We're Back at Chicago Children's Theatre with GRRL Power!

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We are so excited to be back at Chicago Children’s Theatre for the second summer in a row! We sat down with education director Dexter Ellis to talk GRRL Power and summer at CCT.

TVP: Why did you want to have a program like GRRL power at CCT?

Dexter: There are a million reasons why Chicago Children's Theatre is excited to have a program like GRRL Power at CCT. The most compelling is the all young women aspect of the camp. The concept itself is a model that tells these young women that even at young age they can dive into complex material. Shakespeare is...not easy. But we've seen VP come in and teach students as young as 9 years old something that many professional actors struggle with. They stage combat portion of the camp also enforces that women are strong and powerful; it breaks down any gender biases that they may see out in the world.

TVP: This is our second year at CCT. What made you excited to have us back?

Dexter: We thought that the first year of having Viola Project at Chicago Children's Theatre would have a learning curve - like most programs do. However, Viola Project has created such a dynamic and empowering curriculum. The young women that took the camp last year walked out of the program with confidence and vigor. You can't ignore something like that; it was a no-brainer to bring them back this year.

TVP: What's your favorite thing about summer camp at Chicago Children's Theatre?

Dexter: My favorite thing about summer camp is seeing so many people from all over Chicago (and surrounding states!) come into a room together to learn or create a script together. We are uniquely positioned in the West Loop and are fortunate enough to have students from all walks of life. To me, this is what makes Chicago special. I came from the south where this was not always the case. And ultimately, this is why I chose Chicago to be my home. I am proud to work for an organization that supports these ideas not only in conversation, but with real action.

We hope you’ll join us at The Station for a week of GRRL Power with CCT! Sign up here!

Catching up with former TVP student, Wendy!

Wendy then and wendy now!

Wendy then and wendy now!

One of our favorite things to do is check in with former TVP students and see what they’re up to! We sat down with Wendy to talk to her about how the Viola Project has influenced her life and where she’s at these days!

Check it out! And don’t forget to register for summer camps just like the ones Wendy was part of all those years ago!

TVP: When did you first start doing Viola Project and why?

Wendy: I started doing Viola Project the summer I moved to Chicago, in 2012. I moved from downstate, in Champaign-Urbana, and Chicago was a big adjustment, to say the least. I was a stranger in Chicago, and with school starting three months from when I moved, I would be a stranger for awhile yet. With that in mind, I wanted something - not familiar, but relatable. Back in Champaign, I had taken another all-girls camp, for fencing, and really enjoyed it. Back at my old school, I really enjoyed theater. Viola Project was the place I found that I could relate to.

TVP: Tell us about what kind of impact Viola Project has had on you.

Wendy: The Viola Project had a remarkable impact on me. For one, as the need arose  to fit a social image and clique entering middle- and high school, being not only an all-around nerd, but also a drama kid who enjoyed reading, analyzing, and performing Shakespeare really helped cement my “nerd cred” (as the kids say). Starting at Payton, many worry about what they’ll be, since they were “the smart one” at their old school just like every other freshmen. But with a love of Shakespeare, I could be secure as a nerd among nerds.

The Viola Project taught me how to question things through different lenses, something that has impacted me not just in regards to Shakespeare, but the broader world.

All jokes aside, the Viola Project really did change me in that it didn’t just provide me with new knowledge (which it did), but the framework to explore further. The Viola Project taught me how to question things through different lenses, something that has impacted me not just in regards to Shakespeare, but the broader world. I have a distinct memory of one camp, I think focused on The Taming of the Shrew, and the discussion we had. Our instructor asked, Is Shakespeare sexist? Uh, yeah, I thought at the time. Many of Shakespeare’s plays not only had female leads, but ones whose intelligence and fire were portrayed as strengths that needed no correction (The Taming of the Shrew a notable one-off). But then the instructor did something I never would have thought of, that made me reexamine my perspective: she compared the number of words male leads versus female leads spoke in different plays. The major, positive characters (Viola from Twelfth Night, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, and Portia from The Merchant of Venice)  virtually all had fewer lines than the men in their plays. Now, my general belief is that Shakespeare was progressive (in terms of women and, I’d say, Judaism, but that’s my own hot take and Merchant is still really dicey) compared to his contemporaries. However, that leads to the question, why is his 16th century representation of women often favorable compared to the portrayal of women now? And that’s the kind of question that the Viola Project taught me to ask, and the kind of question that expands not just knowledge, but thinking.

