Acts of Poetry

May 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Actors perform students' plays during Write to the Spotlight 2012

Actors perform students’ plays during Write to the Spotlight 2012

Our Write to the Spotlight outreach program is coming to a close for this year. For four weeks, our teaching artists were integrated into several second grade classrooms in Arlington Heights School District 25. Our teaching artists worked on adapting poems into original plays through the study of character, story, setting and emotion. Now, to wrap up the program, the students are coming to Metropolis to see their plays performed live on our stage by professional actors.

It’s time for a sneak peek of the brilliant work that comes from Write to the Spotlight’s second graders! Here’s a portion of one play, inspired by Smart by Shel Silverstein.

GRANDMOTHER: Don’t you know that $1 is more than 5 cents?

KID: Well, no I didn’t.

GRANDMOTHER: Aren’t you in second grade?

KID: I forgot about that.

GRANDMOTHER: I thought you were smart.

KID: I was…

GRANDMOTHER: You will have to make up for it.

KID: How am I going to do that?

GRANDMOTHER: You can start with making all the beds, putting the dishes on the counter, watering the plants, dusting, finding everybody’s icky underwear, putting the underwear in the laundry, taking the underwear out of the dryer, folding the underwear and putting the underwear away.

KID: Wish I could trade the underwear for 5 cents.

Flourish in the Footlights celebrates 10th anniversary

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Let’s set the scene… The show: Rumpelstiltskin. The setting: the castle courtyard. The three narrators are trying to help our fair maiden Briana impress the Queen. These seasoned actors are improvising, coming up with different tasks for Briana to act out so she can really show the Queen her stuff. It’s a hilarious moment played out perfectly on Metropolis’ main stage.

The part we didn’t mention? These seasoned actors are young adults with special needs, participating in our Flourish in the Footlights program, now in its 10th season.

“It’s probably my favorite moment in the show,” notes program director Megan Willhite. “The guys have gotten really good at coming up with some interesting things to say and the actress playing Briana is a great sport about acting out whatever they shout out at her.”

“Flourish in the Footlights has always been successful and rather groundbreaking,” says Metropolis performing arts education director Michelle Shaver. “But we made some exciting changes this year that we believe will show in the final performance on April 22 and really let the actors shine.”

One of the more remarkable aspects of Flourish in the Footlights is that the ensemble members collaborate to write their own adaptation of the story. “We didn’t want to change the writing process because it’s integral to the program and ensures the story belongs to the actors,” says Willhite.

Instead, Willhite, Shaver and the program assistants chose the story early on based on criteria such as number of characters, style of the story and number of scenes. “In the past,” says Willhite, “our classes in the fall focused on acting techniques and then we would begin to incorporate our specific story in December. This year, we started working with Rumpelstiltskin in October. We used the characters and the plot points as inspiration for the class activities. By the time we got to the production phase of the program, the students knew the story really well and jumped right into the adaptation process. This allowed us to start the script writing process much sooner, and also made the adaptation process move more quickly because the students knew the story so well.”

They also made changes to the casting process this year. In the past, actors would improvise as different characters while they created the script. This way, everyone got to try their hat at different characters and expand their acting range. “This year we were able to give the actors the chance to try out all the different characters in the techniques class, so for the first time, we cast the show before we wrote the script,” says Willhite. “This has really made a difference for the actors when it comes to memorization, and it improved the fluidity and coherence of the story overall.”

With their performance just a few short weeks away, Rumpelstiltskin is really taking shape. “These changes have given our actors time to become confident in their roles and comfortable with their actions so we can highlight each actor’s strengths and talents,” says Willhite.

Flourish in the Footlights presents their adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin on April 22 at 7pm at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Call 847.577.2121 for tickets.

Young Playwrights Festival brings student works to the stage

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Hilary Nelson

Imagine yourself in 8th grade. You are sitting in English or Drama class and you’ve just written the first scene of a play. It is an accomplished feeling. But then you wonder what it would look like on stage. How might an actor perform this scene? How would the audience respond to it? One group of students was lucky enough to have this experience as part of their education.

The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre was filled with these aspiring playwrights and their friends as they watched six actors read from select scripts on stage. As part of the Young Playwright Festival on May 27, students from Carl Sandburg Jr. High School in Rolling Meadows were awed as they saw professional actors breathe life into their one-act plays.

Scott Woldman, a teacher at Carl Sandburg Jr. High and Metropolis resident playwright, first started the Young Playwright Festival in 2000. It began as an education tool to teach writing in his classroom. Now, it’s composed of 300 students in the entire 8th grade class, including a group of special needs students who also wrote plays in the festival. Woldman and five other actors volunteered their time to perform the plays the kids had written so they could see their work brought to life. They were originally performed in the school’s auditorium, but with the help and partnership of Jim Jarvis, Executive Director at Metropolis, the festival was eventually moved to Metropolis.

The process of preparing for the festival begins with the 8th grade students writing the plays in their English classes. Woldman then selected about 50 plays and passed them onto Metropolis, where 15 of them were selected for performances. Finally, the entire 8th grade class took a field trip to Metropolis, where they watched professional actors perform the works of their peers. For some students, it was their first time in a theater. Most of the plays were comedies that reflected topics teenagers face in their every day lives. They and their peers laughed and applauded as they heard and saw their words come to life before them.

