Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Opera for all is back in the swing of things!  The last three weeks we have been editing our script and reviewing our song. I am so impressed with how much the students remembered over break! I also have been noticing a renewed sense of focus at all of my schools. I think everyone has caught the show bug. 

(Student at Chase excited about reviewing her class song)

The editing process was such a great opportunity for the students to start working as more of an ensemble and to learn about compromising individual ideas for the good of the group.  One McAuliffe 6th student, who I believe has the makings of a future SNL writer, had so many great ideas, but not all of them fit into the story his class was creating. I was so proud of him for recognizing the need for compromise in this process and letting some of his best jokes go to make the script better as a whole. 

At Reilly I’m seeing some great improvement in the way the students communicate with each other. Reilly is such an amazing school and the students are always well behaved, this semester I am seeing the students have discussions with each other about the plot of their script in a much more collaborative way. Real teamwork is being implemented at Reilly.

Since this is my second year at Chase, I’ve set the bar pretty high for the students there and they are doing a great job of meeting my expectations. Through out the editing process they were supportive of each other’s ideas and they were very productive in fixing plot holes in their scripts. I feel the quality of show the Chase students will be performing this year is at a much higher than last year and I couldn’t be prouder.

 Also I am very excited to announce OFA added a brand new school: Hanson Park Elementary! I am so excited to be working with such a talented group of students.

Last week at Hanson Park we reviewed famous Chicago and Illinois historical figures. This week we chose several of those figures and created our basic plot. The students also wrote lines for themselves, which we will integrate into a script.  Students not only wrote their own dialogue, but also drew pictures to help communicate their ideas of settings and who their individual characters will be.

(Picture drawn by a 4th grade Hanson Park student of the Science and Industry Museum, 
which is the setting of one the operas)

(Character drawing by a Hanson Park 4th Grade student)

(Character drawling by a Hanson Park 5th grade student)

(Dialogue example for a 5th grade Hanson Park student.)

As you can see, the students at Hanson Park are incredibly creative! The process of creating an opera in one semester may seem daunting to some, but if the last 2 weeks are any indication, I think Hanson Park is going to have two amazing student produced operas!

Friday, January 29, 2016

: An Exposé on the Life and Times of Hot Dog Zilla

Erin Moll, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Disclaimer: I thought it would be fun to share a little bit of the story creations the OFA students came up with this year.  This particular gem “Hot Dog Zilla” is the creation of Ms. Rhodes Fourth Grade Blue Team at Disney II Magnet Elementary.  The students were very much inspired by the hot dog exhibit at the Chicago History Museum and decided to turn the hot dog into the antagonist for their class’s opera.  Here’s a little of what they came up with! 

Once upon a time in Chicago, there was a supervillain by the name of Al Capone.  You may have heard of him.  On one of Al’s many capers, we find him at the Willis Tower!  On this particular occasion, he has stolen a laser beam from famous architect, Daniel Burnham, and is using it to wreak havoc on the city of Chicago.  Using the laser beam, he zaps a Chicago style hot dog and creates the scariest monster you have ever seen: HOT DOG ZILLA!    Hot Dog Zilla has one mission and one mission only… To Destroy the Willis Tower!  

“Hot Dog Zilla, he’s the evil one in the poppyseed bun.
Hot Dog Zilla, he is coming today to chase the ketchup away!
We’re all in a pickle when he comes to down;
He’s going to knock the Willis Tower down!
Hot Dog Zilla!”

(The Chorus to our Class Song “Hot Dog Zilla”)

What do our students have to say about Hot Dog Zilla?  Well, he’s evil, hungry, outrageous, mean, pricey, and of course he has a sour attitude!  

Monday, January 25, 2016

OFA Scripts!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

There have been creative ideas flowing like waterfalls the last few weeks at our Opera for All schools! The students have been hard at work, guided by the teaching artists, creating stories, characters and settings for our operas!

Using a visit to the Chicago History Museum as a springboard, the students have been deeply involved in the creation of stories that are engaging, funny, imaginative and in some cases very topical. There will be historical Chicago people and places popping up in each opera, and you might even get to meet a hot dog or two!

