NBC's 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL, School #12 - University of Chicago Charter School, Chicago

NBC's 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL, School #12 - University of Chicago Charter School, Chicago

School #12: University of Chicago Charter School, Woodlawn Campus

Chicago, IL

Reported by: Cindy Ripley, iTheatrics Senior Education Associate, Resident Master Teacher

February 3, 2012

This morning I was excited as I set out to visit the University of Chicago Charter School.  As I gave the hotel desk clerk the destination for my cab, he said, “Have a nice day, Ms. Ripley” and added a weighted, “Be careful!”  As my driver pulled up to UChicago Charter School, he announced he would wait until I entered the building and waved to him before he would depart.  These moments made me wonder if the kids I was about to meet would be different from the amazing kids I have met in similar schools around the country.

Powerful.  This school is powerful.  The entire student body (550 students) comes together daily for circle time in their auditorium, to recite their school creed in unison, which smoothly transitions into a student celebration of announcements from the principal (i.e. college acceptances, special announcements, etc.). It is incredibly powerful that this positive, connecting affirmation happens daily and perhaps even more routinely than sitting down to breakfast.This group, with an amazing amount of talent, was “over the moon” about starting something that has never happened at UChicago Charter School – a full-fledged musical!  The team is led by Mike Jones, Executive Director of Professional Theatre and Dance Youth Academy, with Ahava Silkey, Director of Professional Dance at UChicago Charter School, Shawn Wallace, music director, performer and teacher, Dantriell Houston, assistant director and choreographer and Jessica Hallum, guest choreographer.  The school’s  dream of creating a sustainable musical theater program to unify students, staff and community is about to become a reality because of NBC’s ‘SMASH’ MAKE A MUSICAL.  These Southside students attend one of 20 schools nationwide picked for the first round of this program. Powerful.

My tour was impressive.  They have a grand lady of an auditorium complete with an abundant balcony - vintage early 1900s.  This old, elegant girl is just waiting for lights and sound that won’t trip breakers, maybe new seats with some degree of comfort added, but my, oh my, does she have “good bones!”

Our enthusiastic and welcoming team met in the dance studio – a former Dean of Students office transformed by a wall of mirrors and a marley floor.  Once a place to discipline students, it is now a space to create artists.

Eighteen kids joined me in a room that seemed more like a home to them than a classroom.  They quickly digested the fundamental tools of staging and fully realized these ideas in unique and creative stage tableaux.  They soared through my dance and music chapters with laughter and energy as they transformed into imaginary characters.

A student, Shameeka, told me that what happened in this space was her “identity.”  A choice that obviously is a calling for this young lady.  Another student, Adoniace, told the local news reporters that he is the kind of guy who keeps to himself and being onstage lets him express himself.  He is also a football player and has begun studying ballet to help with flexibility.

I was lucky to share lunch with the stellar UChicago Charter School team.  Their working relationship made me want to cancel my flight and join the production team.  They are all magnets of charisma to everyone who comes in contact with them.  After lunch, they called their good friend “Fox,” a driver who they guaranteed would happily take me to O’Hare (his business card read: FOX, “the Ride of a Lifetime”).  Fox is an advocate for Woodlawn kids, is a dad himself, and couldn’t contain his excitement about the ride these students were about to go on with NBC’s ‘SMASH’ MAKE A MUSICAL.

I know University of Chicago Charter School is in for “the Ride of a Lifetime.”  They have yet to realize how powerful they will really be.

“NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make A Musical” program is administered by iTheatrics under the supervision of Timothy Allen McDonald.  For more information, or to apply to become a part of the program, logon to www.MAKEAMUSICAL.ORG.