Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring is here!

Linden Christ, Director of Education and Outreach

Spring is here!  The daffodils and bluebells are blooming and so are our students!   Every week, our Teaching Artists submit reflections about their classroom sessions.   This week, Hector, one of our Reilly Elementary School 4th grade students exclaimed in the hallway “Ms. Keith! I can read my line!“  Hector has a hard time with reading, but he has been practicing his line throughout the week with his special needs teacher to make it perfect.  

As the Director of Education for Chicago Opera Theater, I spend most of my time in the office making sure the Opera for All and Chicago Opera Theater for Teens programs are running smoothly.   However, I do pop into each school for observations.  

The month of March and April also provide a bit of a work out as it’s our Choreography Month.   This year, I hired four choreographers: Caryn Ott Hillman, Kia Smith, Sheena Laird, & Laura Marsh, one to accompany each of our teaching artists in the classroom.  They create a unique dance for each classroom at the school and help the students learn about the career of a choreographer, help the students get comfortable dancing in front of each other in warm-ups, teach the dance moves, and then relate the dance skills to the students muscles and body parts.  The students struggle moving their bodies, but through repetition and help they feel accomplished in learning their dance in two sessions!  Each classroom has a dance captain or two that helps the students that need assistance during recess and after school.

I’m pleased to announce that our Chicago Opera Theater for Teens will be singing at the Harris Theater Lobby before the performance of The Perfect American from 2:10-2:45pm on Sunday, April 30th.    We will be featuring all three of our High Schools- Senn, Solorio, & Goode with excerpts from their Spring Musicals: The Wiz, Shrek, & Little Shop of Horrors.  Come and support our teens! 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Solorio In Full-Swing!

Emily Cox, COT for Teens, Teen Director

What an exciting semester Solorio is having! The Vocal Academy is in full-swing, and the COT4Teens program is in its final phases of rehearsals!

COT4Teens is always a marvelous time, but this semester is especially fruitful and exciting! This spring has seen a significant increase in the number of participating students. COT4Teens' current roster boasts twenty-seven of the finest singers and dancers at Solorio, as well as a few teens from neighboring schools. The teens are all an active part of our advanced apprenticeship, which teaches them core life skills such as punctuality, responsibility, memorization, public-speaking, time-management, facilitation, and interpersonal-communication skills. Our teens are featured throughout the entirety of the production as both leading roles and ensemble members; several of the teens have voluntarily decided to play multiple roles, which requires even MORE dedication and responsibility! We are also very proud of our student production team program. Now in its second year, this program teaches the teens the importance of technical theater as well as performance. Several of our teens have devoted their semester to exploring the art of stage management, lighting design, sound design, and costume design and management. The semester culminates in an entirely-student-run, full-length production of "Shrek: The Musical". This is the LARGEST and MOST DIFFICULT production COT4Teens has ever produced in terms of ensemble, musical difficulty, content, choreography, run length, and sheer volume of musical numbers. We are VERY proud of our cast and everything that they have accomplished thus far! The production goes up on May 4th and 5th, at 6:00 PM. Tickets are free and open to the public. Come and see some wonderfully-talented teens let their "freak flags" fly in this hilarious and heartwarming production! 

The Vocal Academy has also seen an enormous surge of interest this spring. Last year, we had twenty-five total students that received twenty-five minute private voice lessons on a weekly basis; this semester, we have thirty-six teens that receive thirty-minute private voice lessons on a semi-rotating basis. The teens are studying advanced vocal pedagogy. This includes basic singing techniques such as breathing, kinesthesiology, core support, foreign language skills, rhythm, harmony, acoustics and vocal production. The semester will feature a masterclass with Whitney Morrison, a member of the Lyric Opera's Ryan Center, and will culminate on May 30th with a studio recital. 

