Chicago Diaries,  Life,  Opera

Elizabeth Cree


Y’ALL! It’s been about two weeks since I made my *official* professional Chicago debut with Chicago Opera Theater!!!!! AHHHHH!!!!!!!

~Cue Dance Party~

While I talk a lot about my life, my home, and my cats, I’m not sure that I’ve ever really explained to y’all about my day to day life as a young artist in Chicago. What a better time than the present?

About a year ago, I flew to Chicago from Rochester to audition at Roosevelt for this program.
I auditioned and sang for a few people that run the program and the opera company.
A few months later, I heard that I was accepted and I was ELATED.

This particular program is a two year, post graduate program and it’s freeeee!!
Once the two years are up, I’ll get a nifty little certificate to frame next to my other diplomas.

The best part is that I’m kind of still a student and kind of not.
Like, I can take out student loans, I get sweet student discounts, and I have a free CTA pass (so DOPE).
But I’m not taking any classes.
Instead of classes, I take lessons and coachings with Roosevelt faculty during the week.

The only thing I do at school is sing.
(Isn’t that so cool WOW!)

Then, the frosting on top of this already bomb cake, is that on occasion I have contracts (real-life-they-pay-me kind of contracts) with Chicago Opera Theater. When these contracts start, I’m a full time employee (so no school at ALL) of the opera company and I go in for rehearsals every day and costume fittings and stagings and then I get to perform!

My first contract started in January, for Elizabeth Cree, a new opera! It was first premiered by Opera Philadelphia and then it was literally transplanted here in Chicago.
(Yeah!!! I performed in the Chicago Premiere of an opera!!! As my first professional gig!! Y’aaaaaaaalll!!!!)
It’s a piece composed and written by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell.
(Kevin Puts is an Eastman graduate. He was literally at Eastman while I was there, premiering a cycle of songs with Renée Fleming!). The opera is about a woman, Elizabeth Cree, who is on trial for the murder of her husband. It’s got murder, vaudevillian roots, and a complex female lead.

Before I even walked into our first rehearsal, I was HELLA nervous!
Each ensemble member/performer has to come to the first rehearsal with their music learned (and pretty much memorized).
I don’t know why, but this made me so nervous!
I was up early every day for like two weeks leading up to our first rehearsal, trying to memorize my score.
I didn’t want to make a bad impression and I really wanted to have a good experience with this production! So I worked really hard and by the third rehearsal, I finally relaxed a little and felt like I was having fun.
Sometimes our own expectations can be so high and perfectionism can be so toxic, that we forget to just enjoy and love every minute of the process (or at least I do sometimes). This first jump into the professional world was a really great lesson for me. A lesson in believing in myself and in enjoying my work!


Our days would start with rehearsals normally beginning around 10/11am at the Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago. I’m obsessed with this building.
It’s historically beautiful, important, and just a little piece of Chicago magic.
For instance, once upon a time, it was the tallest building in Chicago! (Which is completely hilarious when you compare it to the Hancock Building or just about any other building downtown.)

In our rehearsal space, we had props and costume pieces for the show. I loved the newspapers!

One of the reasons I love the Fine Arts Building is because it has so many hidden gems.
Take the elevator (with an actual elevator operator) and go to the 9th floor, where you’ll find a music store, with scores and sheet music.
Go to the second floor and you’ll find this new and used bookstore, The Dial Bookshop. I definitely fell in love with this bookstore and I’d spend lunch breaks looking through the stacks and running my fingers over the spines of Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion.

As if getting paid to work in a cool building, doing what I love the most wasn’t enough, I also scored a free pair of jeans from Zipfit denim! The company came to rehearsal one day, had each of the cast members try on various pairs of jeans, and then marked how we wanted them hemmed and gave them to us a few weeks later!

THEN, we all got to take part in this cute as hell photo shoot to show off our cute as hell denim jeans (taken by Who Is She Photography).
Like, sign me up all the time pls.


After about three weeks of rehearsals, we moved into the Studebaker Theater on the first floor of the Fine Arts Building.
This space was originally a show room for Studebaker cars!
The stage actually had ramps that led up from backstage, because that’s how they would drive the cars up for display.
And they’re currently renovating the theater! New seats were just put in and they have a bunch of other renovations planned for the space.

Once we moved into the space, we started to add things like technology (shadow projections), lighting, spacing out the staging on the actual stage, and costume pieces!

My makeup was super ~*gLaMoRoUs*~!

When we started having dress rehearsals, I began to bring my Instax camera with me. I’d catch people in between scenes, after quick changes to take their picture in costume. I loved taking these pictures so much because everyone was so excited about it and in character.

I always try and write everyone in the cast a little love letter for the closing night show and this time I included the individual’s picture with the card!


After 5 weeks of rehearsals and three shows, we closed Elizabeth Cree on February 18th.
These people were the greatest teachers, friends, and cast mates. From always reminding one another of the correct side to enter on, to trekking through a literal blizzard to the train after rehearsal, these people were so supportive, fun, and encouraging. Really grateful I had the opportunity to work with these souls and learn from them.

Since graduating last May, I’ve found myself struggling to get out of “student” mode and into an “artist” mindset. I find that I’m looking for approval and permission from mentors and teachers, rather than just being brave and bold and making my own artistic choices, for myself. It’s hard! It’s hard when you’re breaking out of educational institutions and throwing yourself completely out into the middle of the ocean. But these people reminded me of the joy that I find in working on characters, singing music, and developing stories on stage. It’s really invigorating to be around inspiring, loving, and talented people. I feel like I’ve learned more from them in 5 weeks than I did in an entire semester of some of my graduate courses (lookin’ @ you bibliography).

Life, man! Sometimes it can be so hard, and other times it just literally glitters and vibrates with everything good and wonderful that you’ve worked for. (Just remember to breathe and laugh a little on the way.)

Light & Love & Opera,

Emma

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