On a personal level, the Viola Project helped me interact with groups (crucial to staging group scenes) and interact with others. Funnily enough, when I was an awkward freshman entering high school, the knowledge and love of Shakespeare provided a link between me and a classmate who would go on to become one of my closest friends.

TVP: What's next for you?

Wendy: This summer, I’ll be doing a summer program with St. John’s College, in which we’ll be using Shakespeare’s The Tempest (paired with other works by Machievelli, Plutarch, and DuBois) to examine how governments balance freedom and order, whether it’s possible to find a perfect balance between the two, and how different societies and governments emerge.

TVP: Good luck, Wendy!

Celebrating our 5th Annual Presidents Day Workshop on 2/18!

A while back we heard from parents who were desperate to have something creative for their kids to do on school days off. We got to thinking, why not host a Presidents Day workshop for one-day-only to get girls talking about government and leadership? We could do scenes of great women in leadership roles, as well as cross gender cast parts like Henry V, all while getting in touch with our own leadership styles!

Now, we’re on our 5th annual Every Inch a Queen workshop and we couldn’t be more excited to continue talking to young women about what it takes to be a great leader!

I talked to Jessica Alldredge who’s been teaching the workshop since it began about what her experience has been like. She’ll be returning to teach for the 5th time at out Edgewater location on February 18th. Make sure to sign up in Edgewater or Hyde Park, as space is limited!

Our amazing teaching artist Jessica!

Our amazing teaching artist Jessica!

TVP: Why do you think it’s important to have a program like our Presidents Day workshop?

Jessica: I think this program is important because there are so many opinions about the leadership in our world, and we often aren't asking for the opinions of our youth. After the 2016 election, I remember asking a group of middle school students if they felt that their voices mattered as women and as minorities. They responded that their opinions didn’t matter because “they're kids”. Not only do we need to be asking their opinions but we need to ask in such a way that allows them to respond without fear of judgment

TVP: If you could put any Shakespeare character in the White House, who would it be and why?

Jessica: I've thought about this one and I really want to say Rosalind because she's the first one who comes to mind. She's fair and creative especially in the face of adversity. She handles herself and doesn't strive for power. The Prince from Romeo and Juliet also comes to mind. He listens to both sides and seeks justice and a more peaceful future. I think at this point in our history we do not need people who project power as much as we need people who will listen and understand that much of leadership is walking alongside those less privileged. We need someone who understands not just the rights but the responsibilities of government. 

TVP: Any cool moments from past workshops you want to share?

Jessica: The year of Trump's inauguration I was concerned about what our workshop would be. He is a polarizing figure and I was concerned that the workshop would just become mudslinging which isn't helpful for many reasons. I wanted the students to talk about actions and not individuals and to really explore the rights and responsibilities of leadership. We didn't talk about the individuals in the current administration. Instead we talked about the decisions and stances that make a leader valuable to their people.

Hope to see you all in Edgewater or Hyde Park this February 18th!

Meet our Admin Apprentice, Abby Armato!

We are thrilled to tell you that we now have an arts administration apprenticeship and that the wonderful Abigail Armato is blazing the way as our first ever admin apprentice!


Our apprentices are amazing humans and we want YOU to get to know them! 

TVP: What did you study in college?

I studied English and Drama, both because I love Shakespeare and because I love all forms of storytelling.

TVP:  How did you become interested in The Viola Project?

I found out about The Viola Project while doing research for possible internships in college. The Viola Project excited me because of its mission to empower young women through Shakespeare. I'm thrilled to be a part of the team this summer!

TVP: What's you're favorite play or character and why?

My favorite character from Shakespeare's canon is definitely Rosalind from As You Like It. She is such a strong lady; from her quick thinking and constant scheming to her teaching lessons about life and love, Rosalind is thoroughly a rock star. During one of her lessons, Rosalind teases Orlando after he claims he will die if he cannot have his love by saying: "Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love" (4.1). This witty retort is one of my favorites quotes!

