Friday, April 15, 2016


Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Nerves were a flutter as we began the process of staging our operas with the students! The kids have been anticipating this process for months and months. After writing our operas together, and after many script revisions and final read-throughs, the most exciting part of Opera for All took flight.

We began discussing the qualities of a good performance, including cheating out to make sure we face our audience when speaking, and projecting our voices so that even a 100 year old grandmother in the audience will understand every word! After that we reviewed our stage directions, and the students will forever remember the difference between stage right and stage left! Then began the process of getting 25-30 students in each classroom up on their feet and working together to create interesting stage pictures. We also have been able to spend time discussing what the characters are thinking and feeling in each scene of our operas.

We have students playing historical characters, sports heroes, celebrities, cows, cats and even hot dogs! Would you like to see a giant hot dog attack the Willis Tower? Or Daisy the cow start another Chicago fire at Pizzeria Uno? Or how about John Wilkes Booth attempting to re-write history with the use of Silly String? These are just a few examples of the creativity and imagination that will be on display at our opera performances!

It’s very exciting to watch our stories leap off the paper and come to life in front of our eyes. Many students are also incorporating new character elements and new levels and dimensions are added each time we see the students. Add in the choreographed dance numbers and the student composed songs and we are going to have brand new and original operas that you won’t want to miss!! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teachable Moments during Staging Rehearsals

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The time right before spring break is always really exciting in our Opera for All schools. This is usually when we start getting into staging our operas.  There are so many teachable moments in staging a show that are inherent in the process, but this year we wanted the students to be in the director’s chair more than ever before. This took shape in different ways depending on the class dynamic.

At a few schools we let the children build a scene, by deciding where there characters fit in a larger tableau. I found this worked particularly well in large group scenes. This also gave us the opportunity to concentrate specifically on acting in different body levels.  At some schools like Chase, We decided to let the students have more of a say in specific hand gestures and line readings, this way they have even more ownership of the text and are able to dig deeper into more nuanced acting. I was surprised how many of the students have a natural gift for comedic timing, something that I’ve seen the most talented actors struggle with.  I’m very excited to see what ideas stick with the students in this process.

(McAulliffe Students finding their place in a tableau

(McAuliffe student waiting for his entrance)

At Hanson Park, since this is the first time many of the students have been in any sort of play we are concentrating on filling a proscenium stage. The first day of staging went incredibly well, so I know we will be able to layer in more complicated details once we finish the barebones blocking.

(Reilly students "clumping" together in a large group scene)

One of the things that really impresses me about directing young people is how they are able to be complete sponges. When you find that hook to get their attention, they are suddenly all in and it’s amazing what they can accomplish. I’m beyond thrilled to be able to create art with these students and I hope that the shows only get better with every rehearsal.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Finishing Our Backdrops!

Erin Moll, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This week we finished up our third and final Art Day with our Guest Artist, Dorian Sylvain.  I cannot say enough about how much the students learned from her!  She taught them about her job as a scenic designer and brought in examples of her work for them to look at.  While working on the backdrops, she chatted with the students about proper techniques for holding a brush, applying paint, and even blending and shading colors!

(Guest Artist Dorian Sylvain works with 4th grade students from Disney II Elementary on the backdrop for their opera “Michael Jordan’s Shoes”)

Each class was able to work on their backdrop for three weeks: first designing it, painting it, and then putting on the finishing touches.  

(Guest Artist Dorian Sylvain working with 6th grade students from Disney II Elementary on the backdrop for their opera “Pizza Pizza”)

Students were able to explore their creativity in a different way and were allowed to take ownership in creating the scenery for their shows.  Even students who are not normally as involved were painting and having fun!