You Will Be Found

The Chicago Children’s Choir brought together all of its choirs to for Paint the Town Red in Millennium Park kicking off the summer season. As the largest choral organization in the country, it was an impressive showing of 4,600 singers from in-school and after-school programs and CCC alumni singers.

Chicago Children's Choir

The presentation felt a lot like a big profile pop concert (like Beyonce could appear at any minute.) From the videos, to the choreography, to finale with bubbles, the production value was very professional. You can even watch the whole performance, which was live recorded, on their website.

What these singers can do in their performance is equally impressive. From the clarity of their singing, to the eloquence of their speeches and the precision of their choreography, the group was able to show its talent across programs and in its top choir, the Voice of Chicago.

They really do bring people together and Paint the Town Red was a perfect example of uniting children from all cross the city in music. They tour all over the world. They shared the impact of their tour to Cuba and this summer they go on tour to Italy. Children get a chance to interact firsthand with people of different cultures. They have performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, and Chance the Rapper.

This really is a cultural treasure in our city and I recommend seeing one of their shows if you have not. But it got me thinking how there are even more children we can reach through the arts and it was a reminder of how powerful of an experience that can be.


With the Tony’s next Sunday, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. This year, I’ve really been digging into Dear Evan Hansen which is nominated for 9 Tony Awards. I think there is so much potential in the musical to explore with students.

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The musical follows the title character, Evan Hansen, who navigates high school with social anxiety. He gets caught up in a lie and the story unfolds around themes of connecting in the age of social media and mental health. It’s timely and relevant.

Bringing Dear Evan Hansen into the classroom, the opportunity arises to meaningfully discuss mental health, bullying, and emotion.
I’m researching an article analyzing on the musical focusing on the song “Waving through a Window” sung by the character Evan Hansen to express his desire to connect despite his social anxiety. My suggestion is dance movement therapy (DMT) should be recommended to Evan Hansen because of his use of movement and stalling themes in the lyrics and music of the song.
Students can engage in this type of research too. Through this lesson plan, students will be able to:
  • Analyze a text
  • Use Dance Movement Therapy techniques to consider their individuality in a community
  • Perform music as a group
I recommend this workshop be around 5 hours. It could take the form of a full day workshop, a week long, or month long residency.
I would start with a discussion of emotions. How many emotions can they come up with? Make a list of emotions and encourage more complex emotions. Start with a more simple emotion and ask students to close their eyes and think about a time when they felt that emotion. Have them try to recreate their state of mind. Ask them if they can think about how their body felt when they experienced that emotion. What movements did their body make involuntarily?
Have them open their eyes and ask for a volunteer to show that emotion in their body. Then ask if students had thought of similar movements or if there is someone else who had another way the felt about the emotion.
Repeat the activity with a more complex emotion.
Then show the students the image below from a study in which participants were asked to identify in their body where they felt emotions. Are there emotions here that students strongly agree with or disagree with?

Expand the conversation around actions we associate with these emotions. What motions do we use for disgust? Surprise? Depression? Anxiety? Brainstorm as a group different situations in which people may feel these emotions and have students act out scenarios (either in small groups or embody the emotions as a full group).

Be sure to consider Anxiety and Depression. Could thinking about mental health in connection with movement help doctors, therapists, friends better understand?


Now, introduce Dear Evan Hansen. Explain the musical and the character of Evan Hansen and his social anxiety. Watch the clip below of the song and have students respond to the emotions of the song and his body language.

Pass out the lyrics to the song and tell students you will play it twice through to have them dig deeper into the words. On the first listen, have students circle all of the verbs. On the second listen, have students underline the subjects.

What do students notice? How are sentences put together? How does the music work with these words?

Have them look particularly at the subject “I.” Evan flips back and forth between I and you as the subject of the sentence when referring to himself. Sometimes, he doesn’t even use a subject at all.  What effect does this have?

