Thursday, December 19, 2013

COT for Teens a Hit at Solorio!

We could create an entire new blog about the wonderful first semester we had at Solorio Academy High School, but instead we think it sounds better coming from our very own Jennifer D'Agostino, Teaching Artist for both COT for Teens and Opera For All.  Enjoy her blog entry:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ready for the Show

Jessica Weber, Education Assistant

Our COT for Teens are dressed and ready for their shows this weekend and next!  Through an amazing partnership with ASM's Hats, Headbands, and Beyond, our Hot Box Girls have an addition to their costumes that we could not be happier with.

Hot Box Girls from Gallery 37

All of the boys look so dapper in their suits.  We just cannot wait to see them perform!

COT for Teens with Andy Sons (center), music teacher at Solorio Academy HS

The Performances take place in two locations:

Fine Arts Building
COT for Teens at Gallery 37
410 S. Michigan Ave, Room 833
7pm on December 7th

Solorio Academy High School
5400 S. St. Louis Street
Chicago, IL 60632
7pm on December 13
1:30pm on December 14

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Video Blog from Solorio Teens

Jennifer D'Agostino, COT for Teens Stage Director

Aside from the excitement of being part of Chicago Opera Theater’s “Opera for All” program, I have the honor of stage directing the After-School Matters/Chicago Opera Theater for Teens program and Solorio Academy. It has been great fun to work with the teens at Solorio who many, if you read Michael Roemer’s blog post, are experiencing the world of opera and music theater for the first time. Together, Mr. Roemer, our school liaison Laura Vaca and I, work hard to figure out what will create the best experience for our teens. The program is 2 1/2 hours, three times a week, and we have many dedicated participants and a supportive staff! The best part of working with the teens is being able to tap into their skills and use their gifts to make the program as strong as possible. We are surrounded by fantastic young dancers, artists, actors, and writers! I can’t wait to see what next semester brings and how we will continue to grow.

Mr. Michael Roemer and I make sure to check in with the kids once and a while to see what they like best about the program. I’m happy to see that (without prompting) these teens mention so many positive aspects of working in the arts and arts integration! I hope you enjoy the mini video blog I put together highlighting some of our wonderful students!

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Program! COT for Teens at Solorio

Michael Roemer, COT for Teens Teaching Artist
My name is Michael Roemer, and I’m new to Chicagoland and Chicago Opera Theater for Teens. My collaborator, Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino and I are leading a new branch of COT for Teens at the Eric Solorio Academy High School. The school is new and fresh, but as the semester has progressed, new artwork and student activity has embellished the halls. We take our activities to the choir room where we’re putting together Guys and Dolls. Both Dr. D’Agostino and I are thrilled to help the Solorio students explore acting and singing!

Each day before we start our sessions, we usually wait outside the band and choir rooms. The sounds heard are certainly not similar to my high school band experience where most students had been playing their instruments since grade 5. No, here, some of these students are encountering these instruments for the very first time. As we selected our teens for the program, we found they were also encountering opera and musical theater for the very first time. We’re fortunate to have the support from Solorio’s choral instructor, Andrew Sons, and band instructor, Madeline Molinedo. They have provided us with great insight in the recruitment and interview process.


It has been a challenge and pleasure to work with these students who are afraid to make noise at times, but that doesn’t mean they lack enthusiasm. We have a few stand-out stars who show considerable dedication, talent, and energy even after a full day of school. One of the teachers, Leah Velez, leads a ballroom dance club, and we’re excited to collaborate with her for our “Havana” scene. In addition, we’re bringing Whitney Hershberger for a stage combat session in a couple weeks.

COT for Teens got to experience a rehearsal of Orpheus and Euridice

Another highlight of our program was the field trip to the Eckhart Park Natatorium for a dress rehearsal of Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice. The students loved this trip, and only complained about not seeing the entire production! It was a great way to expose them to what opera can be in contrast to the stereotypes they may have floating around in their heads. One student commented on a particular scene being “so beautiful, I cried.” The students met with Jerry Tietz and Andreas Mitisek for an introduction and Q&A session after the dress rehearsal. 
Teens at the pool

We’re excited to see how the students progress towards the end of the semester and performance, and we can’t wait to see them put on a show for the first time!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reilly and Hampton's Lyrical Success

Justin Callis, OFA Teaching Artist

The past few weeks, our students had a special guest artist from Young Chicago Authors, Ms. Essie Linzy.  She worked with the students on lyric writing and poetry.  All of the students loved listening to her share her own poetry, and were very inspired by the video they had watched from Louder Than a Bomb.  When Ms. Linzy asked the students about the Chicago Fire, it was very clear all of the students really took advantage of their trip to the Chicago History Museum; they were filled with facts  and ideas, and really put their knowledge to good use.  Watching her work with the students, it was really clear she had a passion for both rhyme and imagination, and she coaxed and encouraged both out of all of our students.  

