Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Inspired By Opera For All

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

As we approach the end of a truly inspiring year of Opera for All, I want to take this moment to thank the amazing people that I have the privilege to call colleagues and friends. Thanks to my amazingly talented fellow teaching artists, everyone at Chicago Opera Theatre, all of the staff members at my CPS schools, our guest artists throughout the year, the supportive families and of course the students, who brought energy and joy to our operas this year. These are just a few words that come to mind as I reflect on all of our accomplishments:






Monday, June 12, 2017

OFA: A Year in Pictures

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

For my final blog of the 2016-2017 school year I wanted to recap the amazing moments I shared with the students. Here is our year in pictures.

The Nature Museum:

Seeing “Once Upon a Windy City”:


Composer Day:


Art Day:



Learning about  theatre:


Putting on a show!:

Brava to all the students who participated. It was a great year!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Gearing up to Perform!

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Opera for all students are busily preparing for their upcoming performances. Here is your inside look into our rehearsals:

 Mrs. Gonzalez’s class at Reilly is busy recall their blocking.

Ms. Alarcon’s class strikes a final pose in their dance.

Ms. Zavala’s class reads over their lines and work on character movements.

Ms. McAloon’s and Mrs. Gonzalez’s combined class at Hanson Park work on projection.

And Mr. Rivera’s class sits and listens as we give out notes from a run.

The students are working incredibly hard and I know the shows are going to be fantastic! Toi Toi Toi to all the other OFA schools who are performing this month!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dance It Out!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This past month, all of my Opera for All classes have been working with our fabulously talented choreographer, Laura Marsh. Laura currently works at the Chicago High School for the Arts and has an extensive dance background that includes playing Curious George in a touring production about the cantankerous primate. She also specializes in improv dance.

Laura choreographed 5 original dances for my classes, taking into consideration each of their original opera stories so that each dance makes sense within the context of their operas. We chose a fun mix of songs that include “Try Everything” by Shakira, “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, for the stories where animals are trying to kick destructive humans out of their habitat. The best part is that we got to learn some of the original choreography from Michael Jackson’s music video!

These are some of my favorite guest artist sessions because I love to dance and I love watching my students experience that sense of accomplishment when they finish learning their choreography and finally put their dance all together. Like all of the artistic disciplines and really any new experience, certain students excel right away while others tend to struggle. But the best part is that they have the opportunity to try it. Here is a video of Ms. Nuñez’s amazing 4th grade dancers dancing to the song “Life is a Magic Thing” from the Fern Gully soundtrack. Make sure you watch until the end when they make a conga line!

Up! Up! And Away!

Daniel Grambow – Education Assistant, Chicago Opera Theater

I’m sad to say that this will be my last blog post as the Education Assistant for Chicago Opera Theater. Looking back at what we have done in the past three years is a triumph and everyone in the OFA family should know about it.

It has been one of my greatest joys watching this program grow. When I started at COT we had under 500 students involved in the program and now we have grown to over 1200 students. I have seen students come out of their shells. I have helped them sing, dance, act and create some of the most compelling art I have seen in the city. I am proud of them and I am proud of the Opera for All program and I’m convinced that Opera for All is one of the best arts education programs in the city of Chicago.

Much of my job these past few years has been allowing our students the opportunity to feel like what they are creating in Chicago is more than just an assignment but a performance they can feel proud of. We have watched the data and I’m happy to say that the majority of our students have increased confidence, vocabulary and love for the arts.

Some of my favorite memories over the years have ranged from Super-Dino saving the world (and a basketball game), Mr. T’s Crew transporting Abe Lincoln into the future, and watching five hundred students play and create together in Millennium Park. I can’t wait to hear about next year’s performances.

Color and Canvas

Luther Lewis, Opera for All Guest Artist

For the past several weeks, I have had the pleasure of serving as a Guest Artist with the Opera for All program. My responsibility has been to prepare backdrops for the students' productions as well as assisting them on their Art Days. Art Days consisted of painting the 9 x 9-feet backdrops for each classroom. 

I had the fortune of assisting my fellow Teaching Artists at Langford, Whistler, Healy, Disney II Prep, and McAuliffe elementary schools. The total number of backdrops that I helped prepare was 17! Like each classroom of students, each backdrop was different and unique. I had an especially fulfilling time at the Southside schools (i.e. Langford and Whistler). As a Black (African-American) male, I believe it was important and impactful for these primarily Black students to have an Art instructor that looked like them and understood their particular backgrounds. It was also fulfilling to be able to provide some exposure to Art in schools where Visual Art is not provided. Overall, my time as a Teaching Artist with COT has been rewarding on a personal and professional level.

