CPS TheatreFest Goes Virtual
DISTRICT | March 13, 2021
CPS TheatreFest Goes Virtual

On a snowy Saturday morning, more than 75 CPS elementary and high school students came together to celebrate each other’s accomplishments in the world of theatre and learn about planning for their next steps as aspiring actors, singers, lighting designers, and sound technicians. While TheatreFest typically takes place on a college campus, the virtual premise didn’t stop students from meeting representatives from 13 universities—both in Illinois and across the country. 

After being greeted with show tunes from Hairspray, students had the opportunity to attend three theatre-based workshops to help them hone their skills. 

In one workshop, Northeastern Illinois University instructor Leslie Hull taught students about how to master the art of accents and dialects. Do you know the difference? An accent is how you speak another language, while a dialect is how you speak your native language from your own region. 

While it’s easy to think of voice acting as simply mimicking what is heard, Hull explained that listening is only a piece of mastering an unfamiliar accent or dialect.

“The best dialecticians I know are sponges,” said Hull. “They’re out there in the world trying to always seek out new people and learn from them.” 

Students also had the opportunity to learn about different technical careers in theatre from Myron Elliott and Erin Freeman, assistant professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Elliott and Freeman outlined dozens of potential careers in theatre, explaining how each role fits into the larger production and sharing lots of fun facts along the way. For example, a foley artist is responsible for creating sound effects to enhance theatre productions. Their tool for creating the sound of people walking through snow? Styrofoam packing peanuts. How about bones breaking? Celery.

While both professors made sure to outline the unique skill set required for each role, they also noted how each member of the team will almost always work with many other people to create the best possible production. 

“All of the roles in theatre are kind of like soap bubbles,” said Freeman. “Every bubble has its distinct shape, but it also fits up against and works with the rest of the bubbles in that pile. A solo bubble won’t accomplish as much as a pile.”

Students had the opportunity to work together while learning about playwriting from Northeastern Illinois University instructor John Bliss. To drive home the point that the action in theatre is just as important as the dialogue, Bliss asked students to pair up for an activity called Ten Lines of Action. Students alternated writing lines to create their own short scene. Afterward, Bliss provided insight into how that scene might be brought to life on stage.

Sam J. and Sydney G., students at Coonley Elementary in North Center, created the following scene: 

A woman enters a room and walks over to her bed.
She turns on her lamp.
She pulls her phone out of her pocket.
She types in her password.
She opens text messages.
She looks through her old text messages of her and her ex-best friend.
She throws her phone across the room.
She walks over to her phone to make sure it’s not broken.
She sees she cracked her phone and starts crying.
She leaves the room still crying with her broken phone in hand. 

Bliss explained that learning to write plays is exactly like learning how to play sports—the only way to get better is to do it. On top of writing plays, he said you can also improve by reading plays, seeing plays, and acting in plays. He also encouraged students to develop inspiration for plays by observing the world around them. 

TheatreFest came to an exciting conclusion by announcing the winners of the district-wide musical number, monologue, and two-person scene contests. In total, 15 students from six schools won awards, and ChiArts High School won the award for the best overall team. You can watch all of the winning entries below.

Need more art in your life? Check out the district’s All-City Senior Portfolio Exhibition here.