Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Supernova Scenarios - Script and Character Development

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist
The students at Hampton and Clinton are coming up with some out-of-this-world, cosmically cool script and character ideas and are in the final stages of script writing for their operas! At both schools, I've been working with the kids for the past three weeks on guided brainstorming and written journal assignments that complement the teachers' curriculum for literacy while also resulting in characters, settings, and plot-lines for our students' scripts, and material that can be used in the future for songwriting when our lyricist and teaching artist Alyssa Sorresso comes in for songwriting sessions. 
I asked students to create characters, space scenarios, and motivations, which were then woven into stories utilizing logical feedback and random elements from all involved students during class discussions. This process emphasizes writing for the stage, which must establish setting, character, motivation, and plot line quickly and clearly for the audience without lengthy explanation or back-story; a good way to teach kids how to be concise and logical in every day writing.
One student's response to our writing prompt.
Clinton students have decided that their opera will involve alien child-princesses in disguise, a gang of alien-human supervillains, and a trip to a far-away planet. According to Mrs. Kobs' class, Princess Mega-Nebula of planet Nebula, fascinated by Earth and Earthlings, disguises herself as a human child on a dare and travels to Earth, where she impersonates a human teacher. She takes her students on a field trip to outer space, but forgets that she will revert to alien form when she leaves the Earth atmosphere. . .and suddenly transforms into her original, scary appearance (yet to be determined by Mr. Cieslik's class!) Her father shows up to take her home, and her students/peers, after initial horror, accompany her to her home world, where they are introduced to her culture and customs by her fellow Nebulanians. Mr. Cieslik's class will be studying ancient civilizations, so we decided to focus the kids in this class on this aspect of the story since it would complement his coursework. Ms. Kobs felt that her children would benefit from addressing both the students' and their alien teacher's perspectives, and so they were assigned journals on that topic. 
Disaster is brewing in the background, meanwhile, as an interplanetary crew of space-villains led by Dr. Alien Abductor connect via a villains' networking website and decide to band together to pursue their nefarious plots: brain eating, core-stealing, alien slavery and planetary annihilation! Will a genius child, too sick to go on the field trip, intercept their communications with his evil detection tool, or will Princess Elastic infiltrate the evil band and foil their plans? We haven't decided yet. Ms. Breigshuit's class is learning how to "wrap up" a story so, at her request, they are in charge of that element of the script, and have decided that the kids will clone themselves and send the copies home so that their parents are unaware that they are gone. Mrs. Thomas' class invented the supervillains, for the most part, and their objectives. I couldn't make this stuff up. But the kids sure can, given the right steps and an encouraging, creative atmosphere. Many of our students are participating in opera for their second or third year, and that makes a HUGE difference in their comfort level, creativity, and the receptivity of their peers! 
Alien Girl
Students at Hampton are sending their characters on a journey to settle a new world because of an impending supernova that will destroy the Earth. They have populated their ship with a team of settlers including a space doctor, twin sister architects, the Unknown Assassin, a space mechanic, a gourmet space captain on the hunt for ice that will be the foundation of the galaxy's best ice cream, Cookie the ship's cook, and more. Ms. Paz's and Mr. McFarland's classes created these and many more fantastic characters to staff the ship on its exploratory mission. Mrs. Ochoa's class created the residents of Zrdak, the alien world where the human ship lands, and they are the warlike BeardNuggets, SpaceDogs, and Princess Roseberry and her court of Gardeners. When the human ship crash-lands in Princess Roseberry's garden, the aliens must decide whether to observe, attack, or attempt to communicate with the insensitive humans; a good exercise that is a parallel to the work Mrs. Ochoa has been doing on Native American perspectives in her class. This class is creating these potential scenarios in their journals this week, and we will vote next week on the direction of the plot. Mr. McFarland's class will create the "crisis council" scene on Earth, describing the conditions that lead to their decision to abandon our world; and Ms. Paz's class is creating the discovery scene, in which the human explorers land and observe their new world! All of the scenes will, despite this astounding detail, be short and concise, setting the stage for the songs that will follow, to be written in sessions with Alyssa Sorresso! Take a look at a student that was carried away with alien visualization! 

Oh no! He's become an alien!