I continue to be blown away by the creative and critical thinking skills demonstrated by the students. The operas this year will be the best yet! We have been encouraging the students to develop a story that has a strong theme, historical significance, a clear through-line and diverse characters. I can happily say that we are accomplishing all of these with great success, and when we add the songs and dances we will have operas that will knock your socks off!

It has been a flurry of brain-storming and group discussion and exploration, and now that we almost have our final drafts completed, I can honestly say that this is one of the most exciting parts of the Opera for All program. And, what happens next? Well, we get the opera up on its feet and really see it come to life! I can’t imagine a more rewarding experience: for the teachers and the students and the audience!!

I hope you enjoy a couple “sneak peeks!”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Showcase

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Well it has been a busy week here at Opera for All! The students at all of our schools presented their Winter Showcases! What a marvelous culmination of 13 weeks of hard work. Just imagine, the students and teaching artists went to the Chicago History Museum, went to a performance of Mozart’s Lucio

Silla, attended a performance of Carmen and the Bull with Chicago Opera Playhouse, created a story for each class opera, completed a first draft of the operas, and had guest composers in the classrooms creating songs with the students. Whew!

We had the privilege to see and hear the students tell us about these experiences, and they sang very unique and wonderful class songs. From 4th graders at Disney singing their hearts out to the strains of “Hot Dogzilla” to 5th graders at Healy bringing tears to our eyes with their moving ballad “Before the Tyrant Struck”, we are truly blown away by the imagination and empathy shown by our students.

After a well deserved holiday break, we will truly be looking forward to bringing our operas to life in the Spring! Make sure you’re there to see them! Bring friends!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lyric Writing and Composition Days

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

During the last few weeks the students have been focusing on writing the songs they will perform in their opera this upcoming spring. Not only do the kids get to take part in writing the lyrics of the songs, we have composers come in and help them create their own original melodies! 

(Composer Aaron Benham working with McAuliffe students to create their class song)

During our composition days we typically start with writing lyrics. I find this a great jumping off point since the kids have usually been given the opportunity to write poetry and have a basic understanding of rhyme scheme. We take what they have already learned in their language arts classes and build on that knowledge as we describe what goes into song writing. We explain that using the same number of syllables in each line of a section and incorporating AA or ABAB rhyme schemes are great ways to begin writing a song. Once they seem to have a grasp on those elements we build to more complex rhyme schemes or adding a bridge. One class at Chase is adding a round into their time traveling song. Which is particularly impressive since their song also utilizes line dancing and will be used as a leitmotif through out the production. They are incredible!

(Students at Chase brain storming lyrics)

(Composer Adam Busch inspiring Chase students as they compose)

(Composing is hard work! Always remember to take breaks J )

To help the students understand the process of composing we explained different musical styles and touched briefly on solfege. First the class picked a style that they believed fit in to the plot we have already created. The composer would then improvise in that style to make sure we were all in agreement. Next, the class would either call out numbers that correlated to notes on the scale, or in some cases the students would just sing melodies that they came up with on the spot.

 I was so impressed, not only by the creativity of the students, but with the talent of our composers. Their ability to come up with exciting and imaginative melodies in merely moments was amazing! Each song written for the 13 classes I teach is completely different and incredibly addictive. All the teaching artists leave with these tunes in our heads and the students leave knowing they helped create something that is not only original, but of a professional quality. 

(McAuliffe students singing their class song)

I love being able to see these kids grow and discover their creative potential. When I see a child get excited over creating a really catchy rhyme, or realizing that even in something like opera you can add elements of rap or dance rhythms, there’s really nothing better. They are learning that opera can be whatever they want it to be, and they are learning that opera is a medium where each of their unique voices can be heard.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Once Upon A Time at Opera for All...

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Picture it: Hundreds of students visiting the Chicago History Museum, walking around with a scavenger hunt worksheet, finding out new and fascinating facts about the people and places of our great city of Chicago. There’s a buzz of excitement as the students accomplish the goal of filling out their worksheets and choosing their favorite characters and settings of Chicago history.

Now move forward a couple weeks to the classrooms. The teachers walk in anticipating great things from their students. And let me tell you, we were not disappointed. We just completed one of my favorite sections of our Opera For All curriculum-Story Creation! The students took their knowledge gained from their field trip, and collaboratively with the classroom teachers and teaching artists created the stories that will become the scripts for each of the class operas. The students picked their favorite historical characters (including important character traits), Chicago settings and also crafted a plot, including story elements of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and themes.

