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Culture – both high and low – can keep kids happy

Rodion Pogossov as Papageno in the Canadian Opera Company production of The Magic Flute, 2011. This March Break, the Canadian Opera Company is putting on a family-friendly “opera boot camp.”


Aspiring opera singers, thespians, wordsmiths, DJs, take note: March Break is the perfect time to hone your talent.

The Canadian Opera Company has a March Break plan for music lovers who are eager to tap into their inner diva (or divo) with a family-friendly, free concert at noon on Wednesday in at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

The program is billed as an hour-long, interactive opera, and Katherine Semcesen, the COC's associate director of education and outreach, describes it as an "opera boot camp." It includes programming, led by soprano and COC artist educator Kyra Millan, that teaches the audience vocal warm-ups, breathing exercises, and finally an aria (the famous Papageno/Papagena duet from Mozart's The Magic Flute). Ms. Millan will also be giving a few vocal performances of The Girl in 14G, made famous by Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth.

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"The program is designed to encourage young and old to let their inner opera star shine," Ms. Semcesen says. "We think there's a large contingent of families out there – who aren't heading south or hitting the ski slopes – who want to immerse themselves in Toronto culture. We want to lead people through a journey into the life of an opera singer and highlight how operatic singing is different from other musical styles." Ms. Semcesen hopes some brave souls at the COC will get out of their seats and come up on stage. "It's all about giving the audience a moment of letting go. To participate in something that might be a little bit different from their everyday life."

But if opera isn't your thing, there are many other programs scattered around the city that reach out to kids who love the arts.

In High Park, the local library is hosting a drop-in trivia contest for boys and girls age six to nine on Tuesday from 2 to 3 p.m. Like the COC concert, it's free and librarian Ted Karkut says school groups who participated in the program love going head-to-head with their classmates to see who knows the most trivia. "When I do it with classes, they go nuts," Mr. Karkut says. A typical question might be: What would you do if you met a bear in a forest? Run for it? Climb a tree? Or roll up into a ball and play dead?

"The most correct answer is number three," says Mr. Karkut, who adds that the kids' favourite category tends to be jokes (Sample: Why don't cannibals eat clowns? Because they taste funny.)

Across town, the Spadina Road Library offers a March Break option skewed to older kids. In partnership with Scratch Lab DJ Institute, the library's Art of DJing workshop, for ages 13 to 19, shows kids how to channel their inner Deadmau5 by mixing their own samples using the DJ equipment and turntables. Held in the adjacent Native Canadian Centre, it runs March 13 from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

And yet another library (St. Lawrence) – again free of charge – gives budding thespians a chance to read and perform mini-scripts. Aimed at kids seven and up, the Readers' Theatre program runs four days, from March 12 to 15 at 2 p.m. "We choose very short sentences with words repeating, so it's easy for the children to read on their own," says branch head Dulce Gomes. "It's really popular with new immigrant children. Their parents love that they can practise their reading as well as their English."

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