The Community Created Performances program enables community groups from around Chicago to write, create and perform original music theater works that tell the untold stories of their communities using a core element of opera: story-telling through song. Use this blog to watch as new theater works unfold and our finalists and artists undergo this artistic journey.
Community Created Performances are original music theater works created and performed by community groups using the core elements of opera: storytelling through song.
Chicagoans, regardless of background or experience, were invited to submit unique, untold stories from and of their communities. Applications are reviewed by an independent, community-based panel and up to 10 applicant groups are selected to be featured in individual video profiles on the Chicago Voices website. The public then views the videos and votes for the stories found to be most compelling.
The top three groups with the most votes create and develop their original work, driven by the participants and supported by Lyric Opera professional artists and staff. Working closely with these professionals, the groups each create and develop original scripts, songs, and production elements for the performances, and take part in the culminating final performance of these works.
All performances will be free and open to the public. Sign up for our mailing list or visit our website frequently to hear about the different performances.
Voting for the 2017 winners is closed. Follow their journey as they develop their stories for the stage at chicagovoices.org/ccp.
July 21, 2017
Part of what defines the Blu Rhythm Collective (BRC) is its expansive artistic capabilities. Although the majority of the group consists of dance artists, even within that world, we have people who specialize in tap, modern, house, hip hop, ballet… everything. When it comes to music we have rappers, singers, producers, and songwriters of many ages and musical backgrounds who are coming together to work on this project with Chicago Voices. This is a tremendous asset when writing for so many different characters with different genre, instrumental, and tonal shifts.
Miles Comiskey, Blu Rhythm Collective participant, performs at the Hideout for the Chicago Voices launch event in January 2016.
Each musician in the collective knows their strengths and knows the strengths of others. Just recently I knew I needed the input of Lea Violet, a fellow BRC participant, on a certain track because she is really good at writing certain types of melodies. On another project BrittanE, another BRC participant, took a beat I had started and heard something powerful that could be added to heighten the scene for our audience. We have worked together enough, and built trust with each other to a point where we can do our work individually, come in with some sketches, and allow the group to take it to the next level. This project with Chicago Voices has brought us closer as collaborators and challenged us to tell new stories with new tonal ideas.
Part of the challenge of this work, in particular, is our desire to create a musical landscape that sounds like Chicago - past and present. For us, that means infusing each character and scene with blends of blues, soul, gospel, house, and different types of hip hop that connect to who they are and what they’re going through at any one point in the show. With each rehearsal, we are getting closer to finding that balance while making sure the whole thing feels cohesive as a single work. As each musician in the Blu Rhythm Collective adds their artistry to our emotional palette, our story’s tapestry has gotten richer and that much more connected to the deeper truths we want to share with our audience at the Harris Theater in September.
July 10, 2017
One of my favorite things about writing songs is that there is no one way, or right way, to do it. Having the opportunity to work with all three groups this year I feel like I get to approach songwriting in a new way every day.
Chicago Voices Songwriter, Mike Przygoda, works with members of the Kirin-Gornick Band, 2016 Chicago Voices Community Created Performances finalists, to create and curate original music for their show, KUMOVI.
My role is very different with each group. With Kuumba Lynx, I meet with the musicians in the group, known as the emcees, and we talk about a general idea for a song. How does it tell the narrative or emotion of the scene? Then I plunk out some notes on the keyboard and a beat on the drums and the emcees go to work, typing out lyrics on their phones while I develop the music. We reconvene and I hear each of their ideas, offer some suggestion to form, we try it again and suddenly we have a song!
With YOLO Boomers I listen to their stories and read their writings thinking about how to transform those thoughts into songs. Derek McPhatter, the scriptwriter, and Jess McLeod, the director, talk with me about where the songs might go in the script, and armed with all of that knowledge I go home and start to write both music and lyrics. There's a lot of brainstorming, editing, refining, and coffee! Then I return to the group and sing them what I've written, sitting in the same circle that they do when they present their work to me.
For Blu Rhythm Collective there are a lot of songwriters in the group, and my job is more to curate the songs that flow out of them. One of the songwriters comes in with lyrics and a melody, and another jumps behind the piano to figure out the chords and the form of the song. I might offer a few thoughts on notes or a word choice while furiously writing down what they're coming up with on the spot. By the end of the rehearsal the full group will get to hear the finished product, but in the moment I'm lucky enough to see all the risks and ideas transformed, developed, tested, and sculpted.
