Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teachable Moments during Staging Rehearsals

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The time right before spring break is always really exciting in our Opera for All schools. This is usually when we start getting into staging our operas.  There are so many teachable moments in staging a show that are inherent in the process, but this year we wanted the students to be in the director’s chair more than ever before. This took shape in different ways depending on the class dynamic.

At a few schools we let the children build a scene, by deciding where there characters fit in a larger tableau. I found this worked particularly well in large group scenes. This also gave us the opportunity to concentrate specifically on acting in different body levels.  At some schools like Chase, We decided to let the students have more of a say in specific hand gestures and line readings, this way they have even more ownership of the text and are able to dig deeper into more nuanced acting. I was surprised how many of the students have a natural gift for comedic timing, something that I’ve seen the most talented actors struggle with.  I’m very excited to see what ideas stick with the students in this process.

(McAulliffe Students finding their place in a tableau

(McAuliffe student waiting for his entrance)

At Hanson Park, since this is the first time many of the students have been in any sort of play we are concentrating on filling a proscenium stage. The first day of staging went incredibly well, so I know we will be able to layer in more complicated details once we finish the barebones blocking.

(Reilly students "clumping" together in a large group scene)

One of the things that really impresses me about directing young people is how they are able to be complete sponges. When you find that hook to get their attention, they are suddenly all in and it’s amazing what they can accomplish. I’m beyond thrilled to be able to create art with these students and I hope that the shows only get better with every rehearsal.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Finishing Our Backdrops!

Erin Moll, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This week we finished up our third and final Art Day with our Guest Artist, Dorian Sylvain.  I cannot say enough about how much the students learned from her!  She taught them about her job as a scenic designer and brought in examples of her work for them to look at.  While working on the backdrops, she chatted with the students about proper techniques for holding a brush, applying paint, and even blending and shading colors!

(Guest Artist Dorian Sylvain works with 4th grade students from Disney II Elementary on the backdrop for their opera “Michael Jordan’s Shoes”)

Each class was able to work on their backdrop for three weeks: first designing it, painting it, and then putting on the finishing touches.  

(Guest Artist Dorian Sylvain working with 6th grade students from Disney II Elementary on the backdrop for their opera “Pizza Pizza”)

Students were able to explore their creativity in a different way and were allowed to take ownership in creating the scenery for their shows.  Even students who are not normally as involved were painting and having fun!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Art Days!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The students at Field elementary school were treated to a wonderful surprise last Tuesday morning! Two of our guest artists, Abby and Julia greeted the kids with paint and enthusiasm, and a specially sketched backdrop created for each class based on drawings the students had done the week prior. After a great demonstration from our artists on how to paint with creativity yet frugality, the students dived head first into a world where they were able to create pink high rises, orange roofs and blue/purple/grey skies. Georges Seurat would have been proud.

At Healy and Disney II, our students had the special privilege of experiencing a full­on professional production meeting with our artist Dorian. She shared her sketches and talked about it what it is like to be a set designer in Chicago. Dorian treated the students as her fellow colleagues and it was wonderful to see the students take ownership and pride in their ideas. The students were open­mouthed as Dorian took these ideas and drew sketches on the white boards (complete with perspective), and the ideas came to life. As all the best artists do, Dorian made it look so easy! The kids cannot wait to see their backdrops in two weeks, and they are chomping at the bit to get them painted.

I think what I love most about the Opera for All program is our emphasis on teamwork. The students are seeing first­hand that the process of creating in the visual and performing arts take patience, trust, determination, imagination and above all, collaboration!

I also love that we bring not only music and opera to the students, but also dance and visual arts and acting and directing and design. They truly get a taste of life as an artist, and it’s exciting to be a part of it!

Voice Lessons at Solorio Academy

Emily Cox, Chicago Opera Theater for Teens, Teaching Artist

The students at Solorio have been working extremely hard this past week! We have been continuing our discussion about proper breath flow, proper breathing techniques, negotiating through the passagio and more. The students have been practicing, and have now learned how to set a regular practice schedule. 

The results are clearly showing, both in their weekly lessons and their choral classes. Several of the students have expanded their ranges by half of an octave or more, which has been very exciting and rewarding to see! The students have all been assigned an art song according to their fach, and have been working hard to learn them. Some of the repertoire choices include "Vado ben spesso" by Salvator Rosa, "When A Felon's Not Engaged in His Employment" by Gilbert and Sullivan, and "The Daisies" by Samuel Barber. After learning an initial song, the students will be assigned another for further study in the later part of the semester; they are being encouraged to search through musical databases, websites and other means to find something that interests them personally. They are also being encouraged to audition for solos and shows in and around their community, in order to get used to singing in public. We are hoping to be able to hold a studio recital in late May, so that they can show off their newly-developed voices for all to hear! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Set Design!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

For the past few weeks, we've been focusing on our choreography and set design, which gives us an opportunity to see another level of our talented students. We very often have some real great dancers and artists emerge who haven't yet stood out in opera class. But as we wrap up these projects, we will be moving into staging our operas and thinking about the dramatization of our stories. 

To prepare for this next step, we created a Prezi for our classes that highlighted the basic ideas about staging and acting like stage directions and thinking about adding "intention" to each line. For each dramatic idea, we had volunteers come up and demonstrate in front of the class. For example, I would give a student a line like "The building is on fire" and first they were instructed to say the line without any emotion or inflection and then we asked the class to give ideas for how our student volunteer can alter their voice, their face and their movements or actions to best communicate the line. I was really impressed with not only our student's acting skills but also their directing ideas. 