Then encourage students to think about how these subjects and verbs interact with the music. Does the music give us more information than just the lyrics? Many times when he uses I, there is a pause in the music before the verb (“I – wait around for an answer to appear”).

How is what Evan is expressing consistent with social anxiety? How does he embody his feelings?


After a break or some time in the unit, return to this material. Students will create their own Identity Dances or IDs that will then be combined into a final performance.

They will brainstorm adjectives to describe themselves. They can write them or draw representations of them on a paper. They should aim to come up with 10 words. They should try to write the first words that come to mind. Then, they will narrow it down to three and then to one word.

Let students split up into their own area of the room to come up with a movement for their word. A few students can share their word, motion, or both.

Repeat the exercise together for the whole group. What motion will represent what we are as a community? The can be a combination of suggestions from students to create a dance phrase that can be repeated.


Keep these dance moves on hold because they will be the choreography for the song. Listen to “You Will Be Found.” This is an opportunity for students to think about how many unique voices can blend together to create a song.
Vocab:
Solo and Ensemble: One person and the full group
Four part harmony: 4 voice types, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass singing unique parts
Teach them the above terms and have them listen to the song with an ear for moments when they are used.
I would love to hear more children singing “You Will Be Found” from the show. (The Chicago Children’s Choir could do quite a number on this piece.)

Teach the song. Depending on how much time you have and the level of the students, introduce some solos and harmony. Choreography can be simple. Try to use the group identity dance for the chorus or on the words “You Will be Found.” Have them do their individual identity dances as the final phrase into a final pose.


This is the main outline for the lesson and trust exercises, warm-ups etc. are encouraged. Singing, dancing, and celebrating bring people together. A powerful network can be formed around the arts to support individuals who struggle with mental health. The teenage years can be particularly difficult and I think that is one of the things that makes Dear Evan Hansen so special; it offers hope.

Spring Recommendations

May 10 – 14 – danc(e)volve New Works Festival, Hubbard Street Dance – MCA

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May 15 – Rightness in Rhythm – Chicago Sinfonietta

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May 19 – 21 – Red Giselle by Eifman Ballet – Auditorium Theatre

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May 19 – They Tell Me You Are Wicked – Victory Gardens Theater

May 22 – MusicNOW – Harris Theater

Hear a new concerto composed by Elizabeth Ogonek played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

May 24 & June 2 – Stomping Grounds – Garfield Park Conservatory

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May 24 – July 2 – Parade – Writers Theatre

June 1 -4 – Co-Mission: Festival of New Works – Links Hall


It’s been spring for a little while, but it’s finally starting to feel like it! I was able to do some spring cleaning this weekend. I was inspired by all things spring. I used supplies I found in my cleaning to make this flower scene.

There are some bottle caps, easter eggs, headphones, a candy necklace from Halloween, and even the remnants of a past blog post creation. These elements all come together to create some May flowers. After a lot of April (and even May) showers, we could use some flowers and bright colors.

Enjoy! Get out there this spring for some great shows and great weather.

A Modest Fake News Story

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In our political climate, fake news stories and “alternative facts” are taking over the internet. Students should be taught to be savvy in detecting fake news, but also competent at creating their own critiques.

This lesson plan will empower students to engage critically with media by using humor and satire.

Day One: Meme creation

I love the George Washington memes! They can be a great tool to talk about America’s first president in a modern context.

What makes these funny? A lot of the GW memes are funny because they are things we say today that he would never have said. References to Waffle House, Wonderwall, McDonald’s are all after his time.

This resource guide will provide examples of George Washington memes and then offer pictures that students can relate to in order to create their own memes.

DOWNLOAD MEME MAKING GUIDE

Day Two: Satire

Start by reading the classic text, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest ProposalThen, students can start analyzing the text by going through and underlining the argumentative phrases and circling the most ridiculous claims. Share these ideas out and have a discussion of what makes this piece compelling and at points, funny.