Because of Chicago Opera Theater's support, Solorio is gaining some recognition around Chicagoland area as an up-and-coming arts school. This past week, several of the teens involved in both of our programs were featured in the early-morning segment on the local news channel's "About Town" feature. You can find a link to the video interview segment all about Solorio and its arts programs here: http://wgntv.com/2017/03/31/around-town-visits-eric-solorio-academy/

Friday, March 24, 2017

Teenagers are my heroes

Josh Stammis, COT for Teens Spring Intern


Teenagers are my heroes. We expect the most out of them (good grades, a job, extracurricular involvement) all the while under-appreciating them. Working with COT for Teens has been an incredible experience for me so far. Teens still haven't lost their vigor for contributing to society in many creative ways. I have had the chance to work along with play directors and students from Nicholas Senn HS, Sarah Goode HS, and Eric Solorio HS. These opening weeks have been an amazing experience because these are the weeks I get to see the most progress. As weeks go on, we polish the act up, but starting from scratch shows how much the teens can improve most dramatically. I am amazed that along with studies, sports, and work, teens keep up a passion for the arts through their commitment to their plays. The directors have also shown incredible leadership and have an amazing passion to see their students succeed in their plays. I have witnessed a lot of progress in these short weeks, and am anxious to see how far they can go by the time they perform. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Character Walks in Action!

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The Opera for all students are working on character walks to enhance their operas. Here are some of the classes in action!

Ms. Santiago’s class improvises movements for their characters that are stuck in a fire:

Ms. Acierto’s class expresses their characters from the majestic city of Wetlandia.


And finally, Ms. Alarcon’s class shows us their under water characters:


The students and I both had a blast with these improvised movements. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Calling All Opera Stars!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Now that our story has been chosen, our scripts are finally completed, & our song is composed and learned, it's time to move onto one of my favorite parts of our program: ACTING!!! 

This week, my students had an opportunity to test out their dramatic skills while considering all of the different ways they can act with our entire bodies. Everyone tends to enjoy this class period because we get to play a lot of awesome theater games like.....

Moving around the space!:
Sounds easy right? Well there's more to it than just walking! As the students are walking, I shout out different prompts like "make a shape", which means strike a pose, "connect", which means connect your shape to someone else's shape and "levels", which means low, middle or high. Once I get their creative juices flowing, I throw in new ideas like,
"Walk around the space as if you're walking outside during a snow storm without a coat on!"
"Walk around like you just won a trip to Disney World!"

While this game is usually super entertaining for me as a teacher, it shows our young thespians just how much they can communicate simply by how they walk.

"Voice, Face, Action!"
In this activity, I hand our brave student volunteers index cards with lines that say things like, "The building is on fire!" or "Someone just stole my lunch."

First they have to read the line like a robot, without any emotion at all. Then, the  ask for suggestions from our classroom audience how our actors can alter just their voices. Next I ask how they can ch age their faces and finally the class gives suggestions for gestures or actions that might complete our performance. Suddenly the line is transformed and by adding these dramatic layers, we end up with some student, directed Oscar-worthy performances! Here's a video of two fabulous 5th graders from Healy playing "Voice, Face Action"

All in all my favorite part of this class period is when one of our very quiet students gets up and knocks my socks off. I constantly have teachers tell me that they were surprised by what their students were capable of!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Opera Mannequins Take Over!!!!!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Renee Fleming, watch out! In what has become a media sensation, students at Healy Elementary and McAuliffe Elementary have been transforming into Opera Star Mannequins!

The only explanation that has been offered is that there has been an overabundance of fun and imagination in the Opera for All classrooms, resulting in this stunning development.

It is reported that these 4th, 5th and 6th grade students have been preparing original scripts for opera performances in May. The casting process is about to begin, and the students are ready to perfect their acting and singing skills.

The excitement generated by the possibilities of being cast in main roles has led to spontaneous opera poses. “I think that the opera world is heading into a revolution.” said opera teaching artist Matt McNabb. “We are going to see Opera Mannequins take over the Met stage!”