At Reilly, their teacher Ms. Drakulich was really impressed.  She told me how obvious it was that the students were really getting it, and that they were clearly having a ton of fun learning about writing.  In fact, that class was so enthusiastic about Ms. Linzy and her poem, they requested an encore performance of it at the end of class!  I know all of the students are so enthusiastic about continuing the writing process, and I am sure we will have a pile of wonderfully creative, imaginative operas about Chicago History and Jazz by the end of the school year.  I can't wait!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chicago Opera Playhouse at OFA

Michael Orlinsky, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This year with Chicago Opera Playhouse we have been performing Hansel and Gretel for schools, and we (Students and Performers) are all having a great time!  The production is done in English and is adapted to fit the general assembly time. 
Throughout the semester we have been teaching the students in the “Opera For All” program the Gingerbread Chorus at the end of Hansel and Gretel.  In performance, the students are generally watching, but toward the end they get to stand up and sing with professional operatic singers.  This is an incredibly enriching process for both the performers and students.  The students get a taste of culture and music, and from a performers perspective; I get to explore the fresh uninhibited reactions within the audience.  It is a very telling experience and can be rather frightening as a performer because the kids will be sincere in their reactions for better or worse.  If you’re not working up to their standard you’ll see that in their reactions!

Chicago Opera Playhouse Cast
                As a Teaching Artist and performer I am able to associate much more with my students.  Last year I sang “The Wolf” in Jonathan Stinson’s The Knightly News with Chicago Opera Playhouse, but I wasn’t a Teaching Artist yet.  The difference between being a one time presence for the students and performing for them as someone they know and can associate with is tremendous.  I think it’s important for them to understand that the arts are within their reach and important.  If they see someone whom they associate with often as a teacher and then see another facet of their profession they can understand what they may be capable as well.  Through history, young people have learned through storytelling and the tradition of storytelling is less and less prevalent in our society.  This program opens their mind to the learning process in new ways.
COT Teaching Artists, Michael Orlinsky (Center) and Jennifer D'Agostino (Right)
                Our performances with Chase Elementary were very fun.  The students were well prepared and were engaged in the performance.  During the morning performance they were very attentive and the classes joining in the chorus did a superb job of singing.  The encore evening performance was well attended by parents and students alike.  The parents seemed to be enjoying themselves as well.  The students during the evening performance were excitable and chattered a bit throughout the performance.  Regardless, they were certainly appreciating the show.  They also sang very well for their parents.  This program is immensely important and effective in the schools.  It really opens up the eyes of these young people to opera and how approachable it can be.  The wall between them and this enriching art form is torn down with this show.
Chase OFA students after the performance

Opera for All at Hampton

Justin Callis, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Class at Hampton has been an exciting adventure. I’ve loved getting to work with the fifth graders; they have so much energy and enthusiasm. Every class, we try and hit on our major themes and ideas—singing, acting, listening, reading, and writing. I’ve shared some of my favorite jazz standards with the students, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald singing “Summertime” and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra playing “Take the ‘A’ Train.” We read Langston Hughes’ “I, Too” and learned about the Harlem
Renaissance. And the students learned the Gingerbread Chorus from Hansel and Gretel and sang it in a performance for the school. We’ve had a few weeks now with
them, and they’ve proven such imaginative students. Watching them come up with ideas about how the Chicago Fire happened in an alternate universe with our guest writer Ms. Linzy was so much fun! The students were so inspired by their trip to the Chicago History Museum. While there have been some challenging moments, mostly it has been because of too much enthusiasm for opera; students spend a lot of time jumping over each other to answer a question. Now that the students have some practice writing song lyrics, we will begin crafting a story and writing their opera. I can’t wait!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

GUYS & DOLLS rockin’ the boat

Caryn Ott Hillman - COT for Teens Stage Director, Gallery 37
This fall semester we were blessed with many new students.  Was it due to the show GUYS AND DOLLS that we chose to do or has word gotten around that we are such a fun and creative class?  For whatever reason, we are over enrolled and Mr. Richard and I are elated!  I was thrilled to piece together a shorter script including even more cutesy 1940’s slang, like Sugar Lips, Doll Face and Cotton Tail.  It’s so over the top – it’s great fun!

