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!  

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic piece on the collaboration and creativity of the students and teaching artists at Clinton. Thank you for sharing!