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Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League collaborate for the second year of EmpowerYouth

Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League announced details on the second year of their innovative youth program EmpowerYouth! Igniting Creativity through the Arts. This collaborative program provides Chicago youth an opportunity to learn about the performing arts while creating an original production.

EmpowerYouth! is an academic-yearlong program engaging 30 African-American high school students from Chicago in a process that encourages them to tell their story in their own words. Students meet weekly with professional artists who specialize in acting, composition, vocal training, dance, and writing. At each session, participants take part in a collaborative process that results in an original stage production. This year’s work, We Got Next, will be performed on Friday, May 17, 2019 at 7pm at Truman College located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.

Guiding students as acting coach and stage director is one of Chicago’s theater community leaders, Tony Santiago (About Face Theater, The Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition). Librettist/scriptwriter Derek McPhatter (This App is Not the Business, Bring the Beat Back) and composer/songwriter Paris Ray Dozier (Last Stop On Market Street, Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money) work with participants to incorporate their stories and ideas into the original script and music. Tanji Harper, artistic director of the Chicago youth performance nonprofit The Happiness Club, serves as movement coach and choreographer. Kedrick Armstrong, Project Inclusion Fellow in Conducting with Chicago Sinfonietta and assistant music director of Wheaton College Opera, is music supervisor. Add-2, the founder of Haven Studio and Chicago performing artist serves as rap coach.

Additional team members include Marty McConnell and Mariah Neuroth, co-founders of Appreciative Solutions Group, who serve as facilitators for the program. They are joined by Jonathan Brown, MSW, whose dual role as program coordinator and social worker supports the social-emotional development objectives of the EmpowerYouth!program.

The intent of the EmpowerYouth! program is to support young people in telling their stories as young, Black Chicagoans. The current production aims to tell the story of a day in their lives, outside of the school setting, dealing with issues that are pertinent to them. Themes of friendship, the value of having a community, making big decisions about their futures, and dealing with conflict are all are present. Music – including singing and rap, acting, and dance, will all play a prominent role in the final performance.

The final performance of the EmpowerYouth! students will take place at Truman College on May 17 at 7pm. Tickets are free but require a reservation. Reservations can be made by calling Lyric’s Audience Services department at 312.827.5600 and are subject to availability.

EmpowerYouth! is a program jointly planned and administered by Lyric Unlimited, Lyric’s education and community engagement arm, and the Chicago Urban League. This year’s production represents the continued commitment of Lyric Unlimited and the Chicago Urban League to work with Chicago youth to create an original performance while offering exposure and opening avenues to careers in the arts. In addition to the intensive weekly sessions, EmpowerYouth! students attended the finals for Young Chicago Authors Louder Than A Bomb at the Auditorium Theater, Rightlyndat Victory Gardens Theater, and a performance of the opera La traviata at Lyric Opera of Chicago. They also met rising opera star Zoie Reams, a native Chicagoan, who sang the role of Flora in La traviata.

“We are pleased to partner with Lyric Opera to provide high school students with this exceptional opportunity to learn from, work and co-create with leaders in Chicago’s theater community for the second year in a row,” said Barbara Lumpkin, Interim President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “Through this unique educational experience, our students have the chance to incorporate their personal life experiences growing up in their Chicago communities into a real stage production that also lets them showcase their many talents. We are deeply grateful to Lyric Opera for the continued collaboration and to Truman College for lending its stage for this year’s performance.”

“It is so exciting to see the second year unfold for this incredibly special program” said Cayenne Harris, vice president of Lyric Unlimited. ”In its first year, EmpowerYouth!participants exceeded all of our expectations through the process of creating an original opera presented on stage at the Lyric Opera House. This year the creativity of our youth is felt deeply through every aspect of the creation process. We all look forward to the final performance for this year’s young artists, and to continuing the program next season.”

About Lyric Unlimited

Lyric Unlimited is a long-term, evolving initiative that encompasses company activities that are not part of Lyric’s mainstage opera season. Its mission is to provide a relevant cultural service to communities throughout the Chicago area and to advance the development of opera by exploring how opera as an art form can resonate more powerfully with people of multiple backgrounds, ethnicities, and interests. It also leads the development of innovative partnerships with a wide range of cultural, community, and educational organizations to create a breadth of programming through which Chicagoans of all ages can connect with Lyric. In the 2017/18 season, more than 95,000 individuals participated in Lyric Unlimited programs.

For more information about Lyric Unlimited program offerings, visit

About the Chicago Urban League

Established in 1916, the Chicago Urban League is a civil rights organization that empowers and inspires individuals to reach and exceed their economic potential.  The Chicago Urban League supports and advocates for economic, educational and social progress for African-Americans through our agenda focused exclusively on economic empowerment as the key driver for social change. For more information, visit

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s mission is to express and promote the life-changing, transformational, revelatory power of great opera. Lyric exists to provide a broad, deep, and relevant cultural service to Chicago and the nation, and to advance the development of the art form.

Founded in 1954, Lyric is dedicated to producing and performing consistently thrilling, entertaining, and thought-provoking opera with a balanced repertoire of core classics, lesser-known masterpieces, and new works; to creating an innovative and wide-ranging program of community engagement and educational activities; and to developing exceptional emerging operatic talent.

Under the leadership of general director, president & CEO Anthony Freud, music director Sir Andrew Davis, and creative consultant Renée Fleming, Lyric strives to become The Great North American Opera Company for the 21st century: a globally significant arts organization embodying the core values of excellence, relevance, and fiscal responsibility.

To learn more about Lyric’s current and upcoming season, go to You can also join the conversation with @LyricOpera on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. #Lyric1819 #Lyric1920  #LongLivePassion

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


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