     We are into our third week and we have already taught the music and choreography for three of the big chorus numbers – “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Oldest Established.”  This is a feat!  These teens are really buckling down and putting their all into their work.  Doing a triple-threat show is really challenging especially when most of these teens signed up because they simply love music and singing…but now I am expecting them to be leaping, sashay-ing and knee popping at the same time.  I’ve got to say, after I teach the movement and then see them execute it on all the correct beats and add character to it – I literally HOOT and jump up and down! (They all laugh at me).  That feeling is why I LOVE teaching so much!!!!!

     Now, that being said, we have TONS to still accomplish.  Tristin Hall, one of our loyal seniors, has been chosen to be our intern.  She has stepped up by selecting and running theater games in class, artistically creating the backdrop for our set and found some fantastic examples of the style of the era. 

In addition to all of this, she is playing one of the lead gamblers, Nicely Nicely Johnson.  With her guidance, we are building and painting our own set and piecing together costumes from everyone’s closet. 


     Speaking of costumes, one of the greatest opportunities is working with Angela Morano– the hat design teacher for After School Matters.  I inquired if she and her group of teens could design the Hot Box headbands for our show girl number “Take Back Your Mink.”   This is an exciting collaboration of two ASM classes that utilizes each other’s talents.  With their totally one-of-a-kind headbands designed specifically for our six dancers, we will showcase their work on stage in full lights and glory.  I couldn’t be prouder of this example of how different groups can complement one another!

     What can I say?  This is going to be a great production with the hearts and souls of our teens portraying 1950 Rat Pack-type gamblers.  Until the final day of rehearsal, I am praying that “Luck Be A Lady” for us!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chase goes to the Chicago History Museum

Dr. Jennifer D'Agostino, COT Teaching Artist

I am so excited to be joining the team at Chase Elementary in their second year of Opera for All! We are lucky to have two returning partner teachers, Mr. Dzija and Ms. Martinez, and to introduce the program to a new partner teacher, Mr. Borges. We are already in our 4th week of OFA at Chase! Mr. Michael Orlinsky joins us in Mr. Dzija's morning session and I can tell, he is having a lot of fun! (I love the picture of Mr. Michael Orlinsky as a Chicago Style Hot Dog!)


This week, we took our field trip to the Chicago History Museum. The kids were enthusiastic to learn more about Chicago. I took a lot of pictures to help paint the story of our day.

When I arrived at Chase, I walked to some of the classrooms, to see how everyone was doing. I settled upon Mr. Borges class, because we decided I would help chaperone his group. The kids had their folders out, and asked tons of questions about the scavenger hunt and what they could expect.

When we got to the museum, we were instructed to put our backpacks & lunches in big bins, so that we didn't have to walk them around the exhibits. Some of the kids couldn't even reach inside, so Mr. Dzija and Mr. Borges helped!


After waiting patiently in a cafeteria, and listening to the museum rules, we were ready to take off!


The first room I got to experience was a hands-on exhibit about the sights, sounds and SMELLS of Chicago! There were a lot of really cool things to do in this room! Some kids danced in their own movie, some even tried out being their OWN Chicago hot dog!

There was even a place where you could experience what Chicago smelled like during the time of the early settlers. I won't post a picture of that, but I will tell you that cows highly influenced this smell! It got a really funny response from the students!

A main attraction that we used for our scavenger hunt was in the exhibit labeled "Chicago - Crossroads of America." Upon entering this room, we were greeted by a huge, OLD Chicago train! Everyone got a chance to walk through and experience the train. It was really cool!


The kids really loved looking for the pictures in their hunt, running around, figuring out the name of the artifact and learning more about Chicago history! Some students worked together and many really took their time looking around. There were people throughout the museum set up, to help us experience some hands-on elements. Ms. Martinez' group had about 15 minutes with a museum worker who had them experience the differences in historical Chicago skyscrapers!


