Playing to an audience is not the only success in the performing arts world. Many local theater companies have opened their doors to schools with enriching, educational programs that can often change students’ lives. Bringing theater into the classroom, arranging to see live performances, or getting students involved behind the scenes nurtures a love of the arts at an early age. Here’s how some organizations are making an impact.
Barrel of Monkeys Enhances Literacy and Creative Thinking
Chicago’s Barrel of Monkeys Theatre has been providing arts enrichment programs to underserved Chicago Public Schools since 1997. “The company’s ensemble of teaching artists and performers conduct six-week creative writing workshops with 3rd through 5th grade students,” says Executive Director Corinne Neal. “The students’ stories then come to life on stage, presented in school and for the families.”
Today, more than 10,000 elementary school students have participated in this innovative program that allows creative expression, builds literacy skills, and instills confidence in students’ ideas. “Our curriculum uses the arts to give voice to every child’s inner storyteller,” Neal says.
Lifeline Theatre Lends Dramatic Impact to Schools
Lifeline Theatre has been a presence in Rogers Park for 35 years, producing three Subscription Series shows for adults and three KidSeries shows every year. The theater also works with children in six Chicago Public Schools in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
“We obtain funding from foundations and are able to offer drama residencies to students at no cost to the schools,” says Educational Director Julie Ganey. “Included in our program are tickets to a KidSeries’ matinee. Students then have a full experience learning fine arts basics, drama skills and oral literacy, while also growing social, emotional and 21st century skills, like collaboration and self-expression. Last year, including our onsite camps and workshops for young people, we worked with almost 2,000 children.”
The Goodman Theatre Reaches Out to Young Journalists
A joint venture between the Goodman Theatre and Association for Women Journalists introduces young women to theater criticism and the world of professional writing. Through the Cindy Bandle Young Critics (CBYC) program, girls receive press night tickets to every production in the Goodman’s season as well as one-on-one mentoring from professional journalists in the AWJ.
“The students write reviews on several Goodman shows, attend bi-monthly writing workshops and have the opportunity to interview directors, actors and playwrights associated with Goodman productions,” says Program Coordinator Brandi Lee. “This free program not only enhances their journalistic skills and teaches them about the American theater, but it’s a designated time to celebrate each other.”
CBYC is a space where young women can succeed while being themselves and discovering their ‘individual voice.’ They also get the opportunity to spend time with older women, who are there to uplift, but to learn from the girls as well.
“Our goal is for every young woman to exit the program with an understanding of the power of their own voice on paper and physically in the world,” Lee says.
Ravinia’s High Note: Reach* Teach* Play in Area Schools
Ravinia Festival in Highland Park is known as the summer playground for outstanding music, great performances, and picnicking under the stars. What many people don’t know about, however, is Ravinia’s efforts throughout the year to bring music and music education to underprivileged students in Lake and Cook counties. Reach*Teach* Play is a multifaceted program to educate, foster audience involvement, and ensure that underserved populations have access to live music experiences.
In 2015, Ravinia launched the first Sistema Ravinia student orchestra in Lake County. The program includes 200 students and has added a second-level orchestra in the 2017 school year. Ravinia has hired more than 30 teachers to give more elementary-school students in the Waukegan area small-group instruction in their schools, as well as full orchestra rehearsals in Bennett Gordon Hall on the festival’s grounds, with transportation provided by Ravinia. The philosophy is based on the noted El Sistema program that originated in South American countries, producing some of the world’s top classical musicians and has been adopted by music-education institutions around the globe.
“Sistema Ravinia is truly changing children’s lives through music,” says REACH*TEACH*PLAY Director Christine Taylor. “The program has dual missions of musical excellence and positive social change for kids and their families. Alumni of Sistema Ravinia in Chicago are now in the top orchestras of their selected high schools, including ChiArts. We are thrilled to bring this successful initiative to Lake County schools and to give them full access to Ravinia’s learning campus.”
The Art Institute Expands Free Admission to High Schoolers
Thanks to a generous donation from Topeka, Kansas, philanthropists Glenn and Claire Swogger, The Art Institute of Chicago has expanded their free admission program to include students ages 14-17. Currently, most teens only view the exhibits with a school field trip. The open admission policy will let them explore on their own time and inspire their appreciation of the classics. The Art Institute also offers several free teen programs, which allows students to express artistic passion and learn new art forms.