Chicago Diaries,  Life,  Opera

Theatre in Chicago!

Yes, I know.
It’s been approx. 45 years since I sat down and wrote a blog post and I’ve been behind and I’ve been lazy and [insert apology I don’t really mean here].

I’ve been BUSY! 

Busy creating, busy working, busy crying, busy trying, busy writing other things, busy reading, busy busy busy. 

Just busy living life. 
And that’s something that I’m trying to stop apologizing for. 

I’ve been busy, but right now, I’m not.
Right now I have some time to share a little bit about what my life has been consumed with for the past two months. 

So if you’re interested, here are a few pieces of my heart. 

Let me tell you about how I played a small part in one of the greatest fairytales I’ve ever heard. 

Once upon a time, the most determined, dedicated, and invigorating people I’ve ever known decided to create a theatre company. And they were brave and smart and they were going to carve out a home for themselves in the big, big city of Chicago. 

I left for graduate school and admired all of the things they did from afar for two years and when I finally moved into the big city, I was able to take up arms and join.

In just three (very short) years we were able to write multiple original productions, produce packed stage readings, file and attain our 501c3 status as a non-profit, raise money, find a home in Wicker Park (a hoppin’ neighborhood in Chicago), put on our first production of our first season, and meet our financial goal with our first show. 

That’s no small feat.
And I’m stupid proud of the fact that we did it.
That we’re doing it. 
And we open our second show in February! 

Our first show, THE WOOD was like a modern day fairytale about two people who meet in a magical (maybe demonic?) Wood that takes them on nightmarish adventures, all while offering characters that were fantastical, human, and sweet. 

And we had so many AMAZING designers and artists work on the show and help bring it to life. 
I think all of us fell in love with the puppets from the show.
Like, just LOOK!
They were so COOL. 

Outside of The Impostors and our work I got to dip my toe into more experiences with Chicago Theatre. 

This fall I got to see my first show at the Steppenwolf. Kyle and I went with some friends to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Kyle and I had never seen it before and we were so inspired by how the show used technology to help tell the drama of the story. 

And of course, I found time to sneak into the Lyric to see dress rehearsals of their productions. That lobby still gets me every time I enter into that place.

I also get that same excited feeling in the pit of my stomach when I open a new score. 

A new blank score is like a new notebook full of empty paper. All of the possibilities and potential discoveries that can happen make me so excited and joyful! 

Back in July, I opened my score and started working on Iolanta . This was really my first “official” role with Chicago Opera Theater as a Young Artist. Last year, I was in Elizabeth Cree, but I didn’t really have a role I was just in the ensemble. But this year, I had a principle role in the first Russian opera COT was producing. 

And oh man, I wanted to make the best impression with this role and music. 

When we started staging this production, I immediately felt like I was drowning. Some of these feelings came from my own insecurities and anxieties, but some were firmly planted by counter personalities in the room with me. 

In the places I felt most comfortable (acting, blocking, engaging in the moment on stage, sitzprobe), I felt like a failure. 

How did I get here? This was surely a pity cast. They casted me in this role out of pity. There’s no way I’m good enough for this. They’re never going to hire me back. I’m such an idiot. WHY can’t I just GET THIS RIGHT? Why am I here? I’m definitely not good enough. Wow, I sound horrible. Should I be doing this?

Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life? 

I couldn’t stop.
I was drowning and I couldn’t get myself up again.
I fell hard and I stayed down.
I started to hate what I was doing. 
I didn’t want to sing. 
I felt exhausted. 
I was depressed. 
I cried a lot. 

When I tried to express what I felt, or what I experienced to other people, one response I got back was, “Well, this is a great lesson in how to take negative feedback, or negative responses and turn them into positive things. You know, you have to have the hide of a rhinoceros to be in this business!”

I’m sure the person who told me this meant well.
I’m sure they thought they were helping. 

But they’re not. 

Because as a young singer, I’m still figuring out the ways to be an advocate for myself. I’m still learning how to stand up for what I need as an artist, as a colleague, and as a person. I have had terrible experiences in the arts, with abusive teachers and mentors. And each time, the treatment I endured was explained away by just “being part of the business!”.

Rather than address the fact that I was enduring emotional and verbal abuse from other people, and come to a conclusion on how to fix THAT problem, it somehow becomes *MY* responsibility to take these experiences and just make them positive! 

