Chicago Children's Theatre Spreads Hope, Builds Dreams with West Loop School Partnerships
Chicago Children's Theatre has launched a unique series of community engagement projects with schools and children's service organizations in or near Chicago's West Loop - exciting examples of what's to come in January when Chicago's largest professional theater devoted to children and families opens its first-ever permanent home, Chicago Children's Theatre, The Station, in the neighborhood's former 12th District Police Station, 100 S. Racine Avenue.
First is a school-wide partnership already underway with Skinner West Elementary, a CPS school located two blocks from The Station. Titled "Messages of Hope," the project links three initiatives designed to "platform" more than 1,000 Skinner West first through eighth graders as authors of the future.
"The Messages of Hope project with our new neighbors at Skinner West showcases our dedication to neighborhood engagement and collaboration," said Frank Maugeri, Community Programs Artistic Director, Chicago Children's Theatre.
"This project demonstrates and enhances our in-school residency model, is already producing exciting new technologies to be used in feature endeavors and continues the development of our partnerships with emerging artists, designers and the next generation of theater makers."
Photos of the Future
Before Thanksgiving, Chicago Children's Theatre photographed every Skinner student from first to fifth grade for its Photos of the Future project, which combines state-of-the-art technology, do-it-yourself ingenuity and broad student involvement to portray Skinner's students as citizens of a better world.
The portraits, shot by professional photographer Evan Barr in front of a green screen, had each student wearing a simple costume and wielding whimsical props created by Chicago theater artist Kass Copeland. In post-production, the green screen is being digitally replaced with colorful environmental backgrounds by professional illustrator Mike Coons.
In the end, each grade level will have its own signature Messages of Hope environment.
For example, Skinner's first graders were photographed playing with a futuristic gardening can, and each student's photo will be superimposed over an illustrated flower garden setting.
Third graders pumped an antique bellow during their photo shoot to create the effect of blowing clouds across a blue sky.
Skinner's fifth grade students wore whimsical nautical helmets during their photos, which will be integrated with an undersea adventure explorer setting.
The finished Photos of the Future series will debut in January as part of the Grand Opening festivities at Chicago Children's Theatre, The Station. The photo series will rotate on a 50" LCD screen in the lobby of The Station for all guests to see.
Additionally, Chicago video projection designer Liviu Pasare is collaborating with Maugeri to create custom technology that will randomly project the oversized Photos of the Future occasionally onto select banks of windows on the northeast exterior of Chicago Children's Theatre, The Station. The six windows will most often be inhabited by the environmental illustrations accomplished by Mike Coon in collaboration with Pasare.
Photos of the Future, the first in a series of planned window projection projects under the "Station Break" banner, will begin appearing evenings only after the first of the year.
The photo series will run on the building's exterior through Grand Opening events in January, February and into the spring.
The Time Capsule
In addition, Skinner's first through fifth graders are writing messages on scrolls that express their dreams and wishes for the world.
During Grand Opening festivities in January, these messages of hope will be rolled, tied and placed in a Time Capsule to be buried in the heart of The Station.
After serving as the building's "Dream Battery" for the next 50 years, the Time Capsule will be opened in 2067, ideally with some of Skinner's students present as adults to see if their messages of hope came true.
The Mantra Project
While Skinner's first through fifth graders participate in Photos of the Future and fill the Time Capsule with messages of hope, the school's sixth, seventh and eighth graders are participating in the Mantra Project.
In brief, the school's upperclassmen are being asked to imagine what they would write if they were to craft the philosophies that drive the world of the future.
To begin, Skinner West seventh grade teacher Jennifer Christiansen led a series of workshops about different forms of mantras and belief statements and their historical impact. Real world examples included "Keep Calm and Carry On" World War II posters, and seminal quotes from Henry David Thoreau, Stevie Wonder, JK Rowling and Alexander Hamilton.
Then, the students considered the challenges they face today, brainstormed their own personal belief statements, and expanded and generalized those mantras to apply to their community, their city and the world.
Each resulting mantra will be printed on postcards with a portrait of its author, positioning Skinner's upperclassmen as both the faces and creators of the future. When complete, the Mantra Project postcards will be displayed in The Station lobby.
Introducing The Dream Box Project
In addition to its work at Skinner West, CCT's new Dream Box project, presented through a partnership with the Kaboom! Play Everywhere Project, is a creative collaboration with students at three more schools located in or near the West Loop - Suder Montessori Magnet School (2022 W. Washington St.), R. Nathaniel Dett Elementary School (2131 W. Monroe St.) and William H. Brown Public School (54 N. Hermitage Ave.) - plus Mercy Home for Boys and Girls (1140 W. Randolph Blvd.)
"The Dream Box project aims to elevate children as the authors of our city, and inspire them to imagine what the urban future could look like," said Maugeri.
He launched the project this fall by leading conversations with students at each Dream Box partner location to spur their imaginations and understand their dreams, visions and beliefs about the future. The children's creative imaginings were collected and provided to noted Chicago visual artists including Kass Copeland, Andres Lemus-Spont and CoCo Ree Lemery, who realized their innovative ideas in miniature scale.
