Watch It Unfold

Community Created Performances Blog

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Community Created Performances?

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.

How do I see a performance?

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.

How can I vote?

Voting for the 2017 winners is closed. Follow their journey as they develop their stories for the stage at

Stay in tune: Join the Mailing List

An Exchange of Energy and Emotion

September 05, 2017

Tery Veras, YOLO Boomers Participant

Tery Veras (center), YOLO Boomers Participant, works with fellow group members to create material for their original show, Off Our Rockers.

Always open to performing, when asked if I’d be interested in creating a musical, I unhesitatingly replied, “Yes, I’ve been wanting to do something like that for a long time.” Because I’m a musician who plays the guitar, I serve as song leader and provide accompaniment for other shows our group has done, which we’ve created for Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day and special [North Center Senior] Center events. I’m especially drawn to supporting these kinds of volunteer group adventures and to share any experience I have to assist others in their preparations for stage work. The more I learned about the Lyric Opera Chicago Voices program and the more I experienced the process we had begun, the happier I became.

Our YOLOs are on a mission bigger than any one of us individually. Everyone seems to feel engaged with the program and has a willingness to assist each other whenever and wherever needed. We are learning invaluable lessons of collaboration and teamwork, which I anticipate will carry over to future endeavors. The greatest gift, from my perspective, is the incredible staff we have working with us. I feel so fortunate to work with this collection of professionals and all they have to offer. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Chicago Voices staff has made excellent choices designating various roles and everyone seems to feel comfortable in their assigned parts. In many cases, a piece of our own personal story has been included in the script. I believe this has encouraged and enhanced unity between members.

We are looking forward to the exchange of energy and emotion with our audience, which often occurs in art. When that happens, it is truly a magical gift of grace. Maybe after seeing this show, someone might think twice when they pass an old person on the street and think, “What is that person’s story? What was their struggle?”

I hope our audience will identify with our humanity and our attempts to remain relevant, active, creative and expressive in our later years. Hopefully our audience will walk away inspired to search within their own lives and have the willingness to “keep on keeping on” despite the enormous roadblocks we all face eventually. As in life itself, our play strings together humor and pathos. Perhaps this slice of our lives will connect the viewer with feelings and circumstances of their own and give them hope.

A New Perspective

August 30, 2017

Mike Przygoda, Songwriter

Mike Przygoda, Songwriter, rehearses the original music for Off Our Rockers with YOLO Boomers.

The German words sitzprobe and wandelprobe are used in opera and musical theater to describe when the singers rehearse with the orchestra either sitting (sitz-ing) or moving through their staging (wandel-ing). Up until this point in our rehearsals, the casts have been singing accompanied only by a piano or by produced (pre-recorded) tracks. This week we incorporate the other instrumentalists into the rehearsals to hear how the music sounds fleshed out, which to me is one of the most exciting moments in the process. In the same way that the staging and blocking make the words from the script come to life to the author, hearing the timbres of the different instruments realizing the arrangement breathes a new perspective and life into the music.

Now while it's exciting for the composer to finally hear all of the parts she or he has been hearing in their head, it can take some adjustment for the singers to have to hear their cues or pitches from a different instrument than what they've been practicing with in rehearsal. That first note you're used to hearing? Well you have to listen for it in the vibraphone or violin now. The beat that you were feeling from the piano? Well now the drums are playing that beat and the piano doesn't have to be as busy. Singers and actors always do such a great job of not only adjusting, but incorporating these extra instruments into their performance, and I'm so excited to see them do that this week.

For this project we always wanted to have live accompaniment for the songs, and I've been so lucky to have three of my favorite musicians join me in the band. Kristina Lee will be playing upright and electric bass, Suzanne Osman will be playing all kinds of percussion, James Robinson-Parran will be playing keyboards, and I'll be hopping back and forth between several instruments to complete the score. For Blu Rhythm Collective's show, we'll be joined by one of their composers, and an excellent instrumentalist and vocalist himself, Miles Comiskey on guitar and violin.

Every week as more collaborators come into the room from designers to stage management, and now the instrumentalists, the shows grow to include their voices and share the collective visions of the piece that we're all creating.

Fast Artistic Math

August 25, 2017

Jess McLeod, Director

Jess McLeod, Director, teaches the YOLO Boomers to speak from their diaphragms in preparation of the upcoming performance of Off Our Rockers at the Harris Theater on September 10, 2017.

Well, we made it. Where there were once three groups, there are now three scripts. Three scores. Three afternoons at which our groups -- Blu Rhythm Collective, Kuumba Lynx and YOLO Boomers -- bravely introduced their shows to their communities. I couldn't be prouder. And I couldn't be more ready to head into the final third of the process: STAGING!