While this experience was not even close to the worst of my experiences, it definitely fits perfectly inside this pattern. It was just the perfect storm of insecurities, anxieties, and clashing personalities. 

And I learned so much.
The biggest lesson that I learned, that I hope other young singers and artists learn too, is that I am not responsible for the assholes in the room. 
They are not my responsibility. 
I am not required to please them, or appease them. 
I am not required to read their minds, or guess what they want when they are unclear. 
I am only beholden to myself. 
I can only do my best (and my best is all that is required of me). 

All of that being said, this year in this program has been different, because the company is really trying to make things better for the young artists. We’re more involved in the company, we know more about what’s expected of us, and we’re just overall a bigger part in the heart of what COT does. And I love that because I really, really believe in this company and what it’s doing in Chicago. 

We currently have the ONLY female music director of a major opera company IN THE COUNTRY (and she’s so badass and wonderful and encouraging), a diverse administrative staff  (that are ALL equally badass and supportive), and we have a lot of talented artists that are based out of Chicago.
I really love this company.
I really love being a part of its fabric. 

Pro-tip #1: Your colleagues can be some of the most affirming, validating, and supportive people in your life. Lean on them, listen to them, and cherish them. They will be the ones to hold you up when you need it. 

Pro-tip #2: Your significant other probably deserves flowers after dealing with your hot ass mess every night after rehearsals. Shower them in love and affection and appreciation for all that they do for you too. 

In the middle of all of the chaos of Iolanta, Kyle and I went to see Swan Lake (another Tchaikovsky work!) with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. 

We both really love watching dance pieces and we’ve grown to love the Joffrey and we even have our regular seats we like to get when we go, like we are ballet people now wow watch out! 

This was a new production, or a new spin on the classic ballet and it was so inspiring. Artists can learn so, so, SO much from watching or experiencing art outside their field. The way dancers can hold tension on stage with their bodies, or change characters with posture, or gesture to evoke an emotion is so COOL and so electrifying. 

The best remedy I have found for when your heart hurts is to just go see some art. Go to the art museum, go read a book, go watch a good movie, go to the ballet. Go be inspired. Go be reminded why you love this stuff in the first place. Go be a part of a story. 

It helps. 

AAAnnnnnd finally, my favorite Chicago Theatre experience was brought to me by my friends at The Neighborhood.

I would describe The Neighbors are the coolest group of kids from your childhood cul-de-sac, that all decided to pretend to be grown ups.
Just a bunch of big, storytelling hearts in oversized sweaters. 

Kyle and I went to go see their pop-up production of The Swing of the Sea and I had no clue I was walking into a monumental moment of my artistic life. 

First of all, the show was in a yoga studio of a huge gym in Uptown. When we got there, the gym was closed and dark and it felt like kind of an adventure climbing the dark stairway to find the yoga studio? Like it almost felt like breaking the rules a little?
We were in a gym that was closed.
After hours.
To snuggle up in a small room to watch a play.
It was like a cool secret we were privy to and that felt so special?!

The Swing of the Sea tackled heavy topics like suicide and depression,  and The Neighbors handled it with such a raw vulnerability. They didn’t shy away from the hard parts. They weren’t afraid to be human.

They also found humor, and ingenious creativity within their space.
A ladder became a closet and then tree house, coffee filters on strings dangled from the ceiling and suddenly grew into an enveloping forest, flashlights became lighthouses, and popsicle sticks became fences and pathways. 

I think the genius of the Neighbors is their accessibility.
Their art is palpable.
It’s visceral and real and doesn’t feel haughty or aristocratic.

It’s genuine. 

And that’s what I want my art to be too.
I want to make art like The Neighbors.
I want every experience I have with art to be like it was in that small yoga studio, hidden in a gym on the Northside. 


In the season of being grateful, I am so thankful for the art that this city has given me. From museums, to ballets, to operas– there have been so many doors opened to me to experience special moments that art can offer.
To learn from them and be inspired.
To grow. 

It was one of my Resolutions of 2018 to go and see more live theatre.
It’s one of the best and most rewarding goals I’ve set for myself. 
Go see a play. Go support your community. Go break your heart and then put it back together again. Go, go, go!

Light & Love,

Emma 


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