TVP:  Do you have any special skills that might come in handy this summer for useful and/or entertainment purposes?

I love to cook and to try out new recipes. Historically, I have been terrible at making food, but since graduating from college, I have really enjoyed learning more about cooking. I am currently mastering chicken piccata!

Welcome, Abby!

Meet one of our amazing apprentices, Shea Lee!

The Viola Project wants the world to be filled with people working towards gender equality.  We're devoted to our amazing students, but we also work with recent college grads to give them professional experience through an apprenticeship! We have offered teaching artist apprenticeships for the past five years, and this year we are offering our first ever arts administration apprenticeship!

Our apprentices are amazing humans and we want YOU to get to know them!  Here's a little bit about the wonderful Shea Lee who will be joining us as a teaching artist apprentice this summer after graduating from Northwestern University!

TVP: What did you study in college?

Shea: I studied theatre in college, with concentrations in musical theatre and Theatre for Young Audiences. I also minored in Asian American Studies.

TVP:  How did you become interested in The Viola Project?

Shea: I had never heard of The Viola Project until a member of the acting faculty at Northwestern sent out information about these apprenticeships. As soon as I read the mission statement, I knew this was a program in which I wanted to be involved.

TVP: What's you're favorite play or character and why?

Shea: My favorite play is Anon(ymous) by Naomi Iizuka. It's an adaptation of the Odyssey, centered around teenage refugees in the United States. I love it because its language and images are extremely beautiful, almost poetic. I also love that a character who was originally a king, a warrior, and a hero finding his way back to the home where he grew up, has been rewritten as an unknown, nameless teenager searching for home in a place far away from where he grew up. It takes on extra significance in light of the US's current attitude towards immigrants and refugees, and when I, a woman, played Anon this past fall, it upped that significance from a refugee story to a queer feminist refugee story.

TVP:  Do you have any special skills that might come in handy this summer for useful and/or entertainment purposes?

Shea: I am trained in Commedia dell'Arte, a form of improvised comedy that uses masked stock characters and developed during the Italian Renaissance. It's a lot of fun, although the stock characters adhere somewhat to gender norms. So, using the form in a setting with all girls and women would prove to be an interesting experiment.

If you're a camper this summer with us, you might see Shea during Speak the Speech, Comedy Camp (Oak Park), Rebel Girls Fight Back (Edgewater) and Quality of Mercy.

Chicago Children's Theatre Hosts The Viola Project this summer!

We are so excited to bring our signature girl-powered Shakespeare program to the West Loop!  We will be hosting a week of camp based on one of our most popular offerings, Warrior Queens!  Campers will focus on the indomitable dames, often based on real-life leaders, who fight their way through Shakespeare’s works.  Love the mad Queen Margaret? The French fighter Joan of Arc?  The commanding Cleopatra?  GRRL Power camp is for you:)

We'll be doing what we do best, just in a different location!

Chicago Children's Theatre is our generous host and all registration questions and sign ups should be directed to their website and their staff!

Can't wait to see you at the Station this August!

Though she be but little, she is fierce...

Charlotte at last year's Spring Break Camp "Measure for Measure"

Charlotte at last year's Spring Break Camp "Measure for Measure"

We were elated when our student Charlotte M. said she had an idea to bring The Viola Project down to her own neighborhood Hyde Park. (BTW, at 16 Charlotte isn't so "little" anymore, but she is definitely FIERCE!)  We told her if she led the way, we would follow.  So Charlotte set to work printing and posting flyers and getting us in touch with schools near by.  What followed was our largest, most successful President's Day workshop ever.  We sat down with Charlotte to find out a little more information about what inspired her to take on something like this, despite it being the middle of the school year!

TVP:  What do you love about Viola Project?

Charlotte:  I don't know where to start about what I love about Viola. Personally, it was the first theater camp that truly taught me how to act; I broke out of my shell there, and Viola's taught me so much about acting over the past five years. Concerning the community, I think Viola creates this beautiful environment for young women to grow in so many ways. Viola really blends social justice, acting, and literature in a way that's fun and interactive. Not to mention the opportunities it gives to girls whose families may not be able to afford summer camps. It gives me a lot of hope for the future to see great programs offer low cost workshops where girls can really excel. 