Mozart Week at Reilly Elementary

Jessica Lane, Education Intern

For someone who loves the arts and wants to be an elementary school teacher, last week was awesome!  Before I tell you how wonderful I think Reilly Elementary School, Classical Kids Live, and the Oistrach Orchestra are, let me tell you what the students at Reilly Elementary School were able to experience.

The program is one week of a larger outreach program called Music Inspires!, a collaboration between Classical Kids Live, the Oistrach Orchestra, and Chicago Opera Theater to bring performances into schools throughout Chicago.

Music Inspires! from Hannah Goering on Vimeo.

Monday was a 1st through 4th grade assembly with the actors of Classical Kids Live, a string quartet from the Oistrach Orchestra, and COT Education Manager Linden Christ.  The student were introduced to the string instruments in front of them and the characters of Mozart and Mozart's son Karl from Classical Kids Live.

Then, each class got to spend a half an hour with Linden or I learning more in depth about Mozart, asking questions, and listening to music.  We spread this out over Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Finally, on Friday, the 1st through 4th graders got together again to watch Mozart's Magnificent Voyage with the entire Oistrach Orchestra and Classical Kids Live.

Students watch Mozart's Magnificent Voyage

The performance was wonderful but, by far my favorite part of the entire week were the 30 minute lessons I was able to teach each individual class.  It was just so much fun. The students were amazed by the life of Mozart, his music, and the musicians.  They had so many questions about who Mozart was.  Each student wanted to know him personally and asked where he lived, how long ago he lived, when he died, and about his family.  Many of the students are not native English speakers and speak Spanish at home.  The classroom teachers were so kind to translate for me from English into Spanish (I really need to learn Spanish!) and the students paid attention even when I knew they could not understand me.  Playing music helped a lot because they could understand the way it sounded and would even act out the instruments with me! 

Mozart week at Reilly was a fun adventure for me, and I hope the teachers, the principals, and the students had as much fun as I did!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chicago Opera Theater For Teens

Chris Richard
Teaching Artist for Chicago Opera Theater For Teens

We just ended our 3rd week... 3rd WEEK!!!!!  I don't know where it went.  Marta & I have been really excited by the teens who we have in the group this term.  Everyone seems to be really participating and enjoying themselves.  I think for some learning the discipline it takes to sing this kind of music has been a struggle, but I get the sense that they are finding it rewarding!  Just in case you haven't read previous blogs, COT For Teens will put on our production this term rather than the spring.  We wanted to change things up.  We are performing another great Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, 'Trial By Jury.'  Of course it's completely ridiculous and fortunately it's a one act... meaning the whole show is only one act and it takes about 35 minutes to perform.  It's all sung with no dialogue.  Usually in the past we have done cut down version of full length shows.  So we are anxious about how this will all work out!
The first week is usually spent getting to know each other with lots of name games and theater games to get them used to being 'out there.'  They have been jumping in to those thing full on!  In fact, it almost seems like that's all they want to do!  We have been working on the opening chorus, 'Hark! The hour of ten is sounding!,' and we all seem to be having fun with it.  We are also working on two other larger chorus sections. Near the end of the first week and usually into the beginning of the 2nd week Marta & try to get to know our teens voice a little more in depth.  Our process is to have each of them get up in front of class and perform and everyone has to try it.  Some sing something classical, other sing something they learned in school chorus.  Others will sing some pop or R&B tune they know from the radio, we get an occasional music theater tune also.  It's fun and intimidating and the teens are incredibly supportive of each other.
We call it 'Death by Aria'!  It's a term I learned from a young artist stint I did with an opera company.  It just gets everyone over the nerves of singing in front of everyone.  Marta & I use this as a way to cast our show.
Last Saturday, the end of week 2, we took a majority of the teens to see Marta perform!  She has been the music director for Light Opera Works concert called 'Operetta's Greatest Hits.'  It's a stylized concert of lots of great tunes from the operetta world that was staged and arranged for a more intimate setting.  Marta was at the keys and there was a violinist, a bass and another instrumentalist who switched between flute and clarinet.  It made for a really wonderful evening for the students.  The performance was at Nichols Concert Hall is Evanston.  Light Opera Works graciously donated the tickets for us - THANK YOU!!!  On the way to the performance, the teens were singing on the train...mostly pop tunes and songs they know from church.  But then I 'made' them sing 'Hark! The hour of ten is sounding.' It was awesome!  The ending was a little rocky but they got applause from the few people that were in our car.  It was great! Our teens were really blown away with the performance and made several comments about liking certain performers. A couple didn't understand the story line.  I had to explain that there were many tunes from a variety of operetta shows and that this was a concert setting with no real story line.  It's understandable that they asked this because Light Opera Works director staged it in a way that made 'characters' and relationships between them so that the concert wasn't just a stand and sing.  I thought that was clever and it was a good teaching moment with our teens to talk about.

