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!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer with our COT for Teens!

Directors: Emma Cox & Chungers Kim 
Chicago Opera Theater for Teens at Solorio 

        This week has been FLYING by, but everyone has been working incredibly hard. As a result, we are ahead of schedule! We are currently almost two days ahead of where we thought we would be--mostly because of the BRILLIANT people we have in the cast! Today we choreographed "Rain", which is a big dance number in the show. Mr Chungers and I cannot WAIT to see it with all of the props and such on stage! It's going to be fantastic.

        The teens also created professional and personal resumes today. A major part of our final project will be a creative-space board that will feature the teens' head shots and resumes. We are focusing our summer efforts on creating young professional actors/singers who will have a wide range of 'tools' in their creative 'tool belts'. We encouraged the teens to explore other artists on Broadway, in the operatic world and within the jazz circuit to gather real-life examples of how professionals portray themselves. I was truly impressed with the wide array of studies, after-school activities, hobbies and interests that this group displayed. What a marvelous, brilliant and enthusiastic cast we have! They truly have nothing but bright futures ahead of them all!

    July 10th was our first field trip of the summer, and it was especially successful! The teens got a chance to visit the Grant Park Summer Music Festival's rehearsal of "A Sondheim Celebration" concert! For many of them, it was their first experience at a professional musical rehearsal of any kind. There were many curious questions asked--one of which was, "Ms Emma, are we going to perform HERE??" (Answer: 'We WISH!') The weather was perfect, the orchestra was amazing and the singers were pure perfection! The entire day was delightful, and it proved to be a marvelous learning experience. 

    BUT WAIT! It got even better! After the rehearsal, we had the distinct pleasure and privilege to meet one of the artists! Ms Elizabeth Stanley, a well-respected and current actress on Broadway, was gracious enough to offer us advice, insight and ideas about working in the musical world today. The teens had previously explored her website, listened to her recordings and explored her resume, so they had plenty of questions to ask Ms. Stanley about working in "the business". Ms. Stanley had started out as an opera singer before expanding to crossover work in musical theater, and her observations were invaluable. We just couldn't have asked for a better day overall!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

FABULOUS performances at Reilly!

Megan Besley, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Our year at Reilly came to a close on June 5th with the culmination of an entire school year's work into one FABULOUS performance! Our amazing partner teachers, Mr. Costilla, Ms. Neamt and Ms. Drakulich played an integral part in getting these kids prepared for their performances, drilling them on lines and encouraging them to rehearse their blocking. The day of the show we encountered technical difficulties with the sound system (we were down to 1 or 2 mics) and, amazingly, the kids just rolled with it- THE SHOW MUST GO ON! We were very proud of how they didn't allow this to deter them in their efforts. The shows went SO well, and parents and families seemed engaged and excited to see the kids perform. Many kids were teary in hugging us goodbye after the show, and told us how much they would miss us and this program. What a great opportunity for everyone involved to bring creativity and music and joy to others! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

My Favorite Thing about Opera for All

Erin Moll, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist 

My favorite thing about the OFA program was watching how much the kids improved over the course of the last several months.  The students’ boost in confidence, and the way they worked together as a team and helped each other to make the shows the best they could be – these all made a huge impression on me.  One of the girls who had a big part got sick the week of the show and another classmate stepped in memorized at the last minute – talk about team work!  Each of my students showed an incredible amount of responsibility and really stepped up to accomplish something they had never done before.  The end result was something phenomenal and left each kid beaming from ear to ear!  I’m so proud of my students!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Matt's Last Look at Field and Armstrong

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

It's hard to put into words the feelings that move through you when you see the culmination of a year of work with very talented students! But I shall try....pride, joy, elation, worry (that everyone would remember their lines), relief, happiness and hope were all things running through my mind during the final performances at Field and Armstrong schools. 

To be able to share my passion for the performing arts with kids who need this exposure is such a rewarding experience. So much credit must be given to the Chicago Opera Theater teaching artists team and the partner classroom teachers. If you think of the logistics of getting masses of elementary school kids to find an interest in opera, compose a song, learn a dance, write a script, memorize it, and then create a polished performance, you might say, "That's Impossible!" But, I can proudly say that we have all pulled off the impossible, and I couldn't be more pleased! 