Developing script and set simultaneously is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully, my intrepid and brilliant set designer Collette Pollard leapt right into the fray, enduring weekly meetings and near-daily updates on what locations were popping up in our ever-changing scripts (the small picture) and what common themes, ideas and emotions were emerging that could help us imagine a space all three stories could share (the big picture). It's a process that takes a great deal of fast artistic math -- fully-functioning drugstores and shoe boutiques were added and cut. We needed four onstage bedrooms...then two...then one...then none. And we constantly asked whether or not the location for and theatrical approach to each scene was right. I'm thrilled with where we've ended up: an onstage world that keeps expanding throughout the night, with Chicago as backdrop.

As the set started to take shape, the rest of the design team started to identify what storytelling responsibility their individual disciplines could take on -- lighting team Lee Fiskness and Kaili Story confirmed what moments could be clarified with light. Stephanie Cluggish and Anna Wooden (Team Costumes) devised plans to use color, style and silhouette to distinguish groups within the groups (rappers v. dancers, which speed dating couples belong together); and sound designer Matt Chapman and Music Supervisor Mike Przygoda and I spent weeks discussing whether to place the band onstage or in the orchestra pit...all while Mike and our scriptwriter Derek McPhatter wrote, threw out, rewrote and reimagined every scene, every song of every script.

So now as we move into staging, most of my prep work is already done -- I staged each show on paper and using the set model before finalizing the set itself. Rehearsal will be spent teaching the groups the staging, working with them on memorization and acting, nurturing ensemble spirit and support, and encouraging them to loudly and proudly perform these singular, moving, hilarious shows.

Keep Listening

August 22, 2017

Sophie Wingland, Animateur for Blu Rhythm Collective

Sophie Wingland, animateur for Blu Rhythm Collective, talks with participants of the group at the Lyric Opera House Community Created Performances backstage tour event this past May.

Coming into this project, I was very excited and a bit nervous because I had heard such amazing things about Blu Rhythm Collective… and they have all been more than true!

Getting to know the group has been a wonderful and slow process. They are a collective of young dancers, musicians and writers who are so skilled and multi-talented it hurts! Tanji Harper, their fearless leader, has known and mentored many of the collective’s members since they were children. The group’s bond and level of trust in each other creates the feeling of a close-knit family: sometimes there are tiffs and disagreements, but it’s clear they would drop everything to support one another.

Over the last 10 weeks, Blu Rhythm Collective and members of Chicago Voices artistic team and staff have sat together in a circle and listened as group members shared stories of their lives growing up in Chicago: some are tragic tales of violence and neglect; others, stories of unity and trust. All are tied together through dance. The group took several weeks to really open up, not only to the Chicago Voices team, but to each other. This is a whole different process of creation for many of the group, and it took some time to establish the trust within our space – but once it was there, the level of commitment, honesty and authenticity with which the group has met every challenge has been unwavering.

I feel honored to be a part of this process. Listening to the stories of people who have had vastly different life experiences from me has been astounding, humbling and necessary. There is so much in this city that needs to be healed and the only way is to reach out: outside of yourself, outside of your community and outside of your comfort zone. We have to listen to each other to understand what we need as a city to bring that healing about. I hope that this piece will open people’s eyes to a new and different side of Chicago, and inspire them to reach out, start conversations and - most of all - keep listening.

Community Created Performances 2017 Public Readings

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The Icing on the Cake

August 8, 2017

Darius Parker, Kuumba Lynx Community Lead

Darius Parker, Community Lead for Kuumba Lynx, leads the group rehearsal for their Public Reading Presentation on July 31.

Since initially finding out that Kuumba Lynx was selected to be a finalist for the 2017 Chicago Voices Community Created Performances, I have been overly ecstatic. It has been a learning process, not only for my own artistic growth and development, but for the growth of the youth involved as well. We began the summer with the Chicago Voices staff really trying to hone in on how Kuumba Lynx creates and builds art. To be completely transparent, we were initially unclear of how this would be reflective of our writing or the group overall, so it took a little while to gain our footing. However, through this we discovered a lot about how the youth artists were feeling in regards to being appreciated and spotlighted. 

Kuumba Lynx specializes in utilizing the talent of youth how they see fit. We then offer them platforms to build and create in their own right. So when the emcees (rappers) shared that they sometimes felt left out or unappreciated for their work within Kuumba Lynx, it forced me as the Community Lead to look at things differently and see how we can support and highlight them more.