This past week, week 3, was a good week too.  We had really good attendance and the students have been really responsible about communicating with us - which is a huge lesson to learn!
We have announced the casting of our show and everyone seems to be even more excited about it!  We read through the score without the music as if it were a play.  This was done so that we could really delve into the story and talk about specific things that need further explanation.  After all, this is a play - it just happens to have music...the entire way!
Looking forward to the rest of the semester and year with our teens!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Making Progress at Marillac

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist

Marillac students, ranging in age in both our after-school sessions from 3rd to 7th grade, are a loving but rambunctious group! Due to the CPS strike, they were the only students who saw the COT production of The Magic Flute at the beginning of the year; a creative and artistic advantage that we are returning to again and again as we work with the kids, who are not always in the mood to focus at the end of their long day! But they are participating, happily if a bit too exuberantly, for the most part, and that is a great place to start.

Students at the COT's Magic Flute
 After some trial and error, we have built enough of a respect and rapport with the students to start each session with silent theatre & sound games, such as clap/gesture mirroring (one student claps a rhythm and sits down; other students stand quickly, mirror it, and sit; repeat!, in SILENCE) to get them focused, looking and listening; and also to create an environment that emphasizes conduct expectations and routine. We have been able to leave that framework successfully for longer and longer periods of time to explore specific aspects of performance and creation focused upon their upcoming winter preview performance, and of course their year-end opera.
This picture is of students acting out the abduction scene from The Magic Flute; part of their preparation for attending that performance! 
We've started staging the Boy and Wolf fable with both classes; an activity that they have requested we repeat, even though we are still teaching them about rehearsal expectations and reining in the inevitable chaos that is part of that process. As usual, some of our liveliest students are wonderful actors and performers. But even our quiet students are supported by their peers in their efforts to express themselves dramatically, and that is really wonderful and unusual. Their attempts to guide and direct each other are well-intentioned, although sometimes disruptive. The first of our two classes is making excellent progress with the fable and will be ready to perform it for Winter Preview.
This week, Justin and I got the other group (a very feisty bunch) thinking about the setting for their opera by showing them the final portion of 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick). This portion of that landmark film features a chaotic operatic and symphonic score, as well as visual effects that were years ahead of their time and non-computer-generated. The kids watched this colorful kaleidoscope of "space" scenery, interspersed with cuts to the astronaut, in silence. We explained about mid-way through that this astronaut had been marooned in space and was exploring a new space frontier out of necessity. Justin pointed out the fact that computers did not create the effects, and that we had not even landed on the moon yet at the time the film was made. They finished watching the footage. Then we asked them to reflect in their journals upon how the music made them feel, and what they thought the footage represented, since there is no dialogue; and to tell us in words and pictures what they thought was happening. One child remarked thoughtfully that perhaps the astronaut was hallucinating all of the effects, given that he had been marooned and might have been hungry and dehydrated. . .!!! 
The picture above is of the students working--the girl in the background writes extensive reflections, and will probably be one of the primary authors for the script for that class. 
Student's aliens!
 These students are so delightfully positive and supportive of one another. I feel confident that we will be able to channel their initial fascination with The Magic Flute into a unique artistic creation, once we have channeled their energies into appropriate classroom conduct, the process of which is already underway

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chase Elementary Charms First Time COT Teaching Artist

Alyssa Sorresso, COT Teaching Artist

As a first time teaching artist for COT, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had mainly worked with teenagers in the community and juvenile facilities prior to COT, so the thought of teaching 30 elementary school students each class threw me for a loop.  How would they act? Would they love us? Ignore us? Overwhelm us with their energy?

