Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Minecraft, Virginia Tech’s Production of OPERAcraft, and what this all has to do with Writing for Kids

Over the weekend, my family and I made the 3-hour trek to Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, to see a live performance of OPERAcraft The Surface: A World Above, the first-ever opera developed around Minecraft. For readers who may not know, Minecraft is an online world-building game that allows players to create, explore, and defend virtual worlds made of blocks. (This is a simplified explanation that will surely not meet my boys’ approval, but there it is in a nutshell!☺)    

In a unique and creative meeting of the minds, faculty and students from the music and engineering departments at Virginia Tech collaborated with local high school students to create and perform a virtual opera. Here is a more detailed explanation from the creators of the project:
Starting with music borrowed from Mozart operas and a specific number of characters, the project inspires high school students to create a story and then the libretto (the opera’s “script”); create the virtual set through a custom version of ubiquitous Minecraft video game/sandbox; create avatars for each character; and control said avatars within the confines of the virtual world, including body gestures, lip-syncing with real singing soloists, as well as multiple real-time camera feeds akin to that of a live video production. The interactive set is projected on a scrim while Virginia Tech music majors sing the finalized score and the high school students control the character avatars.*   

To view the performance, press play or click here for a link that also includes comments from the creators. The first 12 minutes or so of this video is preshow feed, and the actual opera starts about 12 to 13 minutes in, so fast forward if you'd like. 

In contemplating this post, I considered whether or not this unique performance was at all related to the general subject of my blog—writing for children. (Obviously) I decided that YES, it certainly is; first of all, OPERAcraft was written and developed in collaboration with teenagers and for audiences of all ages, including children. Secondly, this performance did what the best material written for kids always does—it engaged its young audience. As a music lover and supporter of the creative arts, I was thrilled to see my two 11-year-old boys (and many others!) enthralled by an actual opera being performed by classically trained musicians. I am still marveling over this fact! Thirdly, this performance proved that “thinking outside of the box” can result in truly amazing things, and don’t we, as writers, need to stretch our creative muscles in different ways to produce our very best work?
I will add, in the spirit of full disclosure, that there have been *many* times when harmony has been disrupted at my house due to Minecraft. My sweet boys are borderline obsessed with the game, and strict computer limits have been put in place so that real life doesn’t become displaced by their virtual adventures. As in everything, moderation is key. Which brings me to the main reason why I welcomed an opportunity to watch this wonderful performance—it helped me to understand one of their passions in a way I haven’t before, and comprehend a bit better the draw that Minecraft has for my kids. It was just a bonus that a world-class opera was the facilitator of this understanding!  
Happy Writing!    
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*Special thanks to Virginia Tech University for granting permission to use material from their OPERAcraft program in this post. OPERAcraft was funded by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology at Virginia Tech; supported through the institute’s IMPACT studio; and presented in its stunning new facility. For more information about the Institute for Creativity, Art, and Technology, please click here.

4 comments:

  1. What fun! It's certainly a clever way to bring two things together that you wouldn't ever think you'd see a pairing of. I can't wait until my little guy is old enough to get to do these types of fun outings.

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  2. This is already changing the way people tell stories... fascinating.

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  3. I couldn't get it to work for me, but are you by chance in the NoVA area. We started a NoVA writers facebook group recently as an offshoot of PiBoIdMo if you are interested in bookish info in the NoVa area and write-ins and such.

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  4. !! That is a terrific project -- such an unexpected mix of genre and subject! I am from Blacksburg (my parents met at VT), so it is especially nice to hear about a hometown event :-)

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