I continue to be impressed by the creativity and ingenuity I see from the students. Each of the 11 opera plots we helped create with the students are different and original, and watching them organically unfold in the space of two class sessions is truly something to behold.

I anticipate that our audiences this year will experience greater depth of emotions, more subtle storytelling and a wider breadth of characters and settings than they have ever experienced before. These past two weeks have turned out to be more gratifying than I could have imagined, and I thank the students, my fellow teaching artists, the Chicago Opera Theatre team and all the staff at our fabulous schools for cultivating such an amazing atmosphere of creativity and exploration this year! As we take our newly created unique stories and craft our scripts and songs and dances, I can promise that this year is full of adventure and promise. And I can’t wait to share these stories! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Allotta Yee-haws and Boot Scoots

Caryn Ott Hillman, Chicago Opera Theater for Teens, Director

Mr. Chris Richard and I have started the Solorio school year with a quick two-step as we sing our way through the Oklahoma Territory! Yep, we are putting together Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic, OKLAHOMA! Our cast makes up many returning teens from past semesters along with some new faces…and it seems every semester, they all get stronger and more confident!

So far, we have them all hootin’ and hollorin’ as the Farmers and the Cowmen having a dance off at the Box Social and we just finished the choreography for “Oklahoma” with lots of lifts for extra exciting ending to the show. We are off to a great start to prepare us for the five performances we have planned.

At Solorio we hope to have all our family and friends come to see the show on Dec. 4-5. Plus, we are also putting in Student Service Hours as we perform at two retirement homes, Autumn Green at Midway on Nov. 24 and The Breakers in Edgewater on Dec. 5. The last performance we are hoping to schedule is at Hernandez Middle School in hopes to ignite future performers for Chicago Opera Theater for Teens.

Of course, along the journey of putting together a show, we find it essential to build bonds between the cast because they are different grade levels and from different schools, therefore, a strong cast MUST trust each other which allows each actor to take risks. Mr. Richard taught the teens an intricate game that requires concentration, vocalization and coordination. By repeatedly tossing a ball to the same person and receiving it from another person, a syncretized web is built as more balls are added. True, many times the balls drop and the game comes to a halt, but it’s really amazing see all the teens tune in and send energy to another teen.

Any long, tiring journey always needs inspiration…that’s why we brought in COT’s very own: Dan Grambow!!!!!! Yesiree, Dan came in and showed the teens how it’s done in very different genres of song. Folk, Opera and Art song – in English and German – he gave our teens insight as to what it takes to prepare for the future, whether it be in performing or creating a company. Dan was an excellent example of the energy-driven, character-based, diction-filled effort that we are asking of the teens. Thank you, Dan, for visiting us!

So for now…we have about 9 more weeks to make this the best term yet!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carmen and the Bull!

Erin Moll, Opera for All Teaching Artist

We had a very fun filled week at Opera For All! Not only have our students begun writing the scripts for their operas, but we also had guest performers from Chicago Opera Playhouse perform “Carmen & the Bull” for our students! The show “Carmen & the Bull” is a combination of the story “Ferdinand the Bull” with the music from Georges Bizet’s Carmen. The story follows a dancing, traveling gypsy as she befriends Ferdinand the Bull, his mother and a bullfighter! It explores the theme of bullying and teaches students to always be true to themselves!

In order to prepare them for the show, we listened to excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen and also did a Readers Theater of parts of the script. The students had fun acting out scenes from Carmen & the Bull and pretending to be the characters of Carmen, Ferdinand, his Mother, and Antonio the Bullfighter! 

The students had a lot of fun watching the show and participating! Over the last two months, OFA students have been working on music from Carmen & the Bull so they could participate in the show as the opera chorus! They learned two songs, the “Little Bulls Chorus” and the “Toreador Song.” I was impressed with how well the students learned these songs, picking up on very complicated rhythms in the Little Bulls Chorus. When it came to the performance, the students sang their hearts out! Overall, the show was a blast!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trip to the Chicago History Museum

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This week all the Opera for all school headed to the Chicago History Museum to find
inspiration for the operas they will write in the weeks ahead.  Each student
completed a scavenger hunt that correlated with specific exhibits that highlighted
the strong characters in Chicago history as well as matching up with the social-
emotional topic of bullying.