Randy Newman and his song Short People propose a ridiculous hate for short people. It’s a clearly satirical. What are students’ thoughts?

Explore this site, Boestones, which claims to make diamonds out of homeless people. This website brought attention to the humanity of the homeless by creating a website that seems entirely plausible. It’s based on the idea that rich people would commoditze homeless people’s bodies enough to turn them into diamonds that could be purchased.

What social issues today could you come up with a ridiculous proposal to fix? Take 3 minutes to have students write a list of as many pressing social issues as they can. Then discuss with a partner ideas to make humorous proposals.

Day Three: Speaking of Presidents…

Let’s bring together the satirical writing and the meme making. Start give each student a number 1-45 (for each of the U.S. presidents). Have them read blurb on the number president that corresponds to the number they were given in this article by The Onion. Students should read to answer: Why is it funny? What is true and what is false? Have a couple students share examples.

We will have a stronger sense of detecting what is real news and what is fake news with our knowledge of satire.

Let’s write our own fake news stories. Start by using the brainstormed list of social issues. Follow argumentative essay form and use hook sentences to frame your argument.

Now for the icing on top.

What makes a good clickbait title? What picture would you use to accompany your story?

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Day Four: What’s the truth?

Start by warming up with a game of telephone. If there’s a better way to see how lies spread, I don’t know it.

With all this writing, let’s breakdown the difference between satire and fake news. Create a venn diagram to compare the two forms. Have students discuss how freedom of speech and trust in the media might be come into play with policies surrounding fake news.

Day 5: Let the articles go viral

Discuss responsible social media use. Now that we’ve created these powerful pieces, how would you spread your message? How can you create real social change with your satire?

To Explore Further

With students who want to go more in depth, it would be great to explore Urintown: The Musical. Northwestern University has one more weekend of the musical left in its run. Especially with current political discussion surrounding bathrooms and transgender use, Urinetownseems particularly timely. I found this great study guide that could drive further conversation.

Winter Recommendations

1/12-2/12 – Blues for an Alabama Sky – Court Theatre

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1/19-1/29 – International Puppet Festival

Chicago favorites Blair Thomas & Co. is presenting some amazing work and Manual Cinema is sure to please. Also Geumhyng Jeong’s performance looks particularly exciting. So.Much.To.See!

1/21-1/22 – Swan Lake – The State Ballet Theatre of Russia – Harris Theater

2/4 – Chicago Voices – Lyric Opera

A interesting idea and some big names. Tickets are upwards of $49, but there is also programming and master classes surrounding the performance. With these extended engagement opportunities, I hope it can reach more of Chicago.

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2/11-2/26 – Merce Cunningham programming – MCA

Free with admission performances in the galleries 2/11 and 2/12. Two stage programs.

2/15-2/26 – Game Changers – Joffrey Ballet – Auditorium Theatre

2/18-2/26 – The Invention of Morel – Chicago Opera Theater – Studebaker Theater

A world premiere! And I’ve been really wanting to see COT in the newly remodeled Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building. Also keeping on my calendar The Perfect American for April at the Harris Theater. It’s Philip Glass’s opera on Walt Disney.

 

 

Chicago’s Nutcracker

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photo by Cheryl Mann

The Joffrey Ballet’s new presentation of The Nutcracker came in with a flash, but fully demonstrated its intention to become a fixture in the Chicago performing arts scene. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the production will run until December 30.

I appreciated the connection to Chicago with the production taking place during the construction for World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. It’s a musicologist and dramturg’s dream. Continue reading

Dance Theatre of Harlem: Return

I’m still feeling energized and thankful for a stunning production by Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Auditorium Theatre last weekend.

It’s the time of year for valuing the people in our lives. I’ve been having a relaxing time with family away from the city for Thanksgiving, but part of my heart is still at the Dance Theatre of Harlem student matinee with my students. Continue reading