Springs School Opera Is a Pollock Mystery

Springs School fourth graders seemed ready for show time during a rehearsal of the annual Springs opera, which opens on Wednesday in the East Hampton High School auditorium. Durell Godfrey

A time-honored tradition, the Springs School opera, is ready to take the stage for the 21st consecutive year. This year’s fourth-grade opera company — 79 Watch Us Shine, referencing the number of students in fourth grade at the start of the year — will present its original production, “The Case of the Missing Pollock,” on Wednesday at 7 p.m., the only performance open to the public. It is free of charge.

Not only is this a new date for the opera (it is usually held in January) but instead of Guild Hall, the venue has shifted to the East Hampton High School auditorium. But make no mistake, what remains the same is the level of creativity, professionalism, and enthusiasm generated by the school’s fourth-grade ensemble.

At a rehearsal on Tuesday, the pint-size performers appeared poised and prepared, listening intently to directions from Amanda Waleko, a second-grade teacher, and Meghan Lydon, a fourth-grade teacher by day and the coordinator of the opera event in her down time. There were no signs of stage fright.

“We’ve been practicing for so long that I don’t think any of us are nervous,” said Jocelynn Watson, who, while munching on Goldfish during a break, explained that her family relocated from Texas this year and she started at Springs in September. “No way did I expect this play to be so detailed. I’ve performed in many school plays and nothing has been anything like this,” she said. Jocelynn plays a central figure embroiled in the mystery of a missing Jackson Pollock painting.

Brynley Lys plays a British waitress at the Springs Tavern, who wears a uniform with a shell design on it, the young girl explained. “And I have to speak with an English accent,” she said.

The opera, as is the tradition, weaves together local history, original East End characters, storytelling, and music. This year, however, the group wanted to make it a mystery. The interest in this genre, explained Ms. Lydon, could have been sparked during the students’ third-grade literacy class, in which they read mysteries. In the fall, students began brainstorming names for this year’s production company as well as story ideas. During another annual tradition — the fourth-grade field trip to the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs — a lightbulb went off.

“I think they got especially excited,” said Ms. Lydon, “because of the possibility of really colorful sets and a range of interesting characters.”

Five student writers got working on the script and lyrics with the help of Angelina Molina, the musical directors, and Kyril Bromley, who wrote the original music. Every fourth grader, said Ms. Lydon, gets involved, performing, conceptualizing, costume making, helping with set design, basic choreography, and serving as stagehands and fund-raisers. “We even have our very own P.R. team,” she added.

This beloved tradition has such a lasting effect on students that Dana Chittavong, a 2011 Springs graduate and ex-opera performer, currently at college where she hopes to study theater education, was there at Tuesday’s rehearsal to lend a hand.

Colleen McKee, who plays Annie, one of the detectives on the trail of the missing painting, said she wasn’t at all nervous about next week’s performance. “I’ve done loads of dancing,” she said with the air of a seasoned professional, “so I’m totally used to this.”

Schoolday performances will be held for students from nearby schools but adults have just one chance to see the culmination of months of work by a group of talented theater apprentices.

“The Case of the Missing Pollock” will open for the general public on Wednesday at the East Hampton High School auditorium. Special school performances will be held next Thursday and Friday, Dec. 8.

The 79 Watch Us Shine opera company rehearsed at East Hampton High School this week. Durell Godfrey
This year's opera, written by students, is "The Case of the Missing Pollock."Durell Godfey