With the inception of this production I could not be more proud of the emcee crew. They've written all the songs and have even influenced the culture of our weekly sessions to the point where the Chicago Voices staff knows our inside jokes and has just as much fun as we do in the space all the time. It makes me extremely happy and proud to see the light in them shine so brightly in these sessions and it honestly puts the icing on the cake for me as the Community Lead.

Glowing a Little Brighter

July 28, 2017

Trish Hinkes, YOLO Boomers Participant

How did you come to be part of the group, and what drew you to this program?

When I retired last year, I finally had the time for the projects I had been avoiding for years. I reorganized my closets, cleaned the kitchen cupboards – getting rid of canned goods that had expired in the last century – and on and on. Then, I ran out of deferred projects and was left with lots of time on my hands and the question, "what now?" I wanted to try something new; perhaps a creative activity, but something outside my comfort level. Marsha Fogle suggested I consider the improv/storytelling group she had joined. She told me how safe and comfortable she felt sharing her stories, and how much fun she had with the improv so I decided to give it a try. Speaking in front of a group had always filled me with terror so the program more than met my goal of getting outside my comfort level. And now, thanks to Lyric Opera’s Chicago Voices Community Created Performances, our improv/storytelling group YOLO Boomers is preparing to perform at the 1,500 seat Harris Theater, and I'm so thrilled to part of this amazing journey. What a difference a year makes!

Trish Hinkes, YOLO Boomers participant, reviews her role during a script reading in rehearsal.

What changes have you seen amongst the group and its members so far in the program? 

Through the collaborative process I think we have become a more cohesive group both creatively and socially. Sharing who we are as YOLO Boomers with the Lyric staff through stories and improv, and seeing our words coming to life in the script and lyrics is so exciting. I think we are all glowing a little brighter with pride and wonder.

How has working with the Lyric artists and staff been impactful for the group as a whole?

Initially, I think some of us – and that includes me – were in a state of disbelief as in, "Wow, is this really happening?" Then, once the reality settled in, we were a little intimidated by the scope of the project and the caliber of the professionals guiding the process. But over the last six weeks, through conversation, listening and learning, a trust and respect has developed. Trust in the creative team that they will not let us fail, as well as trust in each other and knowing, as they say in improv, "I've got your back!”

What are you most excited about in regards to completing the program?

I am most excited about being on stage with the YOLOs, and performing for family and friends: all those who helped us qualify for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Are there any long term effects you think this program will have on you?

The creative process has taught me a lot; it has given me more confidence in public speaking, and the knowledge that it's okay to aim for less than perfection. These are lessons I will carry with me [after the program has ended], along with engaging my epigastrium for breath support as I bend my knees to relax, and so much more. Thank you, Lyric Opera and Chicago Voices!

A Musical Landscape

July 21, 2017

Miles Comiskey, Blu Rhythm Collective Participant

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.

Transforming Stories into Songs

July 10, 2017

Mike Przygoda, Songwriter

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.

The Hive

July 6, 2017

Cheryl Coons, Animateur for Kuumba Lynx

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.

Time is Of the Essence

June 28, 2017

Derek McPhatter, Scriptwriter

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!

Bravely telling our truth

June 16, 2017

Ricketa “Boss” Davis, Blu Rhythm Collective Participant

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.

What We Agree, What We Entrust

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.

Community Created Performances 2017 Backstage Tour

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The best and wildest of rides.

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 works with members of 2016 Community Created Performances participants The Kirin-Gornick Band to add staging to their original work KUMOVI.

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. 

Another adventure begins.

May 03, 2017

Cheryl Coons, Animateur for Kuumba Lynx

“This doesn’t have to end,” I whispered to myself. “It never has to end.”

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

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.

The votes are in! Meet your three finalists.

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 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.; Blu Rhythm align=


"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.


                                                                                                               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. ; Kuumba Lynx align= 

“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

YOLO Boomers is a group of Northcenter Chicago seniors actively engaged in different forms of creative expression including writing and improvisational acting. ; YOLO Boomers align=



“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.


Production Insights: More than Votes, Semi-Finalists’ Videos Have Stories to Tell

March 10, 2017

Written By: Melissa Fox, fig media inc.

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen," 
~ Winston Churchill

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.

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.
Alexis Pettis of Kuumba Lynx (left) is prepped for her filmed interview by fig media Director Melissa Fox (center). Fig Production Assist and Editor Nicholas Sanchez (right) adjusts his camera in preparation for filming.

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 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: 

Community Created Performances Partner