Creative Costuming in Mission Imagination

Tuesday, March 2

Omaha Symphony Director of Education Liz Kendall Weisser gives us an update on how the Mission Imagination program has gone digital!

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The Omaha Symphony is proud to continue safe, live performances for our community—but what’s happening in our education and community engagement efforts? Omaha Symphony Director of Education Liz Kendall Weisser gives us an update on one of these programs, Mission Imagination. The symphony administration and musicians have worked together to create digital experiences that serve our community’s teachers and enrich student learning—Mission Imagination concerts are just one of the experiences we’re providing!

In a more typical year, we’d invite students to experience Mission Imagination, an interactive concert experience for Pre K-3rd grade, in person. This year, the team has gotten creative to adapt the program into a virtual experience. Liz explains how:

Creative Costuming and Innovative Education by Liz Kendall Weisser

In “normal” times, spring semester is typically an active time for the orchestra, performing Mission Imagination concerts in school “gymatoriums” and on partner stages all around the Omaha metro. This highly interactive concert historically featured a single actor collaborating with Maestro Richardson and a playful orchestra to teach musical concepts to younger elementary students.

But this is not a normal year; how do you continue to engage young audiences in a virtual space safely? This fall, in our third week of the season, musicians of the Omaha Symphony carefully masked up and spaced out to record “A Home for Treble,” a concert experience designed for the screen. The concert structure largely emulated a live concert experience—concert creator Adam Goos took the Holland stage as Treble, the lovable mutt looking for his “forever (instrument) family.” Adaptations included adjusting the cadence of the lines to address the audience through the lens and giving space for the kids to chime in from wherever they are engaging in the experience.

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A custom mask was created for Treble by local costumer and artist Jenny Pool. Incorporating masks into the design of the costume enhanced the look of the pup and its structure allowing for better microphone placement and breathability for the actor.

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For the first time, we placed cameras all around the orchestra and were able to record views of the orchestra not possible in a live concert. But there was even more we could do to lean into the magic of video editing to enhance the concert experience rather than simply replacing it.

Cue “Melvin the Explorer,” another in our series of Mission Imagination concerts. This concert was originally conceived to be a “choose-your-own-adventure” program, giving students the chance to determine which segment of the map to explore. This lent itself beautifully to shorter episodes, rather than one long experience, as requested by the teachers we serve.

We expanded the cast to give Melvin a sidekick: Walton. This excitable explorer runs at the slightest mention of the fabled Monkey King adding a new dynamic to the program. It also comes with the benefit of an extra actor on stage who can play all the other characters Melvin and the orchestra encounter. We were thrilled to bring in incredible local actors and regulars on the Rose Theater stage Anna Jordan and Carina DuMarce to play Melvin and Walton respectively.

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We were not bound by the rules of a typical in-person concert experience, so our actors had more flexibility to move about and provide a more immersive experience for our students: for example, Carina/Walton hid in a different orchestra section each time they fled the Monkey King, allowing students to see into the sections. We were able to add an entirely different layer of content to this already robust program, using cameras to zoom through the orchestra until the students spot where Walton is hiding.

Careful health and safety planning meant Carina’s blocking was complicated and precise. The actor’s hiding spots were pre-planned to include proper distancing from the musicians as well as a specific path to get to those locations. Recording paused to give Carina time to change costumes and run all throughout the concert hall. These pauses gave the digital production crew time to cue up all the preprogrammed camera angles to capture the upcoming musical excerpt.

Maestro Richardson and Anna had many visual and aural cues to keep track of to ensure the concert recording ran smoothly. The format of the concert capture has evolved this season, the curriculum goals and opportunity to introduce Omaha’s orchestra to the children of the community remain the same.

Melvin the Explorer and A Home for Treble are online now, available free for schools with registration.

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Explore more learning resources at the Omaha Symphony Virtual Classroom.

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