I was particularly impressed with the student’s reactions to the “Facing Freedom in
America” exhibit, which highlights American conflicts associated with the rights of
all individuals. Every group I walked in the exhibit with was able to sympathize with
the past Americans and their struggles. I specifically enjoyed the interactive
technology used in the exhibit that let each student choose adjectives to represent
what they stand for and then they were able to take a selfie that was then projected
on to the wall with the adjective they picked.

(Chase students standing by the suffragettes exhibit)

We also spent time in the “Sensing Chicago“ exhibit. This exhibit let student’s dress up as a Chicago style hot dog, learn about Comiskey Park, and pedal a high wheel bicycle. Needless to say, the hot dog was a hit!

(Reilly students having fun dressing up as a Chicago style hot dog!)

Along with strong characters, the students also looked at interesting settings. The World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago’s first railroads, and the Chicago Fire all stirred curiosity in the students. They all seemed very excited at the possibility of mixing these historical events and places together to make their own unique operas. 

I can hardly wait to see what they create!

(Chase students hanging out in front of a Chicago fire exhibit)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Classroom Successes!

Erin Moll, Opera For All Teaching Artist

We at Opera For All are so excited to have just wrapped up our fourth week with the students!

We are currently gearing up for a couple of very exciting events – our field trip to the History Museum as well as an in school performance of Carmen & the Bull presented by Chicago Opera Playhouse!  I am constantly amazed by our students – they have an incredible ability to retain and replicate melodies and rhythms after the first time hearing it.  We worked this past week on a very complicated rhythm for the Carmen & the Bull music and I was impressed by how quickly the students caught on and were able to sing this music!

As part of our work on Carmen & the Bull, the students have been listening to the music from Bizet’s opera Carmen.  Through listening activities, students were able to interpret and discuss mood of the music and to draw their reactions to how the music made them feel!

Our students are also learning confidence and teambuilding while performing!  We have been doing various acting exercises to get them on their feet and comfortable performing in front of their peers.

Every week I walk into the classroom, at least one student asks me if I’m going to sing for them!  They are so excited to hear opera and the sounds that can be made with the human voice!  

Friday, October 2, 2015

Classroom Successes!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

What a great opening to a new Opera For All year! In the first three weeks of class we have taken an evening field trip to see Mozart’s “Lucio Silla,” learned opera vocabulary, played acting and singing games, gotten up and performed scenes from the libretto of “Lucio Silla” and this week started singing music from “Carmen and the Bull!”

I think the greatest success so far is that we already have the students on their feet and performing for each other. We are already building an atmosphere of ensemble work that will directly relate to the creation of each class opera. The students are already finding the fun in performing, and each week they are requesting time to get up and act! One of the 5th graders at Healy, who didn’t want to make eye contact with us the first day, was one of the first to raise his hand to perform a scene from “Lucio Silla” during the second week of class. This student walked right up in front of the class and did a wonderful job! That is my favorite kind of success.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Opera For All Takes a Trip to the Opera House!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

After an exciting and hectic first two weeks of Opera for All, I am starting to slowly watch the unique personalities of each class emerge. At this stage in the process, I think it's so important for us as teaching artist to establish a safe environment within our class time so that students can feel comfortable taking risks and expressing themselves creatively.  Our first class period was primarily focused on introducing ourselves, the program and what the students will be creating over the course of the year.  We also had an opportunity to perform for them.  I encouraged my students to think about how I communicated my emotions and they observed that much can be expressed through facial expressions and movement.  

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Our second class session was spent prepping the students for their field trip to the Harris Theater to see Act I of Mozart's Lucio Silla.  We talked about what we might hear and see at the opera like an orchestra, arias, an overture, ensembles, sets and costumes. For many this trip was their first experience in a theater!  I was truly impressed with what a great audience all of our students were and what thoughtful observations they had to share after the performance.  My co-teacher, Matt McNabb, brought in a couple of scenes from the opera translated into English and asked for brave volunteers to read these scenes in front of the class. This was such a beneficial activity to first introduce the students to reading scripts and second, as an opportunity for their peers to see which performances best communicated the content of each scene. Already some stars are beginning to emerge! I constantly think to myself as I watch our students experience Opera for All, "Man, I wish I would've had access to something like this when I was their age!"  I am really looking forward to working with these awesome kids and am even more excited to see how they continue to grow through the program.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Back to School!