We all got to hear live jazz in the Jazz & Blues club, and there were jazz instruments set up for us to see.


Many of my favorite parts of the field trip involved learning more about the Chicago Fire. There was a piece of glass that had melted and the description explained that it had to get up to 1200 degrees in the fire! When I saw the map of Chicago and how much the fire wiped out, I couldn't believe the devastation this left on the city of Chicago. The most impressive part, Mr. Borges explained to his students, is that Chicago rebuilt the city in 20 years in order to host the World's Fair!


After taking our time in the museum, we all walked through the park to find a fun place to eat outside. Mr. Borges' and Mr. Dzija's classes even raced on the soccer field a bit to burn off extra energy!


The next day, I got to go back to Chase to talk to the students about their experiences at the Museum and each class made a Mind Map, centered around "Chicago." While I was impressed with all the classes, Ms. Martinez' class was incredibly insightful, as they remembered stories and details about the things they learned. I felt like I was back in the museum!


I can't wait to hear what stories we make up, revolving around Chicago history for our Opera for All opera plots! I've already heard some cool ideas about incorporating things that we know, or museum elements that interested us most. Will there be a Taki prohibition that creates a race riot in a jazz club? Or perhaps Abe Lincoln comes back to life to fight Al Capone to figure out who started the Chicago Fire? The crazier the better, in my opinion, because I'm excited to hear these creative kids give modern opera librettists a run for their money!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Summer Desk Job, Creating a Better Program

Jessica Weber, Education Assistant

This summer has been one of learning, working on program improvements, and establishing new processes to our programs.  Its mostly boring desk work, but there have been some pretty exciting outcomes of all of this work staring at a computer and trying to read childrens’ handwriting. 

We have found that our students learned to work more creatively and cooperatively because of our program.  They are finding that writing is fun and that school, in turn, can be a creative and exciting experience.  Every school presented it’s unique challenges, but the 2012-2013 school year was a very successful one.  See the shows below for an overview of our school year and the data results of our evaluation tools. 

Sutterfly book of Opera for All schools:

Turn your favorite photos into a photo book at

Presentation of summary of evaluation findings:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Education Professional Development

Linden Christ, Manager of Education and Outreach

This was the summer for our education team to really dig in to Professional Development through an array of opportunities.   The highlight was with Arts Alliance conference called One State Together in the Arts.   Annisa and I spent two days in the quad cities talking about arts & communities, networking with many cool people, and listening to excellent presenters.    I really enjoyed hearing about Theaster Gates approach to city designing with an arts focus and talking with renowned Peoria sculptor, Preston Jackson (I’m from the Peoria area, so really appreciate this man’s work).  Imran Khan was a speaker that is making great strides to provide art opportunities to the worst high schools in Chicago.   The education team also attended a P.D. session through Communities in Schools of Chicago (CISC).   This was a fun day of break-out sessions that got everyone communicating about best practices.  We also had Jessica in charge of our online and phone conference meetings with Opera America regarding the topic of integrating art and opera specifically into the Common Core State Standards.   This has been helpful as our schools are grateful for our sincere approach to helping the students accomplish these CCSS. 

          Chicago Opera Theater joined forces with Lyric Opera for our Teaching Artists professional development training days.    The lyric offered our education team and TA’s a session on learning about their Opera in the Neighborhoods production of Barber of Seville.   We are encouraging our Opera For All schools to attend this Lyric performance.   We worked on performing Reader’s Theater and writing our own libretto.   The results were quite humorous by all the teachers involved!    In addition, we went on a back stage tour of the Civic Opera house.   We loved the viewing the many props and vast fly-space behind and above the stage.

