Sunday, March 29, 2020

Lesson Plan: 3 Tips on Creating a Character

Ordway Teaching Artist Britta Ollmann leads you through a pointed way to dive into a character, picking out useful information from the script before beginning the rehearsal process.

This is a great activity if you are preparing for show, looking at a script for the first time or just fun to do if you’re interested in a particular character. 

Check out our Challenge Activity at the end of the lesson and put these concepts to work for you!

Video Lesson Guide

1. Initial Read-Through

  • Get the script, and soundtrack (if it’s a musical).
  • Read what the playwright has given you, and listen to the music in the context of what you’re reading. 
  • No note taking! Just experience the show and the character as an audience would.
  • This gives a big picture view of the story and where your character fits in.
  • Notice: What kind of feelings wash over you? How do you feel at the beginning vs the end? What kind of journey has the story taken you on?

2. Character Notes

  • Create a document with 4 different categories:
    • What are the facts? 
      • Character description (age, location, family, etc.) and plot points that your character is part of.
    • What does the character say about themselves? 
      • This can be in talking to another character, talking to themselves, talking to the audience. You can also question whether what they’re saying is the truth. How do they present themselves to other characters?
    • What does my character say about other people? 
      • Notice when they are talking about someone else and what they say.
    • What do other people say about my character? 
      • This helps to see how others perceive your character and what their relationship to other characters is.
  • Now you have a condensed version of the script with the material categorized that is CENTERED around your character.
3. Character Choices

  • Make some initial decisions about you character. 
    • Why does your character chart looks like it does?
    • Does your character talk about themselves a lot? 
    • Do they talk to or about specific characters more than others? 
    • Does how your character thinks about themselves match with how others think of them?
  • What questions or ideas do your categories bring up?

By taking the time to dig into your character BEFORE rehearsal even begins, you can approach the whole play with a point of view that will help your character come to life and serve the larger story!

Challenge Activity 

TRY IT: Choose a show that has an adaption that you can watch right now. Maybe Cinderella or the Baker from Into the Woods. First do the character study activities above. Then watch the movie version and see if you can see the specifics you identified coming out in the performances of the movie actors. What did they emphasize that you agree with? What might they have missed? What did they find that you didn't see in your analysis?

Friday, March 27, 2020

Arts Brain Break: Quote of the Day

Everyone needs a brain break now and then- why not use that break to express your creativity?  Arts Brain Break is your source for quick activities to recharge your mind and spirit.

Activity: Quote of the Day
  1. Pick out a favorite quote from a musical, actor, Broadway creator or just about the Arts in general
  2. Brainstorm the reasons why that quote is important to you- does it remind you of someone special? Bring back memories of a favorite place or time? Inspire you to be a creative person? 
  3. Think about how you might artistically represent this quote.  You can draw a picture, write a story, write a song- the possibilities are limitless! 
Here is an example: 

One of my favorite quotes about the Arts is from Albert Einstein-  "Logic will get you from A-Z, imagination will get you everywhere"

First, I brainstormed all of the ways that this quote is important and relevant to me:

 Next, I thought about different ways I could artistically represent the quote:

After reviewing my brainstorm list, I decided to make a drawing:

How will you represent your favorite quote?

Send a copy of your creation to or tag the Ordway on social media with the hashtag #ordwayschooled- you may just see it on one of our channels!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Musical of the Week!: In The Heights

Photo by Rich Ryan
In this feature, Musical of the Week!, the Ordway Education team is highlighting past Ordway Originals. Join us as we take a deep dive into the story, themes and characters of these favorite musicals.

This week, we're taking a look at the Ordway's 2017 production of In the Heights.

Over two years, the Ordway and Teatro del Pueblo collaborated to produce West Side Story and In the Heights at the Ordway - working together on casting, creative direction, community engagement, marketing and educational initiatives. Core to this collaboration was to establish an equitable and transparent partnership between the two organizations, starting with bottom line discussions and clarity of roles and responsibilities. Many lessons were learned along the way, as well as outcomes achieved, including the offering of matinees for schools, a tour to Dayton Ohio of In the Heights, professional growth and development for artists and administrators and in creative teams and casts that represented the racial and ethnic diversity of the artists who stories were being told. "- Shelley Quiala, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement
Content below is adapted from the Ordway's In the Heights Study Guide- click here to view the full guide.

In the Heights centers on Usnavi, who owns his family’s bodega in Washington Heights. Through the eyes of Usnavi, the show weaves together the stories of the residents of Washington Heights: Nina, home from her freshman year of college, struggles to reconcile her family’s expectations with her desires; Benny, her boyfriend, has aspirations of being a business owner; Daniela, a hairdresser, dreams of making an affluent life for herself in downtown; and Abuela Claudia does her best to hold her family and culture together in her new country while still longing for her life in Cuba. All of these characters exist within a larger drama: which of Usnavi’s customers holds the winning $96,000 lottery ticket that was purchased in his bodega? 

