Women with a Cause 2019: Kimberly Shaw
Cause: Opéra Louisiane’s Young People’s Opera Program
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Kimberly Shaw remembers Man of La Mancha as her first theatrical experience. “Had it not been for that exposure, I don’t think I would have been as involved with the arts as I am today,” Shaw says.
Shaw hopes to give Baton Rouge-area students a similar chance to experience the arts, and one with which most children are unfamiliar: opera. As the education chair for Opéra Louisiane’s Young People’s Opera Program, Shaw helps bring as many as 3,500 students to see free opera performances over a two-day period each fall.
As part of her work, Shaw also recruits and coordinates more than 30 volunteers to act as ushers during the performances. In addition, she arranges a party to recognize the show’s cast and crew and seeks personal and corporate donations to cover production costs. Costs to operate this year’s production of Cinderella totaled $60,000, she says.
“I’m a strong believer in the arts,” says Shaw, 49. “I do believe that the arts have a role for everybody in terms of who they are and who they can be and how they think. It’s just a different way of looking at the world.”
Exposing children to opera can lead them to different interests like music and singing, and even offer future career paths on and off the stage, Shaw says. The exposure has cultural benefits as well. “I really think programs like this will help keep opera alive in our culture because people will see it from a different perspective and have a different appreciation for it,” Shaw says.
Opera can have a “stuffy” reputation, but the children who see the organization’s free performances of kid-friendly productions like Cinderella, The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel don’t walk away feeling bored, Shaw says.
Shaw remembers one moment when the audience showed their displeasure for an actress from The Magic Flute during her curtain call because she played an evil character in the show. “This professional performer came out, and they booed her,” Shaw says, laughing. “They knew exactly what was going on.”
Shaw’s favorite part of serving as education chair is listening to and chatting with the students as they board their buses after the performances. “You can tell it had an impact on them,” Shaw says.
Shaw hopes to help Opéra Louisiane expand the program in Lafayette. “We really would like to get to areas that are farther away from the city and really wouldn’t have a chance to see something like this at all,” Shaw says. operalouisiane.com
What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
What motivates me to volunteer year after year is watching, hearing and listening to the reactions of the children. I absolutely love seeing the awe on their faces as they see the costumes and see the set. I absolutely love seeing the appreciation as they hear the music.
What do you hope to achieve?
It is our hope and our desire to broaden the student experience through music and the arts. By exposing children to music and the arts, we are hoping to focus on the health of the whole child: cognitive, emotional, mental and physical health.
Is there a big or annual event for your cause?
Our annual Sing and Swing, a celebrity karaoke competition, features live band karaoke, a large dance floor, a photo op area, and incredible items at our silent auction. It is such a fun event. The 2020 event will be on January 10 at the Crowne Plaza.
What is something we don’t know about your cause?
Since 2008, we have provided free opera performances to over 35,000 students.