I was pleasantly surprised when Linden and I had our first day at Chase Elementary.  The students were so refreshing in their enthusiasm for music, and the teachers so supportive and involved.  I could see these kids wanted to get up and move! They loved playing a fun game called Zookeeper where they physically interacted with each other to form different animals. They were also captivated by the Magic Flute’s “Queen of the Night” aria and had thoughtful insights into what the Queen felt as she sang.

We discovered Mr. Dzja’s class had been hard at work on opera vocabulary during the strike. Each student made and decorated an opera fan with a musical term! Super adorable, and boy, did they know their vocabulary! This extra step by Mr. Dzja is the kind of involvement we feel from all of our Chase partners.  The school had even procured a movable keyboard for us so we could practice Solfege and teach our first song, “Se Vuol Ballare”. 

I’m really looking forward to continuing our journey into opera with this school.  The students have already demonstrated a growth in confidence with their performance skills; we had one girl in Ms. Martinez’s class volunteer to sing a song out of the blue! Her voice was wonderful and her bravery set a clear bar for her peers.  I’m excited for more risk-taking and creation from our Chase students!

Me posing with the student's fans

How to Play Zookeeper:

Participants are animals in a zoo, and the lead facilitator is the “Zookeeper”.  Participants are instructed to mingle about the space, filling up any space they see.  The Zookeeper has 5 commands, 4 of which are animals that participants have to create with each other:

1st animal: Octopus. Requires 2 participants to stand back-to-back, link arms and wiggle arms like a 4-armed octopus.

2nd animal: Centipede.  Requires 3 participants to stand in a line, each placing their hands on the shoulders in front of them.  Participants them move together like a centipede.

3rd animal: Bird. Requires 4 participants , one forms a beak, two form wings behind the beak, and the 4th creates the tail behind the wings.

4th animal: Beehive (concededly not an animal).  Requires 5 participants, 4 join hands in a circle around the 5th who is in the middle.  The 4 participants on the outside spin in one direction, while the person in the middle rotates in the opposite direction.  Everybody buzzes like bees.

Participants who fail to link into an animal, or if there’s a group forming an animal with too many participants, are “out” and become Zookeepers with the facilitator.

5th Commend: Zookeeper.  The Zookeeper can shout “Zookeeper” at any time and all participants MUST freeze.  They cannot move except to blink or breath. The Zookeeper will then, without touching, try to make the each participant laugh.  Whoever laughs becomes a Zookeeper with the facilitator, and will help the make other participants laugh the next time the command is used.  Because of this, the “Zookeeper” command is usually used after a few rounds.  All of the “out” Zookeepers will help with this command.  The last person standing is the next Zookeeper.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

COT Opera for Teens 1st Day

Jessica Lane, COT Education Intern

How lucky COT Education Manager, Linden, and I are to have a job where we can pop into class with 25 high school students who are excited to study opera! 

Yesterday was the first day of the After School Matters COT for Teens program.  Linden and I went to help out Teaching Artist Christopher Richard as his teaching partner, Marta Johnson, couldn't be there.  They went through their normal first day stuff of going over the rules, writing down phone numbers, taking attendance, getting everyone signed up online, and finding everyone.  We passed out scores for the one act opera the students are doing this semester, Trial by Jury by Gilbert and Sullivan. 


The students were excited about the opera and it was obvious that some of them had done their homework on the operetta and who Gilbert and Sullivan were.  One student was in a past production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera done by COT Opera for Teens, Pirates of Penzance.

After all the work was done we got to have fun.  Chris introduced us to a singing chant that can help the group learn names and gets all of us singing and creating motions to go along with our name.  It was so much fun and you can find the chant below.

Linden and I also get the pleasure of taking some of the students on a field trip this Friday to a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience.  Its a one act operetta like Trial by Jury and there are some COT for Teens alumni in the production.  We will be taking the El from downtown to Savoyaires in Evanston so there should be plenty of time for pictures then.  

My only regret is that we all got so into spending time with the students that we didn't take one picture yesterday!  That just means we will have to go back another time. 

The Chant!
This chant is done as a call and response with everyone in one large circle.  The leader starts with going through the lines a couple times just getting used to the words and melody.  Once everyone is comfortable  then you can go around the circle and have everyone sing their own name line.  The entire group repeats the name and then you move onto the next person.  When the entire circle is done you go back to the lines again.  Each time around the circle you can add new rules like using a motion with your name, singing the name of the person next to you, or changing the melody. 

