April 28, 2020

Building community online with EmpowerYouth!

How do we create community when we physically can't be together? When one of the ongoing goals of Lyric is to create community in our opera house, with partners across the city and with our students, youth, and families, Lyric has been brainstorming the ways we can do this in virtual formats. While we know the road ahead will require continued flexibility and creative thinking (which we love doing!), we are excited to share that Lyric's Learning and Creative Engagement team has figured out how to adapt one of our programs to the needs of the current times. 

Through teamwork, collaboration with our ongoing partners, and the passion of our teens and program facilitators, EmpowerYouth!: Igniting Creativity Through the Arts has been ushered into the digital realm and will continue its weekly sessions.  

Lyric's EmpowerYouth! program is a partnership with the Chicago Urban League that immerses high school students in the creation and performance of an original production. It's a year-long program where students work with big-name artists in the community and present a final performance that depicts their collective stories as young Black Chicagoans. While this group can no longer meet in person or produce a final performance like they were planning to in June, the students did not want their year's work to go to waste.

EmpowerYouth! is continuing virtually each Wednesday night, offering its students an online community with their peers where they are able to continue learning about the process of creating art from some of the most prominent names in Chicago performing arts. For example, one week may feature a half-hour dance lesson from Tanji Harper, returning EmpowerYouth! choreographer and Artistic Director of The Happiness Club, and the next week the students will learn how to craft an aria from Kedrick Armstrong, conducting fellow at Chicago Sinfonietta. This new virtual format also offers a way for our participants to maintain important mentor relationships with the incredible EmpowerYouth! staff team.

Canceling wasn't an option that we entertained, we just strategized on how to make the program work.

Angela Hamilton, Community Programs Coordinator

Here is what Lyric’s Community Programs Coordinator, Angela Hamilton, had to say about continuing EmpowerYouth! virtually: “Canceling wasn't an option that we entertained, we just strategized on how to make the program work. We felt it was important to encourage the participants to keep the community that we created and to lean on each other during this difficult time. In order to keep some aspect of normalcy for the participants, we have weekly zoom calls that include the same check-in and warm-up process that we did in person. We have modules each week that cover acting, dancing, music, and design. The key has been communication.”

Interested in learning more about EmpowerYouth!'s move online? We invite you to read NewCity Stage's feature article, "Lyric Opera Empowers Youth During COVID-19", and hear from our Lyric Unlimited Interim Director, Crystal Coats, as she delves into the process of integrating this program online. 

While we’re not able to be physically together right now, we can’t wait to welcome students, families, and the community back to Lyric soon. 

Engage with Lyric

Learn about all the ways you can engage with Lyric online by visiting our Lyric Lately Blog. 

EmpowerYouth! Igniting Creativity through the Arts is made possible by support from The Beaubien Family, the Eisen Family Foundation, Dan J. Epstein, Judy Guitelman and the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, Eric and Deb Hirschfield, the Lauter McDougal Charitable Fund, and the Thierer Family Foundation.

Photos: Kyle Flubacker