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!