AACC holds longest running comm. college opera program


Photo courtesy of Ken Harriford

Doug Byerly and Emily Sergo perform in Opera AACC’s production of Sweeney Todd.

Andrea Bridgett and Tomi Brunton

AACC’s 22-year-old opera company has been continuously running longer than the programs at any other community college in the country.

Founded in 2001 by music professor and artistic director Doug Byerly, Opera AACC performs twice a year at the college and occasionally off campus.

“There are other [colleges] that have longer musical theater programs, and music, etc., but opera is kind of … an old art form,” Byerly said.

AACC was the third community college in the country to form an opera program.

“We’ve done rock musical, we’ve done opera, we’ve done operetta,” Byerly said. “We expose AACC students to every type of genre on the stage.”

He added “Our alumni and the folks that have sung with Opera AACC are currently singing throughout the world.”

Byerly said students “join the program for a love of singing, love of acting. In the arts, we have the opportunity to connect and to be expressive and to be … somebody other than ourselves, but still express our own hearts, our own desires, our own thoughts, our own fears, anxieties,” Byerly said. “Theater is a great way of working out your stuff.”

Fourth-year transfer studies student CJ Campbell agreed.

“But I think what people don’t realize is that performing is, it’s just another passion,” said Campbell, who will play Mabel in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” which the company will perform on campus from May 19-21. “But not just another passion, because if it’s your passion … you do a great job because that’s what’s needed in opera, in performing–the passion for it.”

Byerly said the program is “unique” for a community college.

“We have over 40 students that are registered credit students that are in the program,” Byerly said. “And then a lot of students on the outside … come in and work tech, work production, costumes, makeup and a whole host of things.”

Byerly said Opera AACC is set apart from other programs because of its “wide range of ability to collaborate.”

“We also do educational outreach with that as we go into … elementary schools, community centers, etc., during the year, and we’ll do performances at various other locations,” Byerly said.

Campbell said she enjoys working with Opera AACC.

“I think the one lesson I’ve learned is to keep going and keep trying,” Campbell said. “Because everything is a learning process. And that’s true … no matter what you do, and Opera is just another learning process, you know?”

Will Kuethe, an eighth-year continuing education student who is cast as Frederick, the lead role in “Pirates,” said Opera AACC is an opportunity to make “good connections.”

“The opera program is actually really good,” Kuethe said. “I was the president of [the] opera club for five or six years. … We have, usually, some professional opera singers from, like, the region that we hire to come sing with us, because it’s good experience. … Since I’ve started here, I’ve been in four professional operas outside of a community college.”

Campbell said she would continue opera after she was done with AACC.

“I don’t think I could ever stop performing unless somebody cut my vocal cords,” Campbell said