After the performances finished, Woldman and the actors conducted a Q&A with the students. The students asked questions about acting and writing and took advice from the actors. One of those pieces of advice about writing came from Woldman. He told them, “Read everything. Read as much as you possibly can.” One student raised his hand, and upon being called on, he stood up and yelled “We love you Mr. Woldman!” and everyone applauded for their teacher.

“This is important to the kids because it allows them to see their work performed on stage. It’s really empowering for them and it adds some legitimacy and credibility to the experience,” said Woldman.

The festival provides an exciting experience for all types of students. It’s not necessarily the straight-A students whose plays are chosen. It may be the class clown, or the shy kid who sits in the back of the class. With this activity, “it gives a voice to those students who might not necessarily have one at this stage in their life,” Woldman said.

“It promotes writing, it’s educational, and it motivates them to see their work performed,” added Julia Leamanczyk, a 7th grade teacher who was a chaperone at the event. “This event shows the student there is a real purpose in writing.”

As the students left Metropolis and boarded the school bus, they did so with smiles on their faces, excitedly chatting about the performances they just witnessed.

Who knows? Perhaps we’ll see the work one of those students on the stage again someday.

Metropolis’ Flourish in the Footlights program on ABC7 News

April 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Metropolis’ Flourish in the Footlights is a one-of-a-kind program that gives teens and adults with special needs the opportunity to express themselves through acting. The program has been going strong for 8 years, and this year, ABC7 stopped in to learn more about Flourish in the Footlights and about this year’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Check out the broadcast here.

Getting our Students Closer to our Artists

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

So a few years back we made the realization that we can do something that many other theaters can not do. We have a lot of really talented artists – many of whom tour the world – coming to our venue to perform. We can provide our students access to those artists (given their schedules permit). Just about everyone we’ve ever asked to give up a few hours of their time on an afternoon of a performance or the day after, has been willing to do it.

As a result, our students have had unprecedented access to artists they otherwise would never be able to meet, let alone work with. A few years back we had Kristy Cates, who was Elphaba in Broadway in Chicago’s Wicked, come out to teach a master class on musical theatre performance. She did a whole series of workshops that were completely sold out. After that, we had singer/songwriter Shawn Mullins come in to teach a masterclass songwriting for guitar.

After Mullins, Michael Ingersoll of Jersey Boys taught a two-day intensive on vocal technique and stage presence. Who better to cover that topic…

Then his wife Angela, herself a very accomplished actress, taught an audition workshop. Michael then returned for a symposium on the touring Broadway experience. Several members of the Jersey Boys band gave workshops: Guitarist David Sarkis did a workshop on becoming a solo artist, and Ted Mulligan also of the Mulligan Mosaics Big Band gave a masterclass on jazz technique.

Many of these are free, some had a low cost entry fee. All were phenomenal.

We’ve just announced our Artist Workshop series for 2010/2011. If you’re interested in being a part of any of these, call our education front office: 847.577.5982 x221.

Metropolis Outreach Helps a Life Starting Over

September 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

Kristen Gurbach Jacobson works with Amal Abbas in the Metropolis Outreach program.

Kristen Gurbach Jacobson works with Amal Abbas in the Metropolis Outreach program.

It’s 7:08 A.M. Amal Abbas is sitting in her school’s hallway, leaning against the wall, half asleep. She is waiting for class to begin. In this way, she is a normal 18-year-old. She is bright and cheerful, and has a smile that lights up the entire 900 seat theatre. It is Tuesday morning and she is waiting for dance class to begin at her new school, St. Scholastica Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Rogers Park, Chicago. Her tuition is paid for by a private donor. The Dance class is run by the Outreach department of Metropolis. Outreach Manager and Resident Choreographer Kristen Gurbach Jacobson teaches the class twice a week. “They look to us to bring a meaningful dance education to their students on a yearly basis. They’ve been an Outreach Partner for two years.”

In most other ways, Amal is not a normal 18-year-old. She is from Iraq. Her family lived in Baghdad. Her father died when she was one, and when she was 12, war broke out. The school that literally sat adjacent to her school was blown up by a bomb. After that, her mother, Nada, moved herself, Amal and her brother and sister to Amman, Jordan. They lived there for a year. Then one day, with 48 hours notice, they sold everything they had and moved to Chicago with the help of a United Nations agency. Amal has wiped the slate clean. “Starting from zero,” she says with a smile.

Amal entered the Metropolis Outreach dance program in September 2008. Dance is new to her. “I had never danced,” she says. “It is awesome… They don’t care if you can’t dance. She’s (teacher, Kristen Jacobson) supportive.” I ask her about adjusting to her new school while also rebuilding her life.

“Every day when I got home I was crying.” Her mother Nada, who speaks little English but understands much, gently laughs while demonstrating tears. Amal says the Metropolis Outreach program has helped her meet students, build confidence and have fun. She performed at Metropolis as part of Dance Week in May of 2009. “When we performed at Metropolis, I was so happy,” she gushes. “I didn’t think it would be that perfect for me.”

“This is exactly what we set out to do – to bring positive, artistic experiences to those who need it the most,” Jacobson says. “Our donors need to know that they help make programs like this one available to kids who need them…everyday kids dealing with everyday stresses or kids like Amal dealing with life altering experiences. Either way, the arts build confidence and help kids see the world differently.”

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