Daniel Grambow, Education Assistant for Chicago Opera Theater

We're Back!!! Opera for All is proud to announce the return of all our sensational students and teachers for our new 2015-2016 productions. We are excited to announce our new theme for the year; Chicago: Once Upon a Windy City. We are welcoming back Chase Elementary School, Reilly Elementary School, McAuliffe Elementary School, Disney II Magnet School and Eugene Field Elementary School! We are also thrilled to welcome our NEW school, Healy Elementary School, to our Opera for All family and look forward to making this year a phenomenal beginning to our relationship with them and the Bridgeport community.

We already are back in the classroom this week and are starting to get our students ready to see Chicago Opera Theater's production of Lucio Silla by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We invited over 600 Opera for All students to the Harris Theater along with parents, teachers, CPS staff and our industry community partners. We are thrilled that our students are going to have a chance to see this opera and cannot wait to hear how they enjoyed it! Here is a teaser from inside the rehearsal room. I hope to see you all there!


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thank you, COT for Teens Summer 2015!

Dylan Bandy, Stage Director of COT for Teens for Perspectives Charter School

Well, COT for Teens Summer 2015 has come to an end. There were ups and downs along the way, bumps in the road, but persistence and jocundity won out. Some of the highlights from the latter half of the program include: working on a multimedia presentation of "Man in the Mirror," brushing up on Shakespearean dialogue and fight choreography with "Romeo and Juliet," and working on our big dance number "Bad." 

As we sat and watched the final performance, Matt and I noticed a striking difference in the students. Since their interviews over two month ago, our teens have grown immensely. Most of them had never been on stage before, but within a few short weeks they learned their lines, memorized their music, and gave lively, enthusiastic performances. 

The class favorite was "How Shall I See You Through My Tears" sung by a young woman named Kenisha. It's a gospel style song with a big chorus feel, and we made it our finale. Kenisha used to sing the song quietly, hiding behind a curtain, shielding herself from the perceived judgment. But in this final performance, she stood there brave and exposed, her arms at her sides, her chin raised, and her voice, full of emotion and sound, poured out from her like all the greats before her. Later she confessed to me: "I've been practicing every day!" I smiled. Maybe I cried a little. The summer flashed before my eyes--I couldn't believe it was over. She smiled... She knew she sounded good. And she felt good. We all did.

Thank you, COT for Teens Summer 2015. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Solorio Teens Update!

Emma Cox, Stage Director of Chicago Opera Theater for Teens at Solorio

    As of Monday, July 20th we have officially finished blocking and learning the entire show of Once On This Island, choreography and all!! That puts us at least two weeks ahead of schedule!! This is fabulous news, because it means the teens will have more time in the next few weeks to rehearse lines, spot-check dances and really start developing their characters. Mr Chungers and I are especially pleased at the vocal progress that the teens are all showing--there is some gorgeous singing going on at Solorio!
     We have also started adding in some props and costume pieces, just to get used to wielding them onstage. Overall, the effects are staggering--the song 'Rain'  in particular really came together once we added some of the handkerchief 'raindrops'. In other songs, we decided that less physical effects were needed. In the song "Mama Will Provide", we use the teens themselves to physically 'build' a tableau of everything that Mother Nature is providing for Ti Moune on her journey. My personal favorite song of the show is the finale, "We Tell the Story"--you can just feel the joy radiating off the stage from the teens as they sing and dance! 

        Next week looks to be very busy for us all. We have to continue to work on our production, of course, but we also will be featuring our first performance for an audience outside of Solorio! We also have two guest speakers coming in, Ms Linden Christ and Ms Colleen Jackson, to talk to us about some of the challenges and rewards of running your own theater company, what it is like producing and directing shows, and holding mock auditions and masterclasses with the teens. It's going to be an exciting and informative couple of days!