Monday, November 21, 2016

What on Earth is a Teaching Artist?

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Anyone aware of our program, or our education, might have noticed that our Opera for All instructors refer to themselves as teaching artists, which is..... what exactly? I'll tell you! According to the Association of Teaching Artists, a teaching artist is a "practicing professional artist with the complementary skills and sensibilities of an educator, who engages people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts." In a sense, teaching artists are both working artists and working educators and not to toot our own horn, but we have four incredible teaching artists singing and sharing opera with our students this year.

The newest edition to our TA team is Diana Stoic Richardson. She is an incredibly talented soprano from Skokie IL and while this is her first full year as a teaching artist, she has had a lot of experience with opera outreach. She toured throughout the Midwest performing opera for children with both Opera Iowa and Opera for the Young. She is still actively performing for students, and singing the lead role of Lupe in Chicago Opera Playhouse's Once Upon a Windy City. This year, Diana is teaching at both Langford and Whistler Elementary. When she's not teaching or performing, she is spending time with her adorable son, Max! Here's a picture of Diana and I as Cinderella and her oh so wicked stepmother in Opera for the Young's production of Cinderella. If you couldn't tell, I'm the wicked stepmother.

Another fabulous soprano on our teaching team is the lovely Ms. Heather Keith! A native of Ohio, Heather has been involved with OFA for the past four years. Heather and I met when performing with Chicago Opera Playhouse's production of Hansel and Gretel, where I sang Hansel opposite her Gretel. Aside from singing and teaching, Heather is also an accomplished costume designer and director. This summer she directed Roman Fever with Opera On Tap while working as a teaching artist with Emerald City Theater Camp. This year, Heather is now a teaching artist with both Chicago Opera Theater and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Here is Heather with a pizza costume that she created for last year's Chicago themed operas at Chase Elementary.

And then of course, there is the only gentleman on our TA team, the incomparable Matt McNabb!
Matt and I were partners in crime last year, teaching together at both Field and Healy Elementary. This is his third year teaching with Opera for All. Matt also actively performs around the Chicago area and was last scene in the cast of Amour with Black Button Eyes Productions. He has also performed multiple cabarets at Davenports. Matt is truly one of the most organized and thoughtful teachers I've ever had the privilege of working with and below is a pic of Matt in Amour, he's the handsome devil on the left!

As for me, this is my fifth year teaching with Opera for All. I am also a teaching artist with Lyric Opera of Chicago and this year marks my 10th season as a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. I first realized the tremendous impact that opera can have on our young people while touring with Opera for the Young and Chicago Opera Playhouse. With these companies, I had the opportunity to sing such roles such as Hansel and the Witch in Hansel and Gretel and Tutty Fruity, the singing fruit basket (yeah you heard me right) in Beauty and the Beast. When I'm not teaching, I enjoy taking long walks with my dog Buster! Speaking of Tutty Fruity, here she is in the flesh!

So there you have it, our ridiculously talented team of teaching artists in a nutshell. We each bring something unique to the table based on our personal artistic experiences that we our able to share with our students. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a fabulous team!

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