I have to say that my favorite part of the year was when Nathan, a 1st grader from Mrs. Kelly's class, ran up to me and told me he composed a song for me! He then proceeded to sing it. It was only about 10 seconds long, but the passion and effort he put into it made my day! I knew then that I had found a new home in arts education with Opera for All! Thanks Nathan! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Great Work Chase Elementary!!!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This past year with OFA, I was lucky enough to spend with the talented students of Chase Elementary. I worked with two 4th grade & two 5th grade classes every week & watched each class create their own unique dinosaur themed opera that could not have been more different from one another's.  We had everything from rival carnivore & herbivore lollipop vendors, dinosaurs battling with halitosis to a prehistoric game of Rock, Paper, Scissors that resulted in a meteor shower!  Some of our songs were happy & thanked the characters in our story who emerged as the heroes while other classes wrote anxiety driven melodies that dealt with taking wounded dinosaurs to the hospital or running from an exploding volcano.  We even included some rapping as well as an MC Hammer inspired dance break!  Throughout the creation process, our students were allowed to express themselves in different ways than they are not often allowed within a school setting & through each of the different art forms that exist within an opera (music, drama, dance, creative writing & visual arts).  Our partner teachers were so cooperative and encouraging from the beginning.  A few of them even stayed late the evening before our performance to decorate the entire gym in our dinosaur motif!  Though I try not to pick favorites, there was one 5th grade student with autism that stole my heart & was always so excited to participate in opera class.  He not only volunteered to be the first speaker during our winter assembly but also played one of the leads in his classes' performance.  He served as a perfect representation of the enthusiasm that I continually see when children are exposed to opera. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Fantastic Year at Armstrong Elementary School!

Jennifer D'Agostino, Opera for All Teaching Artist

What a great year in the CPS schools with OFA. Our students were very enthusiastic about all aspects of building and presenting an opera. It is so overwhelming, and sometimes emotional, when you walk in to a school and are greeted with an abundance of energy, hugs, and questions about today’s class in Opera. I am constantly surprised by my students’ reactions on participating in an art form that they initially think is so foreign. As we continue our plans, they start to realize how accessible it is to write, read, and act. There is always a time when what they do on stage becomes second nature, and it’s really exciting to see the evolution throughout the 20 or 35 weeks. I have been especially impressed with the 1st graders at Armstrong. Not only are they adorable, but, their enthusiasm was by far, the best I have ever seen working for Opera For All. Students who barely spoke at the beginning of the year were shouting the Dinosaur song at the top of their lungs at their performance. They all had that glimmer of mischief when they acted out their plots and sang the silly and fun songs they created with composer, Adam Busch. It’s great to work with a grade where the students aren’t yet feeling self-conscious because they will really do about anything. I will definitely miss those little tikes, and judging by the answers on their post test, I know that they will always have a special place for Opera.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What I Have Learned as an “Opera for All” Assistant Teaching Artist

Heather Keith, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

Last year when I was interning for Chicago Opera Theater, I learned a great deal about the Opera for All program and how to work with other teaching artists as a team. I helped get the production on its feet, but I wasn’t with the students long enough to really get to  know them.

This year, being given the opportunity to bond with the students I teach, I was surprised daily with not only their talent, but also their sheer tenacity. When any one of these students is given the tools to succeed, that is just what he or she does! Not only do they have the challenges of everyday life, being in school, testing, growing up…but also, when given the right direction, they create stories and music compositions that are not only imaginative but really speak to an audience.

This year, we wrote stories that deal with fair sportsmanship, mothers down on their luck, and dinosaurs coming back from the future. We wrote songs that not only are tuneful, but also integrate into the plots of all our stories. We learned dances together that showed us to be comfortable in our own skin, and that dance can enrich the story we are trying to tell. We learned together how to create opera. 

I am so incredibly proud of these students. I am so lucky to be able to work with them to teach them about the things I am passionate about and, in turn, they teach and remind me daily what amazing things can be accomplished just by hard work and being given the opportunity to learn.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Casting Day!

Justin Callis, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Assigning parts for our show is always such a challenge.  Our students come in excited and prepared, and everyone wants a part!  Fortunately, it is always an ensemble experience, and everyone who wants a role gets one.  From a busy team of narrators, to a Cyborg Dinosaur, to a pre-teen zombie, there’s something for everyone at Field Elementary School!  We even found a featured role as a magical plant!  

For me, so much of the process of choosing parts is about what the students bring with them to their audition.  Because it is an original piece of theatre, and everything is a work in progress, the characters and script are entirely shaped by our students.  New lines are always a welcome addition.  Essential character traits might appear out of a rehearsal.  It is always so exciting to see what our students bring to the table, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint.  

During the audition, each student read from the same scene from their show.  That way, we got to hear everyone say the same words.  Plus, the students all watched the auditions, and were able to learn from and be inspired by their peers.  We also discussed with them how their attitudes and dedication in class play a big part in the casting process.  Roles can become larger or smaller depending on the circumstances.  One student, who initially had a small part, so impressed us during review sessions and the dance day that he received a lead role in the show!  

We’ve watched auditions, and through it, we’ve watched our students learn and grow.  Now comes the difficult days of staging rehearsals, where I hope to have just as much fun with our students creating the visual language of our show as we did writing the words and melodies they will perform.  I can’t wait to see A Terrific Tale!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dance Day!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Joy. That is the word that comes to mind as I think about our dance days at Field Elementary and Armstrong Elementary schools. There was joy on the student’s faces as they felt so proud of their hard work, and joy on the teacher’s faces as we watched even some of the very shy students come out of their shells.