Whether as a composer, lyricist, or producer, every day I'm really lucky to collaborate with all of these amazing artists and contribute in any way I can to transform their stories into songs. Some days we're working in the world of pop, some days in R&B, some days in hip hop, some days in jazz, some days with salsa, because all of these sounds and styles reflect the different neighborhoods whose fabric makes up this incredible city.
July 6, 2017
I entered the Kuumba Lynx (KL) space inside the Clarendon Park Community Center for the first time and stood in the center of the huge open central space - the size of a school gym - surrounded by posters, flats, props from previous productions, and walls covered with the company’s signature graffiti art. The room was alive with the sound of creativity: a busy hive where a variety of young artists find community and inspiration. A group of kids were break-dancing, and two other groups clustered in corners brainstorming production details for the company’s upcoming Hip Hop Theatre Festival. Added to these sounds were vibrations coming from the recording studio, where a group of young MC’s were making beats. Streams of kids wandered in and out of two more rooms off the main space: a mirrored dance studio and “the orange room,” where the graffiti-painted walls are covered with large posters with the skeleton outlines of shows-in-progress.
Cheryl Coons, Chicago Voices animateur (center), talks with two members of Kuumba Lynx, Jacinda Bullie (left) and Alexis Pettis (right), at the Chicago Voices Civic Opera House backstage tour event.
The members of the Kuumba Lynx ensemble live in a world where the collective artistry of MC’s, poets, dancers, photographers, graffiti painters, and musicians powers and empowers the young person’s experience of being a Chicagoan. In our first conversations with them, they were emphatic: this is their home. Their KL experience helps them navigate the complicated lives of being both city kids and artists. It gives them the tools and the platform to say what they need to say. It feels like there is enough collective bouncing-off-the-walls creative energy in Kuumba Lynx to ignite the greater metropolitan Chicago area.
The challenge: how to concentrate the essence of Kuumba Lynx in 30 minutes on the stage of the Harris Theater, when the performance won’t take place in the hive where it happens. Above all else, this group is passionate and politically engaged. How can we tell the story of this creative home for dozens of young adults, and also offer some sense of the message they feel is vital for them to communicate to the world?
Working with poetry and improvised scenes created by the group in response to topical prompts, scriptwriter Derek McPhatter has done just that. Songwriter Mike Przygoda has collaborated with the KL ensemble, creating songs that frame the key ideas of the presentation. Jess McLeod, our director, has been working with the creative team and the ensemble to shape the material. We had our first read through of the script last night, and heard some songs-in-progress. We can feel the investment of the Kuumba Lynx ensemble, and their excitement about what’s next.
On July 31 we’ll have a table reading of the script and songs, but the real magic will happen as the show comes to its feet in the month after that. This group of young artists is almost never still, and I imagine that on September 10, they’ll have the audience at the Harris Theater on their feet as well.
June 28, 2017
Time is of the essence. That’s true in any creative development process, but seems particularly true for Community Created Performances (CCP) 2017. Each of the three groups has a unique story to tell, not just in terms of content, but also style and voice. Bringing my talents as a playwright to the scriptwriting process for each finalist has been a delightfully demanding experience so far and I’m excited to be moving forward.
Derek McPhatter, scriptwriter for Chicago Voices, works with members of Harmony, Hope & Healing, finalists in 2016 Chicago Voices Community Created Performances, to develop their stories into a script.
Beyond Lyric, I’m accustomed to juggling multiple creative projects at once. Any day of the week I may be revising one script, building characters for another project, and gathering a creative team for a third more polished piece. But with CCP 2017, three different projects are moving forward on nearly identical timelines. From a scriptwriting perspective that’s meant brainstorming three stories at once, then character development for three ensembles at the same time, outlines times three and, very soon, scripts times three.
So, yes, this process has been an adjustment for me, and I’m so grateful that Lyric has helped build in continuity and support. Working with Jess McLeod [Director] and Mike Przygoda [Songwriter] on all three pieces, as well as having Kaitlin Very [Program Coordinator] and Sarah Schulte [Intern] on board at every single rehearsal has really given me the resources I need to focus on script development. It’s clear this project wouldn’t work without dedicated creative support focused exclusively on each of the ensembles. So it’s been wonderful to have Sophie Wingland, Jacob Watson and Cheri Coons on board as dedicated animateurs guiding the overall creative development process for Blu Rhythm, YOLO Boomers and Kuumba Lynx, respectively.