TVP: What was your first Viola Project experience?

Charlotte:  My first Viola Project experience was in the summer of 2013. I think it was called something like Food and Falstaff? Not sure, but I have a t-shirt from that summer still. Brings back good memories!

TVP:  What made you want to bring The Viola Project to your community?

Charlotte:  Seeing how Viola offered scholarships, I thought bringing Viola to a generally more diverse (ethnicity and income-level) part of Chicago would really put that offer to good use. I think that a program like The Viola Project should reach as far as it can and give every girl a chance to learn in a safe environment. I hope to see it expand even more in the future. 

TVP: What were some challenges you faced with trying to get this program off the ground?

Charlotte:  Working with Rebecca to make the Hyde Park workshop a reality was amazing. I have to give most of the credit to her, because while I had an idea, Rebecca was the one who really set up the location and organization. But if I had to pinpoint what was most difficult for me, I'd say advertising and balancing work for the program with school work. I've learned a lot about time management and organization from helping to set up this workshop. I was so pleasantly surprised to hear Hyde Park's workshop on President's Day was the largest, and I hope I can work with more events in that location soon. 

TVP:  Anything else you'd like to add?

Charlotte:  What impressed me the most in this process was the hard work and cooperation of The Viola Project's management. I could never have made this real without Rebecca and all the other great women who run Viola. I literally just gave them an idea I felt really strongly about, and they said "Ok, let's find a way to make this happen together." That was such a refreshing and fulfilling answer after feeling like I had no way to make a difference for a long time. It was really a testament to Viola's mission to help women change the world, and I'm so grateful for all the help they gave me. 


Thanks, thanks, and ever thanks, Charlotte!

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Our second year at Hayt Elementary!


We are so excited to return to Hayt Elementary for the second year in a row!  We could not be here without the incredible support of the Hayt Elementary staff or the generous funding from DePaul University!  Teacher Lexi Saunders is returning to Hayt and she is pretty excited about it!  We sat down with her to get some insight into what her class will be working on this year...

TVP: Tell us a little about Hayt last year since it was your first time at that school.

Lexi: Hayt is honestly one of my favorite schools I have ever taught at. It's wonderfully inclusive and supportive, and our teachers and students are so excited about Viola Project! Last year we focused our 10 weeks on finding our voice and different ways to use it. The students were really curious about exploring the darker or trickier sides of their voices that they don't normally get to use. So we played a lot with darker characters like Iago, Tamora, Richard III, and Lady M, as well as other lighter characters who are tricksters or in disguise like Puck, Viola, and Rosalind.

TVP: What kinds of topics are you planning on covering in class?

Lexi: This year, we are focusing on "Activism, Advocacy, & Allyship". We'll be discussing what it really means to be a strong activist, advocate, and ally, especially as a young person of an underprivileged gender. We'll be writing sonnets on issues and causes they are passionate about, and working on scenes and monologues with characters who use their voices to speak up for themselves and others. And we'll have a ton of fun doing it!

TVP: What kinds of scenes are you interested in?

Lexi: Right now, I'm looking at scenes where a character really stands up for something, whether it be a cause, a belief, a loved one, a family member, a friend, or other.  We may also include some scenes of people in power and how they wield it. I am currently considering Hermione and Paulina in Winter's Tale, Cassius and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Lady M in Macbeth, Cordelia in King Lear, Beatrice in Much Ado, and some others!

TVP: If you had some advice for a new student in this program who has never done Viola Project before, what would you say?

Lexi: I would tell them Viola Project is an awesomely welcoming and inclusive space to explore Shakespeare and make new friends! Our new students really loved it last year and we've got even more fun new stuff for this year!

In the words of a teacher...

Since The Viola Project in-class workshops began, I have noticed that our scholars readily read aloud assignments and participate in and lead group discussions...

Bringing high quality programs to schools means working with exceptional teachers and educators.  This week we reached out to Gerald Chaney (pictured above on the left) at the Young Women's Leadership Charter School to get his perspective on the power of The Viola Project in the classroom.

TVP: What made you interested in bringing The Viola Project into your classroom?