Lines: Freedom is sweet. (Freedom is sweet)
          It's on the beat. (It's on the beat.)
          It's got freshness. (It's got freshness.)
          It's got zestness. (It's got zestness)
Name Line:  It's got ____(name)______ (It's got ___(same name)___)

It also helps to keep everyone together by clapping on the 2 and 4 or making up your own beat!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Opera and Theater Games

Richard Blakeney, COT Teaching Artist

At Hampton we have gotten the year off to a great start. The students at Hampton are learning lots while having fun. Building an ensemble in the classroom creates a safe place for discovery and exploration. At Hampton we are eagerly learning “Se Vuol Ballare” and “A Boy and Wolf”. Memorization and rehearsing can be boring and cause student to loss interest if not done in a fun way. Please enjoy the passage from Dr June Cottrell’s book” Creative Drama in the Classroom, she decribes the importance of “Reinforcing Bi- Modal Learn” in the arts classroom. Translation- get students out of their seats and imaging, role playing while memorizing or doing logical activities. They will be more engaged and learn more. Much to this end I offer two games we have been learning at Hampton. The Singing Opera Circle is a game that requires the Instructor to model good practice techniques for student while they are still learning the text.  It reinforces bi- modal learning and creativity in young performers. Sequencing the Story is a game that teaches students to work in a group, while using rhythm. Students learn to focus better on their line and when they should be delivered. The instructor challenges the students to “pick up the beat” or “cue pick up” to better tell a story. These are theatre games I have modified over the years to enhance performance for young actors and singers.

“Traditionally, most classroom learning emphasizes the logical, rational, linear, and verbal functions of the left hemisphere of the brain, yet many children(and adults) learn best when they can employ visualization, intuition, imagination and metaphoric, and spatial thinking- processes resident in the right hemisphere. Ideally, all students ought to use and strengthen their abilities with all functions, with teacher’s recognizing that for some learners the emphasis on left-hemisphere learning does not fit their preferred learning style. Opera learning in the classroom, offer experiences in which both hemispheres play major roles, with a considerable amount of traffic, both directions, over the corpus callosum, that remarkable bridge that connects the two halves of the human brain." “(June Cottrell, Creative Drama)

The Games:
The Singing Opera Circle
1. Students take their chair and make a circle in the center of the room.
2. The instructor tells the group, to copy every word exactly the way it is called.
3. When the students are responding to the instructors call, students must stand up and move to the next seat to the right.
4. Students repeat both vocal and physical gesture offered by instructor.

Instructor side notes:
- Calls must be over exaggerated to receive best response from students
- If the students have a problem repeating a word or phrase, clap the phrase while making the call and have students repeat with the clap.
- Once the calls are fluent and fast the instructor should start sing or rapping calls
- Instructor models good singing technique with call - For best responses no vibrato should be used and singing in head voice with no weight - will receive best response for the groups of young learners
- Instructor should model different gestures that enhance physical storytelling of the poem.
- Instructor repeats until 90% of students respond together

Sequencing the story
1. Students stand in a circle
2. Students are assigned a line of poetry
3. Students establish a sequence, when the first student recites their given line of poetry, then making eye contact and pointing across the circle to the student with next line in the poem.
4. Students continue until all the students in the circle have recited their given line.
5. Repeat until the students are Fluent with sequence.

Instructor Side note
-Students are told that this is a rhythm game, and that they should pick up the beat. There should be no beats between sequenced line responses.
-Students are encouraged to speed up the sequence or slow down by responding after or before the beat.
-Some groups of students require a few rounds of “Sequencing with Numbers” to get the gist of the game- same rules, simply replace numbers with lines of poetry.
-Students should repeat this game until no one drops a beat
- Larger groups work best when learning this game.

Add- ons
- Once students have established a great sequence, have them add a gesture. Once each student has chosen a gesture for their line of poetry, have students work to make a statue of the poem.
- Each students repeats their line of poetry and gesture and freezes before the next student in sequence begins there line of poetry. When each student freezes they make physical contact with the person before them. Then process continues until everyone has delivered their lines and gesture and the statue is built. Student repeat and try to use different gestures to tell the story.