Dance requires patience, focus and a desire to have fun. All of these elements came together magically as we unleashed our inner Katy Perry in “Roar,” and clapped to the infectious rhythms of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” As someone who tends to trip over my own feet, I found myself goofily jumping around and enjoying myself as much as the students. Even some of the teachers demonstrated their mad dancing skills, and the students couldn’t get enough of it.

I continue to be thoroughly impressed by the student’s adaptability as we throw new elements of performance at them. Singing, acting and now dancing are all coming together, and the student created operas are taking shape and coming to joyous life before our very eyes. I could not be more proud of our students and the amazing work being done in CPS classrooms as we share our love of opera and performance art with the next generation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Caryn Ott Hillman, Guest Teaching Artist

Oh Yeah, baby!  Dinosaur was the theme to this year's Opera For All and the song choices were soooooooo much fun!
Each song took on a different theme for me, as far as choreography:

Michael Jackson's Bad:

Without a doubt, MJ had a dance style all his own.  There is NO other way to dance to his music, so why fight it?   There were moves that I specifically took from different videos, like "The Lean" from Smooth Criminal, "Walk and Snap" from Beat It and the famous "Moonwalk."  The kids loved-loved-loved this dance and I loved teaching it! 

Katy Perry's Roar

I was excited about this song because of how strong it is.  I incorporated boxing and iconic super hero moves to personify the power of Strength!  Plus, I just had to make the kids real vocalize a Roar every time is was sung in the music.

1980's Walk The Dinosaur

This song takes me back because I was young when this song came out on the radio.  The 1980's had many style of dances that helped define that decade.  Some of my inspirations were from the movie The Breakfast Club and  the rap duo, Kid-N-Play.

Pharell's Happy

What makes me love this song so much is the clapping rhythm that exists throughout the song!  Every time I hear it on the radio in my car, I take my hands off the wheel to "Clap along if you feel what Happiness means to you."  Naturally, I added clapping.  And since I can never make any dance simple, I have different rhythms of clapping layered on top of each other by different groups in each class. (Yes - for this reason, Happy was the most challenging song that I taught!  That, and the fact that  - IT IS SUPER FAST!)  Thank goodness, the kids were proud of themselves when the nailed it.

     This Spring, Opera For All has chosen schools that seem to represent our changing world here in Chicago. Chase, Reilly and McAuliffe are three of the five schools that I choreographed for.  Based on seeing and hearing the children file into the auditoriums, I was compelled to utilize my very basic Spanish to connect with these 4th and 5th graders.  When instructing my dances, I used words like: durecha y izcierda (right and left), manos (hands),  pied (foot), rodilla (knee) and of course uno-dos-tres-quarto...

It may seem so simple to me and you but for these children, they appreciate being taken seriously.  If I can communicate with them easier and help them comprehend what I am asking them to do, why would I not try to speak in a language they feel more comfortable using?  

     I am realizing that whether we want it or not, the Latino and Hispanic cultures are becoming more and more dominant as our community is expanding.  It is inevitable.  I don't want to fight this metamorphosis, I want to change with the times.  Just like adapting to the new technology around us, we need to accept shifts in the way we USED to do things.  We need to  celebrate new additions to our community and culture.  We need to embrace the people that feel unwelcome and help them root themselves in our neighborhoods.  We all come from some line of immigrants and our ancestors were forced to endure this same transition.  Why can't we learn from the past and move past "scary" differences and offer an open heart without judgment?

     I, for one, am continuing to brush up on my Spanish (and technology knowledge) through Duo-lingo.  Next year, I hope to incorporate more verbs into my Spanish instruction and connect with these darling faces that are staring back at me.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Song Creation

Becky Sorenson, Opera for All Teaching Artist

I taught both at Disney II and subbed at McAuliffe during song creation, and it was interesting to get to see two different takes on how to tackle this challenge. At Disney, we had the luxury of students who have a great music teacher who has taught them to sing using solfege, however at McAuliffe, the students don't have any regular music education in their school.

At Disney, Justin took the approach of calling on students, asking them for a short collection of solfege syllables to fit a bit of text. We gathered about 4 ideas per bit of text, and then played and sang them for the class. Next, we had the students put their heads down and vote on which melody they liked best. I made sure to get suggestions from everyone in the class, even those that don't usually speak up! We made sure they had post-it notes on which to write down their ideas, so they had time to think. I also explained that often steps and small skips are more memorable melodies than huge jumps across the scale. This approach worked very well!

Kaitlin took a different approach at McAuliffe, splitting the students into groups and giving them cut out numbers in lieu of solfege syllables. the students then arranged the numbers into 4 beat patterns and after working in groups, shared them with the class. Again, we talked about the elements that make a memorable melody that is easy to sing, and guided the students toward what makes musical sense to their ears. The result were melodies that are VERY memorable (even as a sub, I can still sing all of their songs)!