I hope that we can continue to draw on our students' directing ideas as we start blocking our show. I think it always helps students not only remember their staging but commit to it when they had a say in the decision behind it. This past week, we passed out scripts and announced our casts. It's always a delight to watch our classes get so excited about their roles and I think this is when they really start to take ownership of their operas. I'm really looking forward to watching their stories come to life in the coming months!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

This Spring semester,              
Chicago Opera Theater for Teens 
is putting on the production of Disney's "B &B."

Yep, with all the magic and mystery....our teens will sing and dance their way into your hearts.  Plus for an extra special treat, we have invited some of the STAFF of Solorio to dress up in full costume for the spectacular show-stopping number "BE OUR GUEST!"

Please join us on either 
Friday, May 6 at 7pm or Saturday, May 7 at 2pm 
in the Solorio Auditorum/Gym

Monday, February 29, 2016

Music Inspires at Healy Elementary!

Linden Christ, Director of Education and Outreach

Healy Elementary School had an exciting week of music called Music Inspires!   This week long program is provided by Classical Kids Music Education, Oistrakh Symphony Orchestra, and Chicago Opera Theater.  Each year we bring Music Inspires to two of our Opera for All schools. One Monday, the students attend an assembly with two professional actors, a string quartet, and your’s truly!   This week focused on CKME’s production of Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery.   Our task is to help the students relate to Vivaldi and his beautiful music.  Vivaldi was the „Rock Star“ of his day, composing over 600 pieces of music.   We connected Vivaldi’s fame with today’s hit, Hello by Adele.   The string quartet played the music and I sang this song and encouraged the students to sing along with me.   There was an abundance of giggling and then all the students joined in singing „Hello“! On Tuesday, Daniel Grambow, our COT Education Assistant and I visited with all five of the Healy 4th grade classrooms and presented them with a lesson plan focused on their three ‚V‘ vocabulary words, Violins, Venice, & Vivaldi.  We shared a violin that they could touch and pass around, as well as Venetian masks and played excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the A Minor Violin Concerto.

One of our teaching artists, Sara Litchfield commented, “ I was really blown away with some of the students reactions to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. One very quiet, thoughtful student named Kenny thought the movement must be about spring because it sounded like the music was growing like plants and flowers to in the spring. Surprisingly, he was not the only one with this response!

On Friday, the students returned to the auditorium to see the full performance of Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery with the Oistrakh Symphony Orchestra and the professional actors from Classical Kids Music Education.   The students were mesmerized by this event.

One student asked if he could be a donor and donate $50 from his allowance so that other students could experience this program!   

Friday, February 19, 2016

Choreography Days Wrap Up!

Erin Moll, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The last two weeks at Opera For All have been chock full of booty shaking and move making! One of the really phenomenal aspects of the Opera For All program is that students get the opportunity to learn from working professionals in creative fields. Our students have already had the opportunity to work with real live composers, and now for our dance days, students have the opportunity to work with a professional choreographer! It’s so important for them to see that these are jobs that they can someday pursue if they are interested!

(Guest Artist Caryn Ott Hillman with 6th grade students from Disney II Elementary)

During our choreography days, each class had the opportunity to work with guest choreographer, Caryn Ott Hillman, for two full sessions in order to learn the dance for their show. There are six different dance tracks to choose from which were carefully selected to fit the demands of each class’s scripts. Each dance is very unique – my favorite probably being the dance to “Eye of the Tiger” which features boxing moves as well as a bit of hip hop! That song is a perfect fit for McAuliffe 6th grade’s production of “Lincoln v Booth” which features a boxing match between those two historical characters!

(Fourth Grade Students from Disney II Elementary learn to slide like rock stars during their dance “Don’t Stop Believin’”)

One of the best aspects of our dance days is the opportunity for different students to shine. Our students have a variety of talents, and it’s extremely rewarding to see a student who was too shy to participate before really start to move and shake during our choreography sessions! It’s amazing to watch their confidence grow!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gianni Schicchi!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to sit in on the final dress rehearsal for COT's production of Gianni Schicchi, half of the double bill with Poulenc's La Voix Humaine currently playing at the Harris Theater. While Puccini is known for his dramatic operas, I find this piece to be one of my favorite operatic comedies.

Of course many associate this piece with the show stopping aria, “O mio babbino caro,” and the title character has some show stopping music as well, but the true star of this opera is the ensemble that makes up the colorful cast of characters in the Donati family. These greedy relatives of the wealthy and almost deceased Buoso Donati, plot with the cunning and opportunistic Gianni Schicchi to change Buoso's will after they learn that he has left everything to the friars. But in the end, Gianni Schicchi, disguised as Buoso, leaves the best of Buoso's will to himself! Having sung the role of Ciesca before, I know how deceptively challenging the ensemble numbers are in this show and I was really impressed with how the cast moved and sang as a hysterically funny unit while still retaining individual personalities.

Artistic director, Andreas Mitisek, chose to set the opera in a very groovy late 1960s Florence complete with funky furniture and go go boots and Gianni Schicchi was costumed to look like Austin Powers. The backdrop mirrored the constant motion on stage and shifted between a few bright, iconic 1970s patterns. Did I mention the backdrop was bright because it was VERY bright. At times I almost needed a pair of vintage 60's shades! All in all, I really enjoyed the production. Michael Chioldi's portrayal of Schicchi was boisterous yet clever, Emily Birsan sang a gorgeous Lauretta and on multiple occasions, I was laughing out loud. And not only this but it's paired with Patricia Racette's La Voix Humaine? I mean, it's a no brainer. Go see it! 

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!