GC:  I was interested in the Drama and Performing Arts class students being exposed to more acting activities and experiences that build their public speaking confidence.

TVP: How has The Viola Project supported the learning goals of your classroom?

GC:  Since The Viola Project in-class workshops began, I have noticed that our scholars readily read-aloud assignments and participate in and lead group discussions.

TVP:  What is the best thing about having The Viola Project at the Young Women's Leadership Charter School?

GC: Our Scholars enjoy every activity that Skyler, Evey, and Lexi lead. The students look forward to connecting/tying in The Viola Project themes, ideas, and weekly lessons into other content area lessons.

TVP: Anything else you'd like to add?


We are thankful to Gerald for introducing us to his 65 amazing students and to our incredible donors and as well as the Arbonne Foundation, without whom this collaboration would not be possible.

Here's to continued success!

Skyler Schrempp
Executive Director

Cate Gillespie
Director of Institutional Giving

Shakespeare? Suffragettes? Yes, please!

Lucentio (Kate Smith) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of  The Taming of the Shrew , conceived and directed by Barbara Gaines with Columbia Women's Club scenes by Ron West, in CST's Courtyard Theatre, September 16 – November 12, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Lucentio (Kate Smith) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of The Taming of the Shrew, conceived and directed by Barbara Gaines with Columbia Women's Club scenes by Ron West, in CST's Courtyard Theatre, September 16 – November 12, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.

We're always looking for great Shakespeare shows to see in Chicago.  So we were delighted and intrigued to see that Chicago Shakespeare was doing an all female Taming of the Shrew set in a women's club in Chicago just before the 19th amendment is passed.  All women? Shakespeare? Suffragettes?  What could be more in line with The Viola Project's mission?

We sat down with actor Kate Smith who appears as Ms. Olivia Twist/Lucentio in the show to get the inside scoop!

TVP: Tell us a little about the new framework you guys are working with.

KS: Ron created a 1900's framework to go around Shrew. It focuses on a women's club that performs Shakespeare and is about to complete the canon. Our play catches them during their final dress rehearsal of Taming of The Shrew. In between scenes from the play, the club members discuss whether or not women should get the vote and deal with a few roadblocks that arise for the company. Ron is a Second City man, so even though the show deals with serious issues you will find a great deal of humor in his writing. Shrew was originally written with a framework that commented on the play as it happened, so I think our new frame fits in naturally. I also think it works because it shows us how far we have come as women, and how far we have yet to go. There are some issues these women in the 1900's are dealing with that we are still struggling to reconcile in 2017. 

...There are some issues these women in the 1900s are dealing with that we are still struggling to reconcile in 2017...

TVP: This production is unusual in that the cast is all women.  How do you think the casting supports or negates the play?

KS:  Taming of The Shrew is a sexist play in my opinion. While I do think that Shakespeare was standing up for women through the text, it is not in a way that is discernible to contemporary audiences. So, why do the play? I think having a group of all women "speak the speech" turns the play on its head and reclaims the text for the "fairer sex". It shows that women are just as strong and capable as men (both as actors and as humans), thereby disproving Kate's speech at the end; it highlights the sexist language in a way that is harder to ignore when you have a woman speaking it to another woman. I have had countless men come up to me at the end of the show and express, "I didn't know this play was so sexist before I heard a woman speak those words". The original play would have been put on by all men, so by flipping it to all women we are staying true to its original one gender casting. I think Shakespeare would have approved. Kate says the following during the production and it sticks out for me every night:

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart

Or else my heart, concealing it, will break,

And, rather than it shall, I will be free

Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.

I believe this speech shows Shakespeare's understanding for women being labeled as "Shrew" in his society. It is my hope that our translation will show that Women are equal and we have not been treated as such. I believe we must speak to this, or 'our heart's concealing it will break'.

...I think having a group of all women "speak the speech" turns the play on its head and reclaims the text for the "fairer sex"...

TVP: What kind of things are possible when you have a group of all women performing together that might not happen if you were working with a cast that included men?

KS:  We get to influence young audiences . We do this production for a great many school groups. I don't remember ever seeing a production that was all female identified growing up, the closest I got was Xenia Warrior Princess. Representation is important, and I think it is necessary that young women and men see that an all female cast of Shakespeare is not only possible, but is also well done. I think it shows the strength of women in a way that we don't get to experience often in our contemporary culture. 

