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 chicagovoices.org/ccp.

Stay in tune: Join the Mailing List

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 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 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 









Chicago Sings: Andrew W. Mellon Coverage of the Chicago Voices Initiative

December 16, 2016

Read the complete article online on the Mellon Foundation website

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, we support exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.

( ... continued from Mellon.orgSusan Feder, Mellon Foundation program officer for Arts and Cultural Heritage states that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has worked with Lyric for 30 years and Anthony Freud, who arrived as Lyric's general director in 2011 after holding similar positions at the Welsh National Opera and Houston Grand Opera, has a proven track record in expanding an opera company's reach beyond its own walls. 

“The level of engagement with community members on such a large scale is unprecedented,” said Freud. “It is a clear indication of the direction min which major cultural institutions such as Lyric should be moving to provide a depth and breadth of service to our community, and to reflect the multitude of voices who define who we are as a city.”

“He was a trusted partner with a vision we had faith he could manage,” said Feder. The faith has paid off in various ways for the project’s three finalists.

“We did things we had never done before,” said Joseph Kirin, who helped found Kirin-Gornick Band approximately a decade ago. Like most band members, he is the latest generation in his family to play Eastern European folk music and instruments as a way to keep their centuries-old folk culture alive.

“They had us write out our stories,” said Kirin. “Then the musical director would say, ‘Take your instrument and improvise something underneath that story.’ We had never done that. They’d say, ‘Make up a story, and you have to tell the whole story in one minute. Now tell that story in 30 seconds, 15 seconds, five seconds.’ They were teaching us that you can tell a story in a very short amount of time. You can knock a lot of the fat off.”

“This was life-changing for all of us, to realize that we are one of Chicago’s voices,” said Marge Nykaza, a pastoral musician and teacher who founded Harmony, Hope & Healing in 2002. Using music to promote social justice, the group works with more than 800 Chicagoans through choruses and music programs it sponsors.

“We were so used to doing it ourselves” said Tekki Lomnicki, Tellin’ Tales Theatre’s cofounder and artistic director. “I personally needed to step back and see how our stories are seen through a fresh eye. I especially loved that the composer used our own words to create the songs. We had to write in a journal, and they had an intern transcribe all of our journals.”

The theater pieces developed with Lyric now belong to each group. Feder hopes they will have a life beyond the single September 24 performance, and that the groups will present them throughout Chicago.

“We didn’t know how this would land for people,” said Kirin. “We expect that someone who is Croatian and Serbian to say they love it. It’s their culture.” But he was surprised that the diverse audience at the Harris were moved by their stories and music as well.

“We were just being ourselves, about our life and our expression of it. That’s what may have really hit home to people, that it was real.”


Participating groups in the 2016 Chicago Voices Community Created Performances take their final curtain call at the Harris Theater in September, 2016. Chicago VOices Community Created Performances will also open to community theater groups in 2017 

Community Created Performances Partner

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