The result will be four Dream Boxes, created in collaboration with the Chicago design firm Cannon Design, which resemble post-modern, outdoor mailboxes.
Each contains a diorama inside with a "peek show" viewing slit to see what lies inside - a miniature, future world from the minds of Chicago children. Each Dream Box also includes a side slot to hold Mantra Project postcards authored by students at Skinner West.
Maugeri created a fifth Dream Box to complete the series. When finished, they will be placed in various indoor locations in the West Loop and surrounding at-risk communities. When warmer weather arrives, the Dream Boxes will travel to outdoor sites throughout the city, bringing Chicagoans together through free public art throughout the summer.
Now created, the Dream Box structures will also live on for lasting, long-term community impact, as the art inside can be updated or changed with new themes by new sets of students.
Chicago Children's Theatre received initial funding for the Dream Box project from KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, via the 2016 KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge - a competition to create healthier, kid-friendly cities by supporting community-driven solutions that integrate play into everyday life and unexpected places - sidewalks, vacant lots, bus stops, open streets and beyond.
About Chicago Children's Theatre, The Station
Now nearly complete and set to open in January, the adaptive reuse of the former police station at 100 S. Racine, aka "The Station," is Phase One of what will eventually be the new, expanded footprint for Chicago Children's Theatre.
Chicago Children's Theatre is calling its new home The Station in homage to its history as a former police station, and to underscore the building's focus on education and community engagement.
This first phase encompasses five classrooms, a dedicated, year round space for Red Kite interactive theater for students with autism, a lobby with box office and concessions, the flexible, 149-seat Pritzker Family Studio Theatre and support space.
Phase Two will be completed in 2020, and will boast an all-new addition to the building, anchored by a second, 299-seat theater for the company's mainstage programming.
"After a decade of staging awe-inducing productions and educational programs at museums, theaters and other venues throughout the city and suburbs, Chicago Children's Theatre is beginning a new chapter," said Jacqueline Russell, Co-Founder and Artistic Director. "At last we are moving into a space of our own, where we will create a centrally located, dynamic new family destination for all of Chicago's children and families, regardless of their circumstances or ability to pay."
In sum, The Station will be a new destination for all of Chicago's children to immerse themselves in inclusion, unique arts education, community galvanizing, diversity and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) curricula.
To that end, Chicago Children's Theatre is already utilizing Chicago's finest theater and visual artists, as well as partnering with renowned institutions to offer courses and camps for children ages 0 to 14. The first eight-week session launches Monday, February 6, 2017. Registration is now open at chicagochildrenstheatre.com/education for classes in storytelling, modern movement, hip hop, aerial and circus arts and vocal instruction.
"This former police station will now be used to amplify hope, explore personal identity and promote creative expression. Our intention for this space is that its educational programming be as diverse as our city and as unique as its children," said Frank Maugeri, Community Programs Artistic Director, Chicago Children's Theatre, who will lead all curricula, teaching artists and community partnerships with The Station.
"We are excited and privileged to be transforming The Station in the now vibrant West Loop neighborhood into a new civic hub for theater, art making, learning and community galvanizing."
Wheeler Kearns Architects, a Chicago firm led by Larry Kearns, principal, has been collaborating with associate architect Melissa Neel, Working Group One Architects, to create a new facility for Chicago Children's Theatre that emphasizes accessibility and transparency to the community. Theater planning is by Schuler Shook. Pepper Construction is the general contractor.
While Chicago Children's Theatre is offering courses, camps, family experiences and more inside The Station starting in February, the company's 2016-17 mainstage productions will continue to be presented at CCT's current performance home, the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.
Since its launch in 2005, Chicago Children's Theatre has cemented its reputation as the city's largest professional theater company devoted exclusively to children and young families. The company evolved out of Chicago's need for high-quality, professional year-round children's programming to match the quality and significance of theatrical powerhouses such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre and Lookingglass Theatre. Likewise, CCT has always believed children should be treated as the sophisticated audiences that they are, showcasing high profile and award-winning talent, inventive production values and compelling stories that challenge, educate and entertain. CCT has always honored a strong commitment to low-income families and children with special needs. In partnership with Chicago Public Schools, the company offers free tickets to more than 5,000 Chicago-area low-income students each season. Meanwhile, the company has pioneered immersive theater designed for children on the autism spectrum via its Red Kite Project, and recently expanded programming for children with impaired vision or hearing and Down's syndrome. Chicago Children's Theatre also offers a full roster of after school theater classes and summer camps. Led by Co-Founders, Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell and Board Chair Todd Leland, along with new Community Programs Artistic Director Frank Maugeri, Chicago Children's Theatre is supported by a dynamic Board of Directors comprised of dedicated individuals from the fields of entertainment, philanthropy and business. Officers include Jeff Hughes, President; Lynn Lockwood Murphy, Vice Chair and Secretary; David Saltiel, Vice Chair; and David Chung, Treasurer. For more information, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org or call (773) 227-0180.