Singing at Solorio

Andrew Sons, Choral Director, Eric Solorio Academy High School 

Eric Solorio Academy High School has had the immense privilege of being partnered with Chicago Opera Theater since 2013.  When I first made contact with educational outreach director, Linden Christ, I never imagined how successful our programs would become. Through after school musicals, in class performances, masterclasses, and private voice lessons, COT has made an immense impact on over 300 students in Solorio’s music department over 4 years. 

Solorio Academy High School is a neighborhood high school on Chicago’s southwest side. We serve approximately 1,200 Latino and African-American students who come mostly from within our attendance boundary. Solorio is not a selective enrollment or charter school. Everything we have accomplished is because of our dedicated instructors, including COT or Teen’s current teachers: Emma Cox and Chungers Kim.

Beginning in 2013, we brought Chicago Opera Theater for Teen’s to Solorio to start a musical theater program. While working to develop our choirs, I did not have the time or budget to also put on an after school musical. COT was able to do this for me and our students have now performed in eight productions including Oklahoma, South Pacific, Once on this Island, Little Shop of Horrors, and Beauty and the Beast.  This May, they will perform their most ambitious work yet, Shrek: The Musical.  We now have seniors who will be performing in the final show of their high school career. These kids have spent three or four years developing their talent and will be sorely missed when they graduate in June. Many plan on continuing to sing and act at the collegiate level thanks to Chicago Opera Theater!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Coffee: The Lifeblood of a Teaching Artist

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Let’s take a minute to discuss perhaps what could be the most important element to the success of a teaching artist-coffee! Let’s face it, when you have to walk into a classroom of 35 students at 8am, you darn well better have a cup o’ joe in your hand.

Coffee nurtures us, it energizes us, it comforts us and it gives us the strength to stay calm and carry on!

Of course Starbucks reigns supreme, but Dunkin Donuts is always a good option, as is Burger King and Taco Bell. I’ve also gotten to love the iced coffee at the Bridgeport Coffee Shop. Home brewed is always a budget friendly option, but it doesn’t give you the air of coolness that a fancy store bought cup will bring. When that green and white Starbucks cup makes its first appearance of the day, you will always hear the students ooh and ahhh, like they are welcoming royalty into their classroom.

I am also happy to announce that coffee makes an appearance in two operas this year! The inhabitants of the planet Terraria open the first interstellar Starbucks store at Healy Elementary, and coffee is used as a sustainable fuel source for outer space cruise ships at Disney II Elementary.

I will always remember a day last year when my co-teacher Ms. Litchfield spilled her coffee, and as I helped her clean it up, I was definitely crying inside. She did manage to make it through the day like a true professional however!

The students also learn our coffee habits very quickly, and several students at Disney II Elementary School have taken it upon themselves to check in with me and make sure I have gotten my coffee for the day. One student also mentioned that when I don’t have my coffee, she thinks of the word cantankerous! Oh, the students know us only too well!

So, treat yourself. Get that extra large cup of coffee and let it nourish your soul and brighten your day! 

By the way, Teaching Artists are always happy to accept Starbucks gift cards, just saying!

Friday, April 14, 2017


Caryn Ott Hillman, Opera for All Guest Artist and COT for Teens Stage Director

I love my jobs at Chicago Opera Theater because my role changes based on what classroom I walk into.

As a stage director with teenagers through COT’s After School Matters classes, I realize the necessity to build a trusting relationship with each my teens:

Memorize their names on the first day.

Find an interesting trait each student holds.

Ask them their opinions.

All teens want to be heard and feel that their thoughts are valid. I try so hard to listen and adapt my direction or choreography to connect with their world. If my “made up reality” of a show does not make sense to them, then I cannot expect them to execute my vision. There would be disconnect. I hold each of them accountable to speak their minds and to have an opinion because they each should care enough to give input. This is why I LOVE working with After School Matters-COT for Teens.

Now, teaching for Opera for All is a totally different playing field for me. I am the choreographer, only. This term, I worked at Healy, McAuliffe and Dinsey II (alongside the amazing Mr. Matt McNabb!!!) I must totally shift my mindset due to the younger ages of 4-6th graders and my lack of hours spent with them. I do not have the luxury to bond with all of these students because I am only allotted only 2 hours for each classroom. My job in a nutshell is: Be Fun But Efficient ASAP!

I, sadly, do not get to know each of their names, therefore I comically call everyone FRIEND or BUDDY or CHA-CHA (all terms of endearment).

I do not have time to fully describe anatomically how to execute a dance step, therefore I make a lot of sound effects to emulate the look of it (it’s actually a lot of fun).

I do, however, find the time to look at each face and make them feel SEEN.

Again, both jobs that I hold with COT have their obstacles, but they each give me different perspective on how to connect with the minds of the next generation. I am so lucky!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring is here!

Linden Christ, Director of Education and Outreach

Spring is here!  The daffodils and bluebells are blooming and so are our students!   Every week, our Teaching Artists submit reflections about their classroom sessions.   This week, Hector, one of our Reilly Elementary School 4th grade students exclaimed in the hallway “Ms. Keith! I can read my line!“  Hector has a hard time with reading, but he has been practicing his line throughout the week with his special needs teacher to make it perfect.  

As the Director of Education for Chicago Opera Theater, I spend most of my time in the office making sure the Opera for All and Chicago Opera Theater for Teens programs are running smoothly.   However, I do pop into each school for observations.  

The month of March and April also provide a bit of a work out as it’s our Choreography Month.   This year, I hired four choreographers: Caryn Ott Hillman, Kia Smith, Sheena Laird, & Laura Marsh, one to accompany each of our teaching artists in the classroom.  They create a unique dance for each classroom at the school and help the students learn about the career of a choreographer, help the students get comfortable dancing in front of each other in warm-ups, teach the dance moves, and then relate the dance skills to the students muscles and body parts.  The students struggle moving their bodies, but through repetition and help they feel accomplished in learning their dance in two sessions!  Each classroom has a dance captain or two that helps the students that need assistance during recess and after school.

I’m pleased to announce that our Chicago Opera Theater for Teens will be singing at the Harris Theater Lobby before the performance of The Perfect American from 2:10-2:45pm on Sunday, April 30th.    We will be featuring all three of our High Schools- Senn, Solorio, & Goode with excerpts from their Spring Musicals: The Wiz, Shrek, & Little Shop of Horrors.  Come and support our teens! 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Solorio In Full-Swing!

Emily Cox, COT for Teens, Teen Director

What an exciting semester Solorio is having! The Vocal Academy is in full-swing, and the COT4Teens program is in its final phases of rehearsals!

COT4Teens is always a marvelous time, but this semester is especially fruitful and exciting! This spring has seen a significant increase in the number of participating students. COT4Teens' current roster boasts twenty-seven of the finest singers and dancers at Solorio, as well as a few teens from neighboring schools. The teens are all an active part of our advanced apprenticeship, which teaches them core life skills such as punctuality, responsibility, memorization, public-speaking, time-management, facilitation, and interpersonal-communication skills. Our teens are featured throughout the entirety of the production as both leading roles and ensemble members; several of the teens have voluntarily decided to play multiple roles, which requires even MORE dedication and responsibility! We are also very proud of our student production team program. Now in its second year, this program teaches the teens the importance of technical theater as well as performance. Several of our teens have devoted their semester to exploring the art of stage management, lighting design, sound design, and costume design and management. The semester culminates in an entirely-student-run, full-length production of "Shrek: The Musical". This is the LARGEST and MOST DIFFICULT production COT4Teens has ever produced in terms of ensemble, musical difficulty, content, choreography, run length, and sheer volume of musical numbers. We are VERY proud of our cast and everything that they have accomplished thus far! The production goes up on May 4th and 5th, at 6:00 PM. Tickets are free and open to the public. Come and see some wonderfully-talented teens let their "freak flags" fly in this hilarious and heartwarming production! 

The Vocal Academy has also seen an enormous surge of interest this spring. Last year, we had twenty-five total students that received twenty-five minute private voice lessons on a weekly basis; this semester, we have thirty-six teens that receive thirty-minute private voice lessons on a semi-rotating basis. The teens are studying advanced vocal pedagogy. This includes basic singing techniques such as breathing, kinesthesiology, core support, foreign language skills, rhythm, harmony, acoustics and vocal production. The semester will feature a masterclass with Whitney Morrison, a member of the Lyric Opera's Ryan Center, and will culminate on May 30th with a studio recital. 

Because of Chicago Opera Theater's support, Solorio is gaining some recognition around Chicagoland area as an up-and-coming arts school. This past week, several of the teens involved in both of our programs were featured in the early-morning segment on the local news channel's "About Town" feature. You can find a link to the video interview segment all about Solorio and its arts programs here:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Teenagers are my heroes

Josh Stammis, COT for Teens Spring Intern

Teenagers are my heroes. We expect the most out of them (good grades, a job, extracurricular involvement) all the while under-appreciating them. Working with COT for Teens has been an incredible experience for me so far. Teens still haven't lost their vigor for contributing to society in many creative ways. I have had the chance to work along with play directors and students from Nicholas Senn HS, Sarah Goode HS, and Eric Solorio HS. These opening weeks have been an amazing experience because these are the weeks I get to see the most progress. As weeks go on, we polish the act up, but starting from scratch shows how much the teens can improve most dramatically. I am amazed that along with studies, sports, and work, teens keep up a passion for the arts through their commitment to their plays. The directors have also shown incredible leadership and have an amazing passion to see their students succeed in their plays. I have witnessed a lot of progress in these short weeks, and am anxious to see how far they can go by the time they perform. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Character Walks in Action!