Central Themes:
Family, Community, “What is Home?”, Latinx Culture, Immigrant Communities

Musical Genres:
Latin, Afro-Caribbean, Salsa, Hip Hop, Rap, Pop
2008 Broadway Cast Album is available on Spotify

Photo by Rich Ryan
Usnavi De La Vega: Usnavi is the 24 year old owner of De La Vega’s Bodega. His Dominican Republic immigrant parents passed away, so he lives with Abuela Claudia.  He is the narrator who sets the pace for the stories of the residents of Washington Heights.

Nina Rosario: The daughter of Kevin and Camilla, Nina has just completed her freshman year at Stanford University. She is a first generation college student, and represents the opportunity that exists outside of Washington Heights.   

Benny: Benny works for the Rosarios as a cab driver. He and Usnavi are best friends, and he eventually falls in love with Nina. He sees a future for Nina and him through becoming a businessman.
Daniela: Daniela owns and runs her own salon. Due to the rising price of rent, however, she is being forced out of her successful business. 

Abuela Claudia: The matriarch of the neighborhood, Abuela Claudia raised Usnavi after the death of his parents.  She emigrated to “The Heights” at a young age from Cuba, and has committed her life to helping those in a similar situation.

Activities and Lessons: 
Photo by Rich Ryan

Activity for Students and Parents:
Recommended for Grades K-5

Create a play or musical about your neighborhood.
  • What would be the title?
  • Create a character list with descriptions. Who would live within this world?
  • What would the central plot be that would convey life in your neighborhood?
  • Describe or draw the scenic design and set.
  • Describe or draw the characters’ costumes.

Share your picture, description, or set design with us!
Send an email to or Tag #ordwayschooled 

Lesson Plan for Teachers and Parents: 
Recommended for Grades 6-12 

Objective: Students will explore how a musical is developed from a literary text or historical event.


  • computer
  • a list of literary texts students have read through their regular curriculum
  • The Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge’s “Developing a Musical” Handout (

1. Remind students that many Broadway shows are derived from literary works (e.g. Once on this Island, The Color Purple.) Explain to students that it is now their turn to pick a literary text to turn into a popular musical.
2. If possible, divide the class into virtual groups of two or three. Share with students your list of literary texts and the “Developing a Musical” handout.
3. In those groups, ask students to select one literary work. Then have them brainstorm the various aspects that would be needed to stage this literary piece using the prompts from the “Developing a Musical” handout.
4. Ask each group to share their findings with the class. After each presentation, lead a discussion with the students on the possible opportunities and challenges that may exist with each adaptation. 

We'd love to hear from you! Let us know how you adapted this lesson to make it work in your online learning! Email us at

Video Feature:

Rush Benson and Renee Guitar were in the ensemble of In the Heights at the Ordway- check out their Musical Theater Dance combo to a great song from the show.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Introducing Ordway Education: Online!

Dear Educators, Parents and Friends of Ordway Education,

We are committed to supporting our community, and want to continue this support even in the midst of unprecedented changes to your school year. 

To that end, the Ordway Education team is so excited to announce the launch of Ordway Education: Online, a place for teachers, students and caregivers of all ages to continue to experience arts education.

Ordway teaching artists will create lessons, activities and video tutorials focused on all things Broadway, musical theater and the performing arts!

If you are:

 - a teacher preparing online content for students,
 - a parent searching for arts education tools and lessons,
 - someone loves musical theater and needs a dose of joy in this stressful time,

This is a tool for meant for you!

You can find us on YouTube and on the Ordway's website.

Make sure to subscribe to this blog for written lesson plans, content and encouragement.

Stay in touch with us through social media using the hashtag #OrdwaySchooled.
We can't wait to see you back at the Ordway but in the meantime, let's make some beautiful art, together!

Your Partners in Education, 

Kelli, Chloe and Sarah

Major support for Arts Education at the Ordway has been provided by Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Welcome Dana Sonnenberg, Education Intern

Hailing from Central Wisconsin, Dana is joining Ordway as an Education and Human Resources Intern. Dana has a passion for business as well as art in all mediums and is excited to explore the ways in which different aspects of the organization to work together.

Dana will graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in May of 2016, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in arts management and minoring in business administration. An avid animal lover, Dana has two cats-Oliver Jay Catsby and Daisy Mae Buccathan-and hopes to add a dog to her family soon.

Besides the arts and animals, Dana is also a huge sports fan (go Pack go), and is looking forward to catching some Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Twins games while here in the Cities.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Playwright in the Windy City: Interview with Caity-Shea Violette

Ordway Education is taking the opportunity to feature professionals in the world of theater, as well as check in with Ordway Education alum. This month we chat with Chicago based playwright and actor Caity-Shae Violette.

Photo Credit: Tom Vin
In one sentence, what is your job description, and why do you love it?
I am a playwright, actor, and the manager of marketing and communications for a non-profit serving people living with mental illness; I love that these roles allow me to continuously learn how to share captivating stories that ignite compassion and inspire others to engage in larger social conversations.

How are you connected to the Ordway? 
In 2009, I was an education and community outreach intern to help organize and execute the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival for the spring semester of my senior year of high school at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (SPCPA).