...I have had countless men come up to me at the end of the show and express, "I didn't know this play was so sexist before I heard a woman speak those words"...

Also, with this particular play, I believe that we were able to have conversations about feminism and sexism that would not have been possible with men in the cast. This cast is full of women whose ages range from 26-62, we have diversity of race, back round, and religious thinking. I have NEVER been in a rehearsal room like that. The conversations were rich and we could be honest without fear of judgment because we were all women. I think if we would have had men in the cast we would have been less open. I love acting with men as well, but I wouldn't trade this experience for the world. I wish there were all female casts more often, it shows the strength of women in a way that you don't see often. My hope is that we will see more all female Shakespeare in years to come. Many of the women, myself included, expressed how nice it was that we didn't feel like we had to wear makeup to rehearsal everyday, because we felt like we had been hired for something more than our physical appearance and we wouldn't be judged by anyone in the room.

TVP: If you could give a piece of advice to young women in the arts, what would it be?

KS:  Be kind to yourself and others, and show empathy. The arts put you face to face with a great deal of rejection, so know that you are worthy and your work is of value. Find a happy life outside of the arts, so that you can create with more depth. If you aren't happy outside of your work you will not be happy within it. 

The Taming of the Shrew runs until November 12!  Don't miss it!


The Viola Project at the Young Women's Leadership Charter School!

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Exciting news from The Viola Project!
For the last two years we have been bringing our signature girl powered Shakespeare programming to CPS schools across the city!  However, this fall (thanks to generous funding from the Arbonne Foundation), we are at the beginning of a whole new chapter with our first ever IN SCHOOL RESIDENCY!  For 7 weeks we will be working three different classes of the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, and we couldn’t be more thrilled!
We believe that collaboration and integration make the best partnerships.  Teaching artists have been collaborating with school drama teacher Gerald Chaney to create a program that integrates our core values of play, empathy and strength with Mr. Chaney’s own learning goals for his class.  Building off of Mr. Chaney’s inquiry question When does a lie become the truth, students will be examining Shakespeare characters in morally challenging situations and performing scenes for their peers.
We are looking forward to the next few weeks with these amazing high school students!


During this year's Spring Break camp, generously funded by the Chicago Foundation for Women's 100 Day Fund, we are talking about advocacy. How do we speak up for issues we believe in when we think no one will listen? 

Today, the Viola Girls wrote letters to Congresswoman Schakowsky about issues that are important to them, as young people in Chicago. 

Here are a few. What are issues that YOU are passionate about today? Let us know!

Reflecting on President's Day 2017

Growing up, I never really thought much of President's Day. It meant a 3-day weekend and lots of commercials on TV about special sales (particularly on cars). I also knew it had to do with Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, which were listed on every February calendar. That was really all I thought about when it came to this holiday. 

Fast forward to 2015, when The Viola Project decided to run what would be our first annual day-long workshop focusing on women in leadership - "Every Inch a Queen." Due to its success, we run this program again for the following 2 years -- and plan to continue so in the years to come. 

We've known for a while that this year's workshop was going to be different, though. When we first discovered learned the workshop would be tuition free, thanks to funding from the American Association of University Women, we were expecting to celebrate the first woman president. After two years of looking at statistics showing the remarkably skewed proportions of women vs men in political positions, we were so excited to talk about this advancement of women in leadership in our country. As we all know, this is not how the election turned out. 

Registration went live on our website two days before the inauguration and two weeks later, we had completely reached capacity for the class. As our amazing teachers Jessica and Carlyle planned for this year's workshop, there were many discussions on how to frame the conversation. We wanted the focus of the program to be what it always was -- exploring why more women aren't in leadership positions and what we can do to change that. 

Last week, on the morning of Monday, February 20th, we welcomed 16 girls ages 10-15 to City Lit Theatre. 8 of the girls were returning students and 8 were new. By 9:03am, everyone had arrived for the 9am workshop. If you've ever run a workshop of any sort, you know what a feat that is in and of itself!

