Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chicago Opera Theater for Teens - Performance

Chris Richard, COT for Teens Music Director 
What a whirlwind of a week!  Chicago Opera Theater for Teens is having a busy end of program.  On Monday, April 8 we had a big performance with other After School Matter programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  It was a wonderful evening of performances by 2 of the dance ensemble and 2 of the vocal groups.  We were lucky enough to set off the night on a bright and positive step with our dazzling performance.  Our teens have been working very hard this term on being a true ensemble - learning how to act, dance and sing as one.  We concentrated this term on 5 strong chorus and group pieces from the world of opera and musical theater.  The students really enjoyed our selections and dove in whole heartedly.  Our list of numbers which we have been able to perform are:
The Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Dance a Cachucha from The Gondoliers by Giblert & Sullivan
Fie on Sinful Fantasy from The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai
The Ballad of Sweeney Todd from Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim
One Day More from Les Miserables  by Claude-Michel Schonberg
My co-teach, Caryn Ott Hillman and I decided on these pieces because they would showcase our students talents and really wow the audience.  The Anvil Chorus is such a standard in the opera repertory we wanted to make it our own and have the students give some input as to how we staged it.  We talked with the class about what was going on in the opera's storyline when the chorus comes and asked if they could come up with any ideas how they would stage it.  We asked if they could relate to the chorus and if there were elements in their own lives that could be brought into the piece.  It turned out to be a wonderful piece of a work by all!
Ms. Ott Hillman had a great time delving into the choreography for Dance a Cachucha, really giving it a spanish flare.  I'm sure she can tell you more about in her own blog.
The chorus from The Merry Wives of Windsor is something I brought to the table. I thought it had such interesting juxtaposition of darkness and brightness and the teens really got into the idea of characterization thru those themes.
We were able to show off some of the amazing individual talents in our program by splitting up the solo work in The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.  Again, Ms. Ott Hillman inventive staging of it really took the audience to a creepy and spectacular place.
What can one say about One Day More from Les Miserables?   It is truly a show stopper of a piece (not to mention it finished the first act!)  Our students were so excited to get to work on this piece.  Every day they would ask, 'Are we going to work on One Day More?'  Their enthusiasm was overwhelming.
Today we performed at the Garfield Park Conservatory.  What a beautiful place!  It is such a treasure that our city has.
We were able to sing and dance amongst the stunning flowers.  All of the azaleas and bougainvillea were in full bloom and it framed our students so wonderfully.  The space was gorgeous and our students singing was glorious - what a combination!

We have one more week of program and already we've done so much!  We are proud of each and every one of them!
One more week and one more performance.
In bocca al lupo!
Mr. Richard

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Six Years and Counting at Clinton

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist

This year marks my fifth at Clinton, and the sixth that Chicago Opera Theater has been in residence there.
Our program has changed so much in the interim, both in terms of what our students at Clinton are currently accomplishing artistically, and in terms of how much Opera for All has grown!

This year, our teaching artist staff has tripled, with teaching artists in several schools throughout Chicago. Several fundraising campaigns, a video, fantastic donors, and a supportive new Artistic Director seem to indicate that our program will live up to its name!

We are no longer a team of three or four intrepid TAs toughing it out in isolation, but a big strong group of multi-talented artists led by our tireless and dedicated Education Director, Linden Christ. I'm sure that the increased support and expanded teaching staff is making a huge impact throughout Chicago in the same way that an extended tenure at one school, such as mine at Clinton, can make a qualitative difference in program participation and artistic end result.

I almost quit Clinton my first year. I was commuting from Wisconsin two days in a row, once a week, and a snow-related car accident at Christmastime put my car out of commission for a month. Aside from that interminable four-hour drive, Clinton was challenging at that point; or at least, it seemed so to me. I was a rookie TA. The following year, our sixth-grade kids were a challenging bunch and went through several substitutes after their primary teacher took maternity leave. We ended up with just about a third of that class participating in a dance number in the final show and gave their parts to younger kids. The rest of that class was not able or willing to participate and sat it out. At that time, we provided the kids with a script that we had written and a score of excerpts from existing classical music. We kept props and costumes to an absolute minimum because just getting students onstage to say their lines on cue was a challenge.

What a difference a few years, and a new principal, Mr. Eduardo Cesario, can make!

This year is the second that I have taught students how to write their own script, starting with character development and ending up with dialogue that they themselves create. The late great Mary Scruggs introduced song lyric writing two years ago, which was continued this year by Alyssa Sorresso, and the students themselves; Clinton kids are so invested in this program that we ended up with an EXTRA song, the lyrics of which a few students wrote independently as journal entries that were supposed to be a warm-up exercise for songwriting sessions. We continue to have delightful guest composers helping the kids to craft their own melodies.

But never before have we enjoyed the level of participation and excitement that we do now at Clinton, after six years of being in residence. 

My partner teacher Justin and I had MULTIPLE kids auditioning for roles, sometimes two or three for the same part. We were not able to cast everyone in a featured role due to the fierce competition. These kids had created these characters over a period of several months, and they were determined to play those parts! The kids wrote an incredibly complex script, with three-dimensional characters whose roles continue throughout the show. Classes will be onstage together in several scenes. In the past, we did not mix classes at all due to potential issues with management. Roles were kept short due to the inexperience of our performers and dialogue was minimal. But this year, we've got kids with the talent, the commitment, and the performing bug to make a show like this happen! 

Best of all--all four classes are sixth graders. Four classes of kids the same age as those that dropped out three years ago. We may even have some guest instrumentalists this year--the Assistant Principal, Mr. Turner, is a violinist and expressed his wish to participate in the performance.

I am so happy to be a part of the ongoing evolution of Opera for All at Clinton. As are, obviously, our kids. And that is what OFA is all about.

On with the show!

What is this going to be?  Wait till you see the finished costume piece!!

Student making alien head-pieces.

A finished product!