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Alumna Interview – Beyond the Stage

Sarah Fall, Arts Administrator

What was your first experience with opera?

My first experience with Opera was in the fourth grade when my mother took me to see Madame Butterfly. I didn’t work with opera production until this past summer when I was a scheduler for the Magic Flute and the Marriage of Figaro in Prague. My Opera education continued until this summer when I stage managed the Marriage of Figaro at the Savannah Voice Festival.

Who or what inspired you to start a career in the arts?

I started working in arts administration in college where I began as an usher at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, KY. Over my college years I was promoted to house manager at this theatre. After I graduated I wanted to pursue other opportunities within arts administration. This is how I found the Savannah Voice Festival.

How does participating in a summer program differ from your school education? Are there any resources/contacts you’ve had access to BECAUSE of a summer program?

The Festival experience differs from year round positions in many ways. While participating in festivals I ended up learning about many more sides of production than I thought I would. A summer program like the Savannah Voice Festival creates a high energy and fast paced environment that cannot be recreated in school. Experience has been essential for furthering my career as an arts administrator.

What was your biggest takeaway from VOICExperience?

My biggest take away from VOICExperience was the connections I made with the staff. There are so many opportunities provided by VOICExperience to grow and learn as a young person in arts administration. I feel better prepared for however my career continues in the arts.

What was your favorite memory from the Beyond the Stage program?

My favorite part of the Beyond the Stage program was being able to work closely with both the artists and other Beyond the Stage students. These connections with other passionate people continues to strengthen my love of the performing arts. Additionally, having other Beyond the Stage students gave me a community to learn from and support me with their positive energy.

Why should artists participate in summer programs like VOICExperience?

The Festival experience is unlike any other administration experience. Each day is full new energy, life, and a little chaos. Learning to work in this environment makes students interested in administration capable of working under stress.

What are you working on right now? Any programs or performances coming up?

I am now working with VOICExperience and the Savannah Voice Festival in Tampa, FL. After this I plan on continuing my career in arts administration in Lexington, KY.

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Alumnus Interview – Festival Artist Program

Chad Sonka, Baritone

The journey of a professional singer is different for each individual. Learn how Chad’s experience as a Festival Artist helped create opportunity for him in both performance and academia.

What was your first experience with opera?

I first encountered opera my senior year of high school when I started studying private voice lessons. My teacher then took me to see a production of Aida, and I was in awe with what the voice had the power to do, as well as the grandiose nature of the art. When I sang my first aria, I felt I found the clearest way to communicate to people and a potential career.

Who or what inspired you to start singing?

My middle school choir teacher called my mother at work to “force” me to audition for choir at school. I didn’t think I stood a chance because I sang so loudly. He nurtured my singing throughout high school, but my first voice teacher was the one who allowed me to express myself and be a true artist.

How does participating in a summer program differ from your school education? Are there any resources/contacts you’ve had access to BECAUSE of a summer program?

My experiences thus far have proven that the two compliment each other well. The skills you learn in school are applied at a summer program to help network and further one’s career. There are certainly doors that have been opened as a result of participating in summer programs and that’s a large part of why they exist in the first place. Schooling often becomes more effective as a result of participating in a summer program because planning what one wants to get out of their education becomes clearer.

What was your biggest takeaway from VOICExperience?

My biggest take away from VOICExperience thus far has been learning what how to be versatile, flexible, amicable, and efficient in all aspects of my career. Growing as an artist and developing my brand is encapsulated those skills.

What was your favorite memory from VOICExperience? Any funny moments or vocal epiphanies?

I’ve honestly had too many to pinpoint to just one. Realizing that I can apply so many different colors to my music making, “Wheels of a Dream” with Mikki Sodergren, Singing “Sunday” with the whole crew, all of Uncle Dan’s pearls of wisdom, becoming the outreach coordinator…

What are you working on right now? Any programs or performances coming up?

I’m working on preparing my students for their opera scenes program at Iowa State University. Regarding my own career, I’m preparing for the Metropolitan National Council Auditions and a couple of regional recitals in Iowa.


Chad serves as Education and Outreach Coordinator for VOICExperience, and we are so lucky to have him on our team. He came to us through the Festival Artist program, and remains an active performer, educator, and administrator.

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Alumnus Interview – Milnes VOICE Studio

Jonathan Walker-VanKuren, tenor

What’s it like being in the Milnes VOICE Studio? Hear the stories straight from our alumni.

After leaving the VOICE Studio this summer, Jonathan left for sunny Santa Barbara, California. He’s been sailing, singing, and growing as an artist, and we’re excited to reconnect with him!

What was your first experience with opera?

I attended a double bill of The Telephone and The Old Maid and the Thief my freshman year of undergrad and from then on I was HOOKED.

Who or what inspired you to start singing?

My parents inspired me to sing. From day one my parents always supported anything myself or my siblings wanted to do. When my parents realized I could sing, they encouraged me to use the gift that I had.

What was your biggest takeaway from VOICExperience?

I learned so much about myself as a performer and the brand that I am hopeful to put out in the professional world.

What was your favorite memory from VOICExperience? Any funny moments or vocal epiphanies?

One of my favorite moments was simply just working with all of the amazing faculty and staff. It was truly and honor and it made each day so amazing because we essentially worked with a different person every day.

Why should artists participate in summer programs like VOICExperience?

Artists should do programs like VOICExperience because you get EVERYTHING out of it. You learn about the craft working with people who are IN it. You are exposed to other artists who are at your current level or higher making a career in the field.

What are you working on right now? Any programs or performances coming up?

I currently am a Mosher Studio Artist with Opera Santa Barbara for the 2017-2018 season. We are currently working on the show Manon, in which I am the cover for Des Grieux and performing in the ensemble. In the spring, I will be performing in three different operas. First off, I will be covering Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, then following I will be playing the role of Donald Hopewell in Douglas Moore’s Gallantry and finally to wrap up the season I will be in the trio Trouble in Tahiti written by Leonard Bernstein. In addition to the productions as a studio artist, it is our job to perform in outreach concerts in schools and libraries all throughout the southern California area.


We loved having Jonathan participate in our program this summer. In our final Scenes Concert, he played the role of Eisenstein in the Act​ ​One​ ​Trio​ from Die​ ​Fledermaus and Rodolfo in the Third​ ​Act​ ​Quartet​ from La​ ​Boheme. We are excited to see where he goes from here!

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