The Summer Education Team

Linden Christ, Manager of Education and Outreach

This summer has been full of interesting and exciting activities.   Our summer education team consisted of myself;  education assistant, Jessica Weber; OFA summer intern, Anissa Corser; and Teen summer intern, Tristin Hall.   We accomplished our goals and had fun while doing it! 
 Jessica Weber joined the team as our education intern in September 2012 after attending our Opera Underground Boat Cruise.   In July 2013, she was promoted to our part-time education assistant.   A first for Chicago Opera Theater.  This summer Jessica created a thorough Teaching Artist Guide for the 2013-2014 OFA school year.    Anissa Corser joined us for an intense summer internship working with both COT for twenty hours a week and Chicago Opera Playhouse for the other twenty hours a week.  She created a beautiful photo album for our donors, assisted in entering the students evaluations and post-test as well as analyzing the data from 2012-2013 into an evaluation presentation.   Anissa also created lesson plans for Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie.   This was the first summer that the education team decided to hire a teen intern from our Chicago Opera Theater for Teens program.   Tristin was an excellent choice as she proved to work quickly and artistically.   She designed look pages and sketches for the set back-drop for this fall’s COT4Teens program musical: Guys and Dolls.  While Tristin was assisting us from 3-5pm during the week, she was also rehearsing in Ragtime with the ASM summer theater program.  

Thank you so much to Jessica, Anissa, and Tristin!   You all helped improve our Education program immensely through your dedicated work this summer!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Summer in Chicago

Anissa Corser, COT Summer Intern

Back in February 2013, I spent much of my free time calling and sending materials to opera education departments across the US.  Location didn’t matter.  The problem was no one answered their phone, well, until I called Linden. In her sing-songy voice, she agreed to accept my materials and schedule an interview. By March I confirmed the internship as well as won a grant, the Bucknell Public Interest Program Fund, to help fund my endeavor.

Immediately after I finished my Junior year at Bucknell University, I hoped on a plane to Chicago and moved into my Craigslist apartment.  The following day, work started with a bang as Linden pulled me through the city, stopping to see the Chicago Children’s Choir final showcase at Millennium Park and then traveling to the many schools to see the students’ final performances. Hampton’s opera, “Super Nova Saga,” may be my favorite. Highlights include Prince Blueberry’s earnest dedication, the adorable Beard Nuggets (whose costumes consisted of very hairy beards strapped onto top hats), the comedic Cynthia the Creature Seeker, the profundity of the Sacred Garden, and the students’ uncontainable excitement while singing “Blasting Off!” I will even admit that if prompted I could sing any of the students’ other original songs. I remember comforting one crying Beard Nugget whose beard had separated from his top hat and assuring several other students that they would indeed have time to color their custom T-Shirts after the show. I loved greeting the parents and school administration and helping them understand why Opera For All is so important.

After the crazy first couple weeks of May, work settled down as Jess and I began to plow through evaluations. Although the evaluations potentially got a little monotonous, I could depend on at least a couple of whimsical, hilarious, sassy, or deeply reflective and adorable student responses to cheer me up. Here are some of my favorites:

Question: What is the most important thing you have learned this year?
Answers: “That everything comes from the heart,” “To Let your singing talent shine,” “To respect,” “How to work with others,” “How to be creative and confident,” “How to express my feelings,” “I learned that you have to practice very hard to be good,” “OPERA can be FUN.”

Those being the heart-wrenching answers that attest to OFA’s impact on each individual, let me relate some of the more hilarious answers.
We asked all of the students to make up their own short story that could be set to music and turned into an opera. Here are some winners:

§ Queen Beyonce says, “massage my back! and you do it! If not then you will DIE!”
§ A girl was in the bushes hiding and a Pit Bull came, it was black and he ate her, and her parents came and they were sad. The end.
§ There once was three little Moles. The Moles never got along. Once they were fighting and they didn’t use a warning bell.
§ There was a bad man who stole a kid and he said sing a song in a Soprano voice and I’ll give you back

Oh children’s imaginations….. sigh

My other summer duties included updating assessment tools, participating in a phone conference with Opera America on incorporating the Common Core Standards into outreach programs, summarizing the assessment data from the 500+ evaluations, and creating lesson plans for the two operas the OFA students will see next year: Hansel and Gretel and Queenie Pie. In staff meetings, I got an inside look into how an opera company functions, and I attended stimulating design presentations regarding COT’s upcoming Joan of Arc.  Another summer highlight, potentially my favorite part of the summer, was attending the Arts Alliance Illinois state convention One State Together in the Arts. Formatted in a TED Talk style, I got a chance to hear inspiring artist-innovators attest to the many ways the arts can stimulate and uplift community. 

Anissa, Jess, and Linden at the CISC Navigate Summer Institute
My internship has truly been a wonderful experience, and I am truly grateful to Linden, Jess, and the rest of COT for making my experience so positive and substantial.