My time as an intern at the Ordway allowed me to practice professional communication and collaboration while being able to seek guidance from a mentor and network with theatre professionals in the arts administrative field. This was absolutely invaluable to both my college experience and my post-grad career as it gave my relatively blank resume a variety of administrative, organizational, and collaborative skills, backed by the credibility of one of the leading artistic homes in Minnesota.

What is your favorite memory of your time at the Ordway?
I loved seeing the variety of performances that took place at the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival. My personal favorite festival performance was the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia’s presentation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favourites.

When did you decide to become a professional actor/playwright?
I discovered my love for playwriting in my junior year at SPCPA, when I was selected to participate in a new play intensive program created in partnership with the Playwrights’ Center to complete during our J-Term session. J-Term was a few week session where SPCPA students took a break from academic classes to only take artistic classes. Around the same time I was cast in my first regional theatre production at the Children’s Theatre Company in a show with a similar new work atmosphere called Fashion 47 co-written by Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus. I think being able to see the new play development process from both the writer and performer perspective is what solidified my decision to pursue storytelling as profession.
Photo Credit: Tony Adams

What is the most unexpected place your career has taken you?
The theatre department at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (where I earned my BFA in Theatre with an emphasis in acting) participated in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festivala program that begins with nine regional festivals of thousands of undergraduate and graduate theatre students from around the country and culminating into a national festival based on the results of the previous regional festivals. Festival attendees are students who have been nominated for a particular artistic achievement and gather to network with professionals, take workshops, and celebrate each other’s work.

After attending both the regional and the national festival in Washington D.C. when my full-length play Target Behavior received the National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Excellence award in 2012, I was fortunate enough to return once again to both the regional and national festivals in 2013, this time as both a playwright and actor. That year, my ten-minute play Disconnect was selected as one of four national finalists for the Kennedy Center Ten-Minute Play Competition and received a staged reading. Later that week in the festival, I had the tremendous honor of performing a section of my ten-minute play, Save The Date, on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center as an Irene Ryan Acting Competition Region 5 winner and National Finalist. That was definitely a wonderfully unexpected surprise to say the least.

What is the most rewarding part of writing a new play?
My favorite part of writing a new play is being able to share that story with people outside of the artistic community. I’m fortunate enough to be active in mental health advocacy and some communities of survivors of sexual and physical abuse in Chicago. As the majority of my work centers around silenced stories of gender-based violence and oppression, I am able to learn from and share this work with the phenomenal individuals in these communities.

What is the best piece of career advice you have received? Worst piece of advice?
Best piece of advice: People want to work with people who love what they do. If you’re nervous for an audition or interview, anchor yourself in the joy of being able to share what you love to do most with someone willing to be an audience, even for 60 seconds.

Worst advice: You can be a playwright or an actor, but you need to choose which you want to be great at. (Almost all of my best work as an has come out of things I’ve written for myself, if for nothing else than audition material).

If you won the lottery, and never had to work another day in your life, what is the first thing you would do?
Pay off all bills for my mom, my best friends, and myself, then start finding organizations I want to support and travel around to be involved with them.

Who is your mentor, and how have they shaped you?
The biggest mentor in my career as a playwright was absolutely Tom Isbell at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. In addition to being an accomplished actor, playwright, and author, he was also my acting professor, academic advisor, the supervisor of four undergraduate research opportunity grants I received to write new plays, the director of plays in which I acted, as well as the director of my first full-length production. After reading the first play I had ever written, a quirky, messy one-act play, he offered to teach me, mentor me and encourage me to apply for various grants and Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival submissions. As my school didn’t have a playwriting program beyond an intro class taught every other spring semester, Tom spent countless hours reading over 20 drafts of my full-length and several drafts of multiple shorter plays, then meeting with me to discuss overall feedback and go page-by-page to discuss individual moments, dialogue, and stage directions.
Photo Credit: Tony Adams
While he insists on never taking credit for the accomplishments of his many fortunate students, I truly cannot imagine any part of my creative career without his unwavering support. I’ve learned to be confident in owning the work I’ve put into earning opportunities I’ve received because the ability to create is the only constant in an artistic career, recognition is most certainly not. This confidence, however, and everything I have achieved thus far in my career is the direct result of Tom’s guidance. My career as a writer truly began when he believed it was worth fostering.

Tom’s new book, “The Capture”, comes out January 19th, 2016! Support an educator, a mentor, a sensational writer, and read the sequel in this thrilling trilogy while you do it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Day at the Opera with Minnesota Opera

Minnesota Opera's annual Day at the Opera is approaching and is extending the invitation to those of you who may have High School students interested in this event. Please see details below and feel free to contact them with any questions.

High School singers participate in an intensive day-long master class learning how to prepare for an audition. Perform in a mock audition, learn the inner game of auditions, gain tips on how to prepare for an audition, what to wear, and more. Throughout the day, students will observe an opera rehearsal, tour the scene and costume shops and see what is involved in creating professional opera. A question-and-answer session with the Opera's Resident Artists will provide an opportunity for students to ask about colleges, auditions and what the future might hold for young performers. 

When: Friday, January 15, 2016

What students need to prepare: An aria or art song that has been or will be performed for an audition or competition. Solo/ensemble contest, All-State auditions and college audition repertