Was Here

Guest Post: Listening = Art Making at Marillac

April 25th By Dan

Post by: Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist

Monday, February 4, 2013

It’s been so exciting to get back to our two after-school classes at Marillac and start creating a script and dialogue for their school-themed opera!

We had been struggling to get the kids’ creativity going: our outer space theme seemed too far removed from their own world to resonate with their daily experiences, and they had no interest, or ability, to create a story for characters whose challenges were unrelated to their own. The students came in one day after a particularly hard day at school, and we decided to ask them, as if reporting for a TV news broadcast: Just what is bugging you all? How was your day? Why are you all so grumpy? I thought that if we just found the subject that the kids wanted and needed to discuss, that a creative direction would emerge.

And of course, it did. It’s amazing how most if not all art arises from our need to process and share our experiences, good and bad. Answers ranging from salty nachos to teachers assigning READING (horror of horrors, 45 minutes of it!!)  and asking kids to take TicTacs came in torrents from indignant, but giggly, kids delighting in imitating their teachers— and quickly forgetting their bad moods. We wrote it all down.

Going with the kids’ emotional flow, we decided to create a short opera based on the aftermath of a bad day at school and the last day of school before summer vacation. “After School Blues” came out of the initial discussion with our first class, with a trio of “teachers” (reminiscent of the Three Ladies in The Magic Flute) scolding and nagging the kids in their imaginations prior to their entrance.

Teaching Artist, Justin, and Marillac students working through their new piece


That rhythmic number is followed by a Marillac counselor’s advice to the kids to “sing the blues” to feel happier and the original blues song, “Not So Cool After School Blues”. Next, the kids discuss how they will spend their summer break, and then perform “In the Summertime,” a very evocative rap.  The rap’s first stanza was so beautifully written by one of our older participants, Kobe, that we followed the meter and pattern he set when creating additional verses.


Marillac students working together to create their music.


The students have bought in 100%, with even our most challenging and apathetic (seemingly depressed, exhausted, or both?) kids volunteering to do verses, provide beat box beats, etc.. All but a couple of the students doing rap verses came to their second class memorized and obviously ready to deliver their text–and the couple who were not totally memorized quickly stepped it up and got there. The kids were universally fascinated by the process of writing their own dialogue and became very possessive of “their” lines. And they have already almost learned the melody to their song. Art projects to complete the scene are next on the docket. We’ve gone from struggling to maintain order in class to rowdy but focused 99% participation. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with further songs composed!

For more information about the Chicago Opera Theatre, check it out here.

And don’t forget to check out the Opera for All campaign!


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