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

The Opera for all students are working on character walks to enhance their operas. Here are some of the classes in action!

Ms. Santiago’s class improvises movements for their characters that are stuck in a fire:

Ms. Acierto’s class expresses their characters from the majestic city of Wetlandia.

And finally, Ms. Alarcon’s class shows us their under water characters:

The students and I both had a blast with these improvised movements. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Calling All Opera Stars!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Now that our story has been chosen, our scripts are finally completed, & our song is composed and learned, it's time to move onto one of my favorite parts of our program: ACTING!!! 

This week, my students had an opportunity to test out their dramatic skills while considering all of the different ways they can act with our entire bodies. Everyone tends to enjoy this class period because we get to play a lot of awesome theater games like.....

Moving around the space!:
Sounds easy right? Well there's more to it than just walking! As the students are walking, I shout out different prompts like "make a shape", which means strike a pose, "connect", which means connect your shape to someone else's shape and "levels", which means low, middle or high. Once I get their creative juices flowing, I throw in new ideas like,
"Walk around the space as if you're walking outside during a snow storm without a coat on!"
"Walk around like you just won a trip to Disney World!"

While this game is usually super entertaining for me as a teacher, it shows our young thespians just how much they can communicate simply by how they walk.

"Voice, Face, Action!"
In this activity, I hand our brave student volunteers index cards with lines that say things like, "The building is on fire!" or "Someone just stole my lunch."

First they have to read the line like a robot, without any emotion at all. Then, the  ask for suggestions from our classroom audience how our actors can alter just their voices. Next I ask how they can ch age their faces and finally the class gives suggestions for gestures or actions that might complete our performance. Suddenly the line is transformed and by adding these dramatic layers, we end up with some student, directed Oscar-worthy performances! Here's a video of two fabulous 5th graders from Healy playing "Voice, Face Action"

All in all my favorite part of this class period is when one of our very quiet students gets up and knocks my socks off. I constantly have teachers tell me that they were surprised by what their students were capable of!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Opera Mannequins Take Over!!!!!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Renee Fleming, watch out! In what has become a media sensation, students at Healy Elementary and McAuliffe Elementary have been transforming into Opera Star Mannequins!

The only explanation that has been offered is that there has been an overabundance of fun and imagination in the Opera for All classrooms, resulting in this stunning development.

It is reported that these 4th, 5th and 6th grade students have been preparing original scripts for opera performances in May. The casting process is about to begin, and the students are ready to perfect their acting and singing skills.

The excitement generated by the possibilities of being cast in main roles has led to spontaneous opera poses. “I think that the opera world is heading into a revolution.” said opera teaching artist Matt McNabb. “We are going to see Opera Mannequins take over the Met stage!”

Is the world ready for such talent and unbridled performance energy? Will the opera world welcome these new stars with open arms? Only time will tell, but the performances in May are definitely not to be missed!

Welcome to the future of opera! And does it look awesome!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lights, Camera, Backdrops!

Diana Stoic, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This week Langford Community Academy and Whistler Elementary had the opportunity to meet and work with their guest artist, Luther Lewis.  Not only is he a talented artist, he is also an accomplished tenor. Luther and I sing together every December for Opera Night at the Italian restaurant, Del Rio.  He will also travel at the end of the month to Israel to perform in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  

This week Langford Community Academy and Whistler Elementary had the opportunity to meet and work with their guest artist, Luther Lewis.  Not only is he a talented artist, he is also an accomplished tenor. Luther and I sing together every December for Opera Night at the Italian restaurant, Del Rio.  He will also travel at the end of the month to Israel to perform in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. 

The students learned how to mix colors and learned different painting techniques to create varied textures on the canvas.

Mr. Lewis sketched the scene for each classroom according to the setting of their show.  Then he outlined the shapes with paint, and with the help of the students, filled in the shapes. 

Langford 6th grade class back drop before and after day 1.

The students worked very hard on their first art day.  They have one more day to finish up and work on the details. 

 Everyone was all smiles and worked well together to create a beautiful background for their opera.  To quote a line from one of the shows, “teamwork makes the dream work!”