At first I was tempted to envision one huge Chicago Voices experience, told by three different groups. But it became clear early on that the Chicago story from Kuumba Lynx would be very different from the sort of story YOLO Boomers was leaning towards. Likewise with Blu Rhythm. I’ve had to approach each one as its own self-contained experience, and while the steps are the same for each group, the actual process has varied. It’s pushing me to be versatile – more structure with this piece, trusting our collective intuition with that one, and honing in on nuance with the third.
Overall, I believe this is laying the foundation for a very rich, multi-layered Chicago Voices CCP experience in September. I’m thrilled to be a part of it, and can’t wait to share what we’re creating together!
June 16, 2017
How did you feel about the program before it began? What were you expecting?
Before the program began I was expecting to dance, of course, because I am a dancer. But when I saw the pilot version of the Chicago Voices Initiative, everyone was dancing, acting, singing, and using rap/poetry, and I realized it was way more inclusive of different forms of the performing arts. I think I knew in the beginning that this would be different than anything I've ever done, and I was aware that I would have to be open to new things and ways of doing things.
Ricketa Davis (right), talks with Chicago Voices staff at the Community Created Performances backstage tour at the Civic Opera House.
Are there any ways in which the program has been different than you anticipated? What has surprised you thus far?
A different, but fun, experience has been the theater and music games we participate in. The scene-building workshops are my favorite, because we all get to add our input into how the scenes are directed. Watching different people play parts that are the complete opposite of who they are has been really interesting and sometimes hilarious!
The most surprising part of the project has been the stories, and the amount of truth-telling that has been going on during our time together. The Blu Rhythm Collective is bravely telling the truth to all who are ready to hear it.
What are you most excited about at this point in the process?
I am most excited to see how our story turns out and the audience reaction to it all.
How do you think this process may change or affect the group as a whole?
I am extremely confident that this process will give us the encouragement to do more, create new stories, and begin our journey as a new theater and dance experience in Chicago.
June 09, 2017
Jacob Watson, Animateur for YOLO Boomers
Returning to Chicago Voices as animateur for a second year I feel both bolstered by the experiences I’ve had so far and braced for unexpected twists and turns. A process like this is never the same the second time around. As a facilitator, you have to be on your toes: what worked last time may not work this time, and you’re bound to be met with opportunities and challenges that you haven’t seen before.
We are now less than one week into this year’s experience, and I have just begun working with a new group of retired and semi-retired folks calling themselves the YOLO Boomers. An essential part of our first day together was the creation of group agreements. These are agreements for how we want to relate to one another and to our process while we are together in rehearsals. I love making group agreements because they always surprise me.
Many of the usual suspects appeared on our list: “work hard,” “offer encouragement,” “no judgment,” “try something new.” But something else showed up that I hadn’t heard before, and it came from one of the participants in the Boomers group: “pass on life lessons.” At first I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. He explained that since we were going to be sharing our own personal stories in this process, we ought to listen for the lessons therein.
Jacob Watson (center), animateur for YOLO Boomers, sits with YOLO Boomers Community Created Performance participants during a recent meet and greet for all groups at Lyric.
We added it to the list, though I still didn’t know how this idea would impact our process. Then we started sharing stories. We began with an improv activity and then moved on to more personal stories: brief anecdotes of being misunderstood, of people in our lives who surprised us with who they were.
At the end of the session a woman from the group came up to me and handed me a story she had written for a previous project. She wanted me to read it, to share in her particular fascination with mermaids. “That’s yours to keep,” she said. I felt honored that she was trusting me with her work, and a bit surprised that I had just received my own personal copy. After all, we had only met four hours ago. But it occurred to me that we share our stories all the time. We give them away — and often for keeps — without even realizing it. It takes a good deal of trust to do this, and I think that can be easy to overlook. Our stories can be manipulated or misused: people can misunderstand them, use them to make us look a certain way, or hold them against us. And so we make an agreement. We agree to listen, to try to understand, to honor the story and where it came from.
I look forward to continuing ahead with this group. Their energy is bold, daring, unashamed. As we move through the process, we will intertwine each person’s lived experiences into a unique group narrative. And who knows — we might even learn a few life lessons along the way.