They talked about influential women. They discussed what makes a good leader. They created a Girls' Bill of Rights. They laughed and goofed off and performed some of Shakespeare's most famous leaders from Cleopatra to Macbeth to King Lear. 

There was no name calling. There was no bashing of individuals. There was positivity and there was hope. These girls talked objectively about what was happening around them and what they could do to change the future.

Did we leave on Monday having solved the issue of women's lack of representation in politics? Of course not. But we did leave knowing that the future generations are in very good hands. 

- Rebecca
   Program Director

Meet Jasmine Henri Jordan, our new Community Outreach Liaison!

We are thrilled to announce the addition of Jasmine Henri Jordan to The Viola Project administrative team! Jasmine is our Community Outreach Liaison and she can't wait to help us strengthen our local community partnerships. This position is funded by a grant from the Latin School of Chicago's Young Philanthropists Fund.

Meet Jasmine:
Jasmine Henri Jordan loves the work that Viola Project does and is so happy to be a part of it. One of her other hats is as Audience Development Manager for Victory Gardens Theater. Jasmine is also a teaching artist for Northlight Theater and has taught for Mudlark Theater Company and American Theater Company. Jasmine makes a lot of weird art and performs with a collective called Hot Kitchen. She is a proud Florida State University alumna. 

1. Where are you from?
    Melbourne, Florida

2. How long have you been in Chicago?
Two years

3. What is one of your favorite places in Chicago?
This is so hard. The Museum of Contemporary Art on a Tuesday night is pretty rad!

4. When did you first encounter Shakespeare?
Middle school with a paperback copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

5. Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play or character?
    King Lear!

6. What inspires you about The Viola Project?
The students never cease to amaze me with their curiosity, courage, and tolerance.

7 . What's your favorite ice cream flavor? 
Green Tea!

Welcome, Jasmine!

We can't do it without you

As the world is shifts dramatically around us, thank you for the values you help cultivate in the young women of Chicago.


As rhetoric heats up across the nation from the highest level of government to the corners of every classroom in every state, your support of The Viola Project teaches young women to empathize and humanize each other.


As Chicago schools try desperately to make ends meet with fewer and fewer resources, your support of The Viola Project ensures arts education is an essential part of any student’s schooling, regardless of their color, their neighborhood or their resource level.


As we have witnessed unprecedented defiance and verbal attacks on women in leadership roles, your support of The Viola Project celebrates and cultivates the strength in girls to own their  vibrant future.

Your generosity makes this happen.  We are honored to be your partner in empowering the next generation of incredible women.  There is much work to be done.  Let’s keep working.  Together.  

Make your annual gift today.

Thank you for standing with us and our young women.

Skyler Schrempp

Artistic Director

TVP makes Heidi Stevens' end of year top 10 list!

We were so thrilled when Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wanted to feature The Viola Project in a Sunday column this summer.  (If you didn't get a chance to read Heidi's article, here it is!)  That was way back in July when we were in the thick of summer camps.  Not only did Heidi write a beautiful piece, she also arranged for campers to take a back stage tour of the Chicago Tribune!

Heidi reached back out about a week ago, this time to feature Artistic Director Skyler Schrempp as one of 10 people she met in 2016 who gave her hope for 2017.  Also featured: Leo Catholic High School principal Shaka Rawls, Caroline Bourdreaux of The Miracle Foundation, outdoor activist Audrey Petermen, Evanston Township High School principal Eric Witherspoon, activist and runner Gaylon Alcaraz, high school student Lily Alter, art therapist Ruth Overman, actress Anita Hollander and Georgy Ann Peluchiwski of Impact 100 Chicago.

The Viola Project sends a thanks and a big thumbs up to these fine folks and the world changing work they're doing!  Check them out in Heidi's article here

Who gives you hope for 2017?  Tweet us @violaproject or tweet Heidi @heidistevens13!

Introducing our revamped core values!

At The Viola Project, we believe in three core values:
Play, Empathy, and Strength.