Is the world ready for such talent and unbridled performance energy? Will the opera world welcome these new stars with open arms? Only time will tell, but the performances in May are definitely not to be missed!

Welcome to the future of opera! And does it look awesome!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lights, Camera, Backdrops!

Diana Stoic, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This week Langford Community Academy and Whistler Elementary had the opportunity to meet and work with their guest artist, Luther Lewis.  Not only is he a talented artist, he is also an accomplished tenor. Luther and I sing together every December for Opera Night at the Italian restaurant, Del Rio.  He will also travel at the end of the month to Israel to perform in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  

This week Langford Community Academy and Whistler Elementary had the opportunity to meet and work with their guest artist, Luther Lewis.  Not only is he a talented artist, he is also an accomplished tenor. Luther and I sing together every December for Opera Night at the Italian restaurant, Del Rio.  He will also travel at the end of the month to Israel to perform in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. 

The students learned how to mix colors and learned different painting techniques to create varied textures on the canvas.

Mr. Lewis sketched the scene for each classroom according to the setting of their show.  Then he outlined the shapes with paint, and with the help of the students, filled in the shapes. 

Langford 6th grade class back drop before and after day 1.

The students worked very hard on their first art day.  They have one more day to finish up and work on the details. 

 Everyone was all smiles and worked well together to create a beautiful background for their opera.  To quote a line from one of the shows, “teamwork makes the dream work!”

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Whistler and Langford put the "Care and Share" in their Winter Showcase Performances.

Diana Stoic, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The reviews are in, and our Opera for All south side schools soared to great heights during their Winter Showcase on Wednesday December 14th!

The winter showcase was the culmination of the students’ work throughout the school year thus far.

The showcase started off strong with all students singing the theme song, “One World.”  

Whistler Elementary rehearsal of “One World” before the Winter Showcase.


A clip of Langford Community Academy’s performance of “One World.”


A few students shared specific Opera for All experiences:

Brooklynn, a 4th grade student from Whistler shared her experience about singing along to the Windy City performance.   She poignantly expressed her advice, “Keep calm and sing on because we all shine through in our own special way.”   

Listen to Brooklynn’s entire speech below:


The performance also included sneak peaks of each class’s opera synopsis and class songs, which they worked on with the guest composer.  The students ended their show with an all school sing- along to Jingle Bells.

The day after the performance, Whistler student, Kaytlin, reflected on how her class used cooperation to make their performance successful.


I can’t believe how quickly this school year is progressing.  I would like to recognize and thank the amazing teachers and principals that I‘ve had the opportunity to work with.  They have enthusiastically welcomed the Opera for All program into their schools.   We are also very grateful to have had our guest composers accompany the showcase.  The student’s loved getting the chance to see and work with them again. 

I wish everyone a happy holiday season and look forward to getting back to work in January.

Langford Community Academy’s practice warm-up of Jingle Bells:


Thursday, December 22, 2016


Caryn Ott-Hillman, Teen Director, COT for Teens

  This is the first song of the show LEGALLY BLONDE and I think it sums up this semester for Chicago Opera Theater @ Senn.  There were so many great things that occurred that helped this program continue to grow since starting this past summer.

   First off, I have never had so many students audition for this ASM's Chicago Opera Theater for Teens before.  Being that Senn is a Performing Arts School without a Musical Theater program, there are a plethora of students just chumping at the bit to get a chance to do musical.   With that, Dan Riley and I gathered the cream of the crop of students to put together the show LEGALLY BLONDE.  This show is a surprise favorite among young people now a days.  It is an empowering, self-discovery story decorated with a lot of pink fluff and sparkles.  

   The music is surprisingly challenging because of its contemporary sound and rhythm...but that did not stop Mr. Riley from pushing these teens.  Our cast totally stepped up to the plate and buckled down - I was so proud of them.

     For the dancing, I had a blast choreographing some hip hop moves to live up to all the high-energy music of the show.  The teens loved it the most when I asked them to slide on the floor in the song “So Much Better.”