May 17, 2017
Jess McLeod, Artistic Supervisor and Director
The Chicago Voices Community Created Performances program provides audiences and artists alike with an extraordinary opportunity: to hear stories of the city firsthand from individuals and communities we might not otherwise encounter. In a mere 15 weeks, Blu Rhythm Collective, Kuumba Lynx and YOLO Boomers will share their stories in individual and group sessions facilitated by our animateur team; collaborate with myself (their director), scriptwriter Derek McPhatter and composer Mike Przygoda on how to best theatricalize them in short opera form; and undergo a professional rehearsal process in preparation for a fully-designed production at the Harris Theater.
It’s the best and wildest of rides.
Director Jess McLeod (left) works with members of 2016 Community Created Performances group, The Kirin-Gornick Band, to add staging to their original work, "KUMOVI."
Last year, I directed one piece (KUMOVI, featuring and about the amazing Kirin-Gornick Band) and this year, I’m directing all three and leading the creative and design teams from the start. What I’m most looking forward to is really getting to know these three new groups – what initially brought them together, how they act as sources of support for each other, everything the city means to them – and then dreaming up truthful and fabulous ways to bring their stories to life onstage and through song. Story dignifies us, even – maybe especially – when it challenges us, and I can’t wait to facilitate our groups’ journeys from talking informally about their lives in a fluorescent-lit room to proudly and confidently proclaiming who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going on one of the biggest stages in Chicago surrounded by the work of terrific and thoughtful artists.
May 03, 2017
I was backstage after the final curtain call for the Chicago Voices Community Created Performances at Harris Theater in September 2016. My friends from Harmony, Hope & Healing (HHH) and I had just shared a hug. They were exhilarated. I was teary. After working with the group as Animateur for 16 weeks, helping them create their own show from start to finish, it scarcely seemed possible that we would no longer be seeing each other every week. Still, I felt in my heart that we would be together again. It was just “goodbye for now.”
Animateur Cheri Coons listens to the personal stories of the members of HHH.
This afternoon I returned from Harmony, Hope & Healing’s 2017 Gala celebration, where they thanked Lyric Opera and Chicago Voices staff for the group’s extraordinary experience with Chicago Voices last year. All of the original members of our HHH ensemble sang and danced to music from the show they created during the program last year, “A Circle of Hope.” Today, as I hugged my old friends from HHH, I knew that what I had whispered backstage in September was true. The special bond we shared last year has not ended. It never has to end.
When we create together, we change each other. When we make music and theatre together, we become part of one another in unique ways. This year, I’m returning to work on Chicago Voices Community Created Performances as Animateur with Kuumba Lynx, a vibrant urban youth development program and performing ensemble.
I’m looking forward to the ways we will expand and change one another, and I’m feeling grateful that I have last year’s experience with HHH to inspire me. Last year’s experience left some great mile markers for us to follow along the journey, but there is the exciting promise of exploring new territory this year.
The mission of the Community Created Performances is to share “untold Chicago stories.” Knowing Kuumba Lynx just a little bit now, I’m aware that there’s a trove of stories just waiting to be shared in their unique performance style. I’m equally aware that the creative process is unpredictable, and we will all be surprised, delighted, and cracked open in powerful ways during our time together this summer. I’m excited, I’m energized, but mostly I’m grateful for the opportunity to create with yet another gifted group of Chicagoans.
Another adventure begins, and this one, too, never has to end.
April 19, 2017
Lyric Unlimited is excited to announce the three finalist groups for the 2017 Chicago Voices Community Created Performances! Read more about each group below as they prepare for the program launch on May 30. Blu Rhythm Collective
Blu Rhythm Collective
"I am most excited to ignite the necessary conversations that most people have been too polite to have surrounding our city's violent climate and culture. The Blu Rhythm Collective is prepared to ask the hard questions and provide evidence of viable solutions that have seen our members/citizens through this city's turmoil toward overall success, but not without significant consequences." – Tanji Harper, Founder/Artistic Director of The Blu Rhythm Collective
Blu Rhythm Collective is a group of Chicago urban artists pushing the boundaries of original live theater using a mix of artforms to focus on some of the city’s hardest-hitting topics. Its members are a direct reflection of Chicago and its various neighborhoods. Blu Rhythm looks to illuminate one of Chicago’s biggest issues by providing insight into the lives of young Chicagoans from these marginalized communities and their struggle to overcome the challenges of violence in order to succeed.
