When current MSC OPAS Chair Alexandra Dunn '14, arrived on campus as a freshman from Orange, Texas, she wanted to find a way to stay involved in the performing arts. “My grandmother started bringing me to performances at a young age,” she says. “’Annie’ was the first Broadway musical I ever saw. I began dancing when I was three, and I was in one-act play in high school too. I’ve just always been an arts person.”
As a business major in the Mays Business School, she wasn’t counting on her studies to provide her arts fix, so she did what any sensible freshman looking for an involvement opportunity does: she went to MSC Fall Open House. “I found OPAS. I joined my freshman year. And I just fell in love with it,” she says.
She knew from the beginning that OPAS was responsible for bringing touring shows to Aggieland, but as she says now, “my experience in OPAS has been so much more than I expected from it. I knew it would give me an opportunity to stay connected to the performing arts, but it’s given me so much more, so many friendships and memories and experiences that I never anticipated having. That’s why I spend so much time doing things for OPAS. Those other experiences are why I love this organization so much.”
Currently the OPAS student committee has around 130 members, and Dunn says that it takes each and every one of them to operate the organization. On performance nights alone she estimates that it takes eighty students to operate Rudder Auditorium’s backstage and front-of-the-house—ticket takers, program distributers, traffic controllers, ushers—and that doesn’t even begin to address tasks associated with operating the student organization like member recruitment, promotions, student development, and special events.
In fact, one of the qualities about OPAS Dunn is most eager to discuss is its role as an arts organization that also develops leaders. For instance, as a freshman Dunn was asked to help coordinate dinners that gave student committee members the chance to meet and dine with members of the OPAS Board of Directors. “The student executive from that sub-committee saw something in me and asked me to help with these dinners,” she says. “We encourage members to grow and develop. It’s one of the things I always talk about when I’m talking to potential members.”
Dunn is quick to note that she has gained invaluable experience delegating, communicating, presenting, leading meetings, collaborating, and interacting with patrons, donors, and board members as a result of her OPAS experience. She’s enthusiastic about ensuring current members continue to receive those types of experiences. “That's one of the reasons I really enjoy what I'm doing now, as Chair. I'm helping these student executives grow, encouraging them, helping them achieve their goals.”
She and her colleagues aren’t just helping OPAS members grow. They are also helping other kids grow and experience the performing arts. The education outreach component of OPAS, though not as well-known as its annual season or its OPAS, Jr. and OPAS Family performances, provides thousands of local schoolchildren with opportunities to experience and participate in the arts.
“We provide performing arts for people who may not otherwise get to see performances like this ever,” Dunn says. This fall OPAS filled Rudder Theatre with local second-graders for four performances of ‘Henry and Mudge.’ In the spring they will present a show about Jackie Robinson for middle school kids, host an illusionist for a two-day residency, and in May will host Camp OPAS, their annual music camp for fourth graders. “To be part of bringing these performances to people, to make these shows possible, is wonderful.”
Ask her which shows in the past four years are her favorites and Dunn has a hard time choosing just one. As a dancer she lists ‘Moulin Rouge - the Ballet’ of course. ‘Blue Man Group,’ last year’s world premiere of ‘The Phantoms of the Opera’, and ‘Celtic Woman’ all make the list. She thinks this year’s performance of ‘Memphis’ will make the list too. But one story from her freshman year stands out as a favorite.
“That year we showed ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I was an usher one night and I showed a family to their seats. The little girl was dressed as Belle, and watching her watching that performance was just the most amazing thing. I could see on her face, her reaction was ‘oh my gosh,’ just amazement, and that’s what this is about for me. It’s about helping people have those experiences that I have always cherished. All of that other work we do as the committee, it’s all directed towards that final goal, that little girl dressed as Belle watching Beauty and the Beast and the look on her face after the show.”
For more information on MSC OPAS visit http://mscopas.org. You can connect with OPAS via several social media channels at their web site.
Eric Blodgett, Communications Coordinator
Memorial Student Center