brand new school. Several children stop us along the way to ask us who we are and what we’re doing here. We tell them about the opera, and they seem unsatisfied.


Our second set-up is always fastest. The cast’s dressing rooms are actually gym equipment rooms, filled with childhood treasures like hula hoops, jump ropes, scooters, and tricycles. We all act like children for approximately 15 minutes.

Charlotte Burrage (the Dog), testing out the set.


Children file in, expressing their surprise at our set taking up space in their gym. A few kids stop by the piano to tell me about their respective piano lessons. They ask if I’m an actual piano player. I assure them I’m the real deal.


The children go absolutely, positively crazy for the mice.

The mice.


The show and Q&A session are over, and children lunge forward to “help” me clean up the dropped coins, still on the floor from the Robber’s scene. They inform me that the coins are fake, and therefore valueless. I learn about the unique relationship between one little girl’s dog and cat.

The mice.


We finish our patented van-pack, and help Mike dodge children and school buses on the way out of the parking lot. Someone asks for a piece of Halloween candy. Someone asks for hand sanitizer. Someone asks what time we’re meeting tomorrow morning, and others groan at the response.


We narrowly escape Toronto-area rush-hour and arrive back at the COC. Representatives get out of the van to help Mike maneuver into a parking spot. We mention that scene in Austin Powers when Mike Myers has to do a 20-point turn in a narrow alley. We confirm the call time for tomorrow morning, cheerily wave goodbye, and remind everyone that the price of being late is a big box of Timbits for the van (we’re not kidding).

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