“I’m hoping Kuumba Lynx will achieve collaborative art to tell stories, dreams, aspirations and ideas on the future. I’m most excited about putting important topics into a perspective that will bring light to topics not widely known like, for example, Breesha Meadows. Hopefully, this will make people think on the future and what that looks likeespecially for people of color.” – Assatta Shakur, member of Kuumba Lynx
Kuumba Lynx is a youth development art making organization that utilizes urban arts to cultivate strong communities built on a foundation of love. Members come from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. The group strives to use Hip Hop as a means to mentor, motivate, and inspire artists to produce, share, and publish meaningful works of art. The group members see the making of an original music theater work as an opportunity to shift the perceptions of Chicago youth and their communities by telling their own stories rather than have them told by someone else.
“YOLO Boomers is excited to be able to share our life experiences and creativity with a wide audience through music and musical theater. An older person's unique perspective can be used to inspire and teach others, bring a tear to the eye or a laugh to the heart. We're looking forward to doing all of them.” - Cardi Fleck, member of YOLO Boomers
YOLO Boomers is a group of Northcenter Chicago seniors actively engaged in different forms of creative expression including writing and improvisational acting. The group hopes to use the collective, personal stories of its members spanning decades to bust negative stereotypes associated with age. This group intends to demonstrate what it truly means to be an active senior in Chicago.
March 10, 2017
Written By: Melissa Fox, fig media inc.
This is our second year filming the Community Created Performances program with Chicago Voices and Lyric Unlimited. At fig media inc. we tell stories for a living. We know the transformative power of turning the camera on and listening. We believe in the power of art and storytelling to shape communities, champion change, and bring people together. We witnessed this firsthand while filming the Chicago Voices Community Created Performances program with Lyric Unlimited. We couldn’t be more delighted to take that mission on for a second year.
Our team interviewed all eight semi-finalists in February to help them craft their online video profiles. These profiles will be used for the public to vote. Our job is to give each group the best chance they have at describing who they are, what they care about and, if selected, what an audience might see, hear, or feel. Fig media inc. director Melissa Fox, in collaboration with the Lyric Unlimited and Chicago Voices team, spent time discussing each group and how we might best tell their stories. Our team transformed the Florian Bistro at the Civic Opera House into an interview set. Melissa then got to work coaching each interviewee through the process of telling their stories on camera. With patience and guidance she made sure each group felt authentic on film while hitting specific points for each application. It sounds easier than it is. It takes patience, listening, and lots of teamwork between the Lyric team and the fig team to capture each group.
Two things struck us as a commonality among all the groups this year. The first being that our current climate has affected everyone in our city. The groups applying this year are extremely diverse and passionate, and care deeply about making their communities stronger while educating others about their unique perspectives in the city. Stories of resilience, perseverance, and hope in the face of challenges are a theme across the board. The second is that each group had examples of how our current events are shaping their resolve to share their stories more openly.
As filmmakers, this gets us excited! We could see anyone of these groups creating show stopping content that is sure to move you. They came to play and they brought their courage, vulnerability, and passion to their video profiles.
As with the beginning of any project, the anticipation of seeing what will happen is building. We would love to see all the people we interviewed have a chance to tell their stories on the stage. We laughed, cried, were whipped up into passionate anger, and were moved by everyone we heard from. Our experience last year taught us that when a group goes through this process something amazing happens to them and their communities.
As Chicagoans ourselves, we know how important it is to tell the “untold,” stories of our city. Doing so will build connections and forge understanding between parts of our city that rarely interact, but are connected to one another so deeply. This unity is what makes the tapestry of our streets so beautiful. Rarely do groups like these have the opportunity to take the stage in such a famous public forum. For most of the applicants, this opportunity would be life-changing.
So we invite you to listen to each story presented and vote for your favorite.
We might be biased, but we think all of Chicago should know about this project so please share it with your friends.
Voting begins online at ChicagoVoices.com/Vote on Monday, March 13, 2017.
Thank you to the staff at Chicago Voices and Lyric Unlimited for having our team back a second year. We can’t wait to tell the story of the amazing journey three of these finalists will go on!
2017 Team Fig: Executive Producers: Michele Gustin, James Gustin, Director: Melissa Fox, Production Assist and Editor: Nicholas Sanchez.
See more fig media inc. projects here: www.figmediainc.com