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: