“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times” – Nina Simone
The opening of the Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement this spring heralded the beginning of new programming at the Goodman. Walter Director of Education and Engagement Willa Taylor and Wonderful Town music director Doug Peck gathered 24 high school students from across the Chicagoland area to pilot a new summer Musical Theater Intensive program. The above quote from Nina Simone served as guiding spirit and rallying cry as the students explored material from Hello, Dolly! to Hamilton, as well as a bold original composition by student Maya Lopez.
Peck and Taylor recruited a team of accomplished, politically awakened artists to help lead this inaugural year, including Mark Jacob Chaitin (director and acting coach), William Carlos Angulo and Sayiga Eugene Peabody (choreographers), Matthew Hunter (vocal arrangements) and Pedro Castillo (writing workshops). Acclaimed theater artists like War Paint lyricist Scott Frankel and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, Tony Award-winning actors Jessie Mueller and Billy Porter, Kevin Carolan, Molly Brennan and Malic White also shared their wisdom and experience with the students in special master classes. Former Chi-Arts students Kendra Turner and KZ Wilkerson rounded out the team as interns, bringing a younger perspective much appreciated by the students.
The program was dedicated to studying the intersections of music and story, theater and politics. In individual acting, singing and dancing classes, students broke open songs and lyrics, both familiar and unknown, examining the pieces and structures microscopically like scientists, and then pieced them back together as artists. Musical theater today utilizes all styles of music. Whether singing pop, opera, jazz, gospel or rap, students always started with analyzing story. The songs they studied together inspired, challenged, healed and changed students and faculty alike.
The program culminated on August 14 with a showcase titled My Voice, presented on the Goodman’s Owen Stage. The title came from a prompt from guest teacher McKenzie Chinn, who asked the students to write a four to six-line piece about what their voice means to them. Their responses provided connective tissue between songs that embodied Simone’s golden ideal as they reflected the social, personal and political content in violence, education, parenting, love, abuse, dreaming, sexuality, creation, fairy tales, history, loss, addiction, artistry and self-expression.
The new Musical Theater Intensive is an exciting addition to the Education and Engagement programming at the Goodman. We look forward to nurturing the incredible work of these amazing young artists and many more like them who are bravely reflecting our times as they dream of a better future.