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Students Use Modern Storytelling Techniques to Aid in the Teaching of an Old Form of Storytelling

Posted in: School of Communication and Media News

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One story form is obscure and modern.  It’s called transmedia. The other form of storytelling dates back centuries and is universally known. It’s opera. Thanks to some students in the Transmedia Projects course in the School of Communication and Media, plus a couple of extremely open-minded and forward-looking education directors at the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the obscure has met the obvious; transmedia storytelling is helping young public school children throughout the Metropolitan New York area learn – and actually get excited about – opera.

Stuart Holt and Carianne Bennett are involved in community outreach and educational programs for the Metropolitan Opera Guild Education Outreach programs. Their job seems a daunting one – teaching public school children to learn and love opera. And, they’re armed with a variety of Guild programs, such as Urban voices, an outreach to inner city schools; Access Opera, which gives students the opportunity to see an opera at the Met; and there’s even a program that allows students to create their own operas.

As you can see, the Guild offers a host of music educational opportunities to schools, so when Transmedia instructor Larry Weiner approached them a couple of years ago with the idea of adding cross-platform storytelling techniques, or, transmedia, Holt and Bennett were intrigued and decided to see how the additional tool could help them.

After a number of experiments in previous semesters with various social platforms, such as Facebook and Tumblr, the decision was made to try animations and post them to the Guild’s Youtube, and then its Vimeo channels. This semester, the Guild decided to make the transmedia animations part of what the Guild refers to as its “Pathways to Understanding” packages which are filled with supplemental material on each opera and supplied to educators to help direct their students’ opera education.

This semester, three SCM Transmedia Projects students – Don’a Smith, Kinga Kosmala and Brianna Capik, had the assignment of creating transmedia stories based on one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s lesser-known works, “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” or as it’s better known by its German title  — “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.”  The transmedia stories they created were a series of nearly a dozen one to two minute animated videos that focused on character, plot development, and the elements of opera.  Since the story takes place in Turkey, another animated short was created in which the opera’s lead character, the Pasha Selim, takes the school children on a tour of his country.

Once the scripts were approved, the videos were created using a website known as Goanimate.  Then, text to speech placeholders was inserted to give Bennett and Holt a sense of the story. Once those were approved, students from the theater department – Annaliese Capero, Virginia Vass, Alexander Carr, Nick Monaldo, and Jason Smith recorded the voices. Music and sound effects were added. The final versions were then delivered to Bennett.

According to Capik, a senior Organizational Communication student, “Creating the videos for the Metropolitan Opera Guild was something new and exciting for me. I’ve never worked in this medium nor have I ever worked closely with an organization such as the Metropolitan Opera Guild.  Transmedia, in general, is a new concept for me, but through this project, I found that Transmedia is much more than just building upon and promoting a brand, it can also be used as a tool for teaching and learning.”

Bennett, the manager of the Guild’s Access Opera program, expresses her appreciation of the ongoing partnership with SCM.  “The Metropolitan Opera Guild’s partnership program with the transmedia class at Montclair State University has been an eye-opening and deeply informative experience. The students at MSU bring knowledge, perspective, and energy to a topic [opera] that many younger people believe to be dense and somewhat contrived. By making short interactive video clips that follow the plot of the opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, younger students participating in the Guild’s final dress rehearsal program are actively engaged by the character-driven storyline and can also explore the music in a new way. My only regret with the partnership is that we didn’t start it sooner!”

The relationship with the Guild has dated back to 2010, when, for two years, the Metropolitan Opera Guild cosponsored The Curtain Call Awards, which was a classical singing competition for high school students. When that event ended, the relationship went dormant, until the School began offering a course in transmedia.

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