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EmpowerYouth! Igniting Creativity through the Arts begins its third year through Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League

The Chicago Urban League and Lyric Opera of Chicago  kicked off the third year of their innovative youth program, EmpowerYouth! Igniting Creativity through the Arts, earlier this month. This collaborative program provides Chicago youth an opportunity to learn about the performing arts while creating an original production.

EmpowerYouth! is a year-long program engaging 30 African-American high school students from Chicago in a process that encourages them to tell their story in their own words. The 2019|20 admitted participants are part of an all-time high in program applicants, including 13 who are returning from last year. Students will meet weekly with professional artists who specialize in acting, composition, vocal training, dance, and writing. Throughout the program, participants take part in a collaborative process that will result in an original stage production. This year’s work will be performed on Thursday, June 4, 2020 at Kennedy-King College. Kennedy-King is a part of the City Colleges of Chicago.

Guiding students as the program’s acting mentor and stage director is one of Chicago’s theater community leaders, Regina Victor (Breach:…, To Catch A Fish, A Persephone Pageant), who was recently named one of Windy City Times’ “30 Queer Leaders Under 30” and New City Stage’s “Chicago Players 2019: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago.” Tanji Harper, artistic director of the Chicago youth performance nonprofit The Happiness Club, will serve as the movement mentor and choreographer for the third year. Kedrick Armstrong, Project Inclusion Fellow in Conducting with Chicago Sinfonietta and assistant music director of Wheaton College Opera, will also return as music mentor and music supervisor. Librettist/scriptwriter Kristiana Rae Colόn (good friday, florissant & canfield, Octagon, but i cd only whisper, Tilikum) and composer/songwriter Adrian Dunn (Hopera: A Hip Hop Opera, Revelations: A collection of spirituals & gospel songs in seeking justice for Black lives) will work with participants to incorporate their stories and ideas into the original script and music.

Jacob Watson, an experienced program facilitator and recent graduate of Harvard University’s Masters in Arts Education program (Tellin’ Tales Theatre, Project Zero, FYI Performance Company, Redmoon, Center for Community Arts Partnerships at Columbia College Chicago), will serve as the facilitator for the program.

The intent of the EmpowerYouth! program is to support young people in telling their stories as young, Black Chicagoans. The final performance will be fully assembled by the students, with the guidance of the professional artistic staff, that will tell the story of their lives and how they deal with issues that are pertinent to them. Music — including singing, rap, acting, and dance — will all play a prominent role in the final performance.

EmpowerYouth! is a program jointly planned and administered by Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League. This year’s production represents the continued commitment of Lyric and the Chicago Urban League to offer exposure to the performing arts for Chicago Black youth, as well as a deeper understanding of the value and impact of their collective voices. In addition to the intensive weekly sessions, EmpowerYouth! students will also attend theater and music productions across the city, including attending The Barber of Seville on Lyric’s own main stage.

“The Chicago Urban League serves about 1,300 youth each year, and one of the things we often see is limited access to opportunity, including in the arts,” said Barbara Lumpkin, Interim President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “This partnership with Lyric provides an amazing opportunity for high school students in the neighborhoods we serve to be exposed to new experiences, meet and learn from leaders in Chicago’s theater community, and draw from their own experiences to showcase their talents. We are deeply grateful to Lyric for this ongoing collaboration.”

“I’m more confident. I’m able to branch out more [because of this program],” said Reshay Thompson, a 2018|19 EmpowerYouth! program student. “Once you do EmpowerYouth!, they make sure they stay connected to what you do next.”

“It is exciting to see the third year unfold for this incredibly special program,” said Cayenne Harris, vice president of Lyric Unlimited. “EmpowerYouth! participants have exceeded all of our expectations these past two years, through the process of creating an original opera. We all look forward to see where our 2019/20 program students will take EmpowerYouth! this year.”