Play is the ability to take risks, commit to actions, and follow through without fear of being “wrong.”
- Viola Girls commit with full body and voice while performing Shakespeare's texts. 
- Viola Girls take risks when speaking up and learn that their opinion is always valuable no matter what others might think.
- Viola Girls know that it's okay to be silly, serious, loud, and opinionated and no one can tell them how they are "supposed to" behave just because they're girls. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and be aware of others’ feelings and experiences in order to form connections.
- Viola Girls know that our classroom is not just a "Safe Space," but it's also a "Brave Space." We don't shy away from difficult conversations. We challenge our girls to view issues from multiple perspectives. 
- Viola Girls support the learning and experience of other girls by recognizing both their differences and similarities.
- Viola Girls reach beyond their personal scope of the world to build bridges between herself and others, whether it be Juliet, a fellow student, or a world leader.

Strength is the ability to express what you feel, believe, and know in order to take ownership over both personal growth and that of the overall community.
- Viola Girls ask questions and challenge themselves to go beyond expectations
- Viola Girls advocate for their own needs and opinions and fight for inclusion in their personal lives as well as the entire world.
- Viola Girls know that they can Just Be. There is no question.

Most of all, we believe that Viola Girls are the future and Viola Girls can change the world. 

In honor of our girls who cannot vote...

A few girls that will not be voting on November 8

A few girls that will not be voting on November 8

In the last 24 hours, my social media feed has exploded with information on where to vote, how to vote, my voting rights and how important it is to vote.

It is important to vote.  No amount of cynicism can change this for me.  Every election I have ever partaken in has been billed as "the most important", "the most critical", "the most serious".  But this election feels starkly different from those I've witnessed in the past, namely in regards to gender bias.

The girls that The Viola Project works with do not have the benefit of the vote.  They cannot take part in the democratic process, though they will live with the outcomes of this election for years to come.  And however one tries to shield young people from hateful rhetoric, I assure you, they are more aware of what the nominees think of them than you would suspect.

It is because our young women cannot take part in this election that I ask you to directly invest in organizations that serve them.  The Viola Project provides a space and a platform for middle school girls to boldly combat and defy gender bias.  The Viola Project validates and celebrates the experiences of young women.  By making a gift to The Viola Project, you are cultivating a movement of respect and equality for girls and women, whether or not they can cast a vote.

I can't tell you who to vote for.  That is up to you.  But I can ask you to give our young women an example to follow by who you vote for and to give them an affirming space to be in after school by making a gift.

Fund an equal future. 

And please do vote.

Skyler Schrempp

What Viola can tell us about being a girl...

The Viola Project presents at GVSU's Shakespeare Festival Conference

The Viola Project presents at GVSU's Shakespeare Festival Conference

This weekend, I headed up to Grand Rapids, Michigan to present at GVSU's Shakespeare Festival Conference.  I was there to introduce The Viola Project to other Shakespeare educators.

As a supplemental activity after the presentation, I had our adult participants (all women) do a quick activity that many of our teachers have done with our middle school aged students: write a letter from the point of view of a Shakespeare character to another character with a problem they need help solving.

Jenna Grossman and Carlyle DePriest had run this activity with our Where There's a Will students.  I remember how playful the letters were, how funny.  Even Lavinia, missing hands and all, managed to find humor as she wrote to other characters asking how they "survived their play".

So I was struck by this Viola/Sebastian letter written by Alisha Huber of Eastern Mennonite University. I think the text speaks for itself:

Dear Sebastian,

I never knew how good you had it. I thought I did, but I had no idea, until I experienced it for myself. People listen when I talk. Even though I’m a stranger and a very young guy, they ask for my opinions and my help solving their problems. I can tease them, and they reward me. When I challenge them, they think about what I’m saying.

Now I have a choice. I’m in love, but the only way to tell him is to go back to being a woman, to being controlled and silenced.

What would you do?

— Alisha Huber

The perspective in this letter was a reminder of how many grown women are taught to see themselves in the world.  It also reminded me that in all my years of watching 12th Night, I had never really imagined which aspects of Cesario were hard to let go of for Viola. 

Without a doubt, a simple writing exercise for a woman, no matter her age, cannot undo inequities in the workplace and the home, nor can they instantly increase women's representation in government and in the media we consume.  But perhaps, bit by bit, we might be able to identify injustices, great and small.

And all the better if we start giving our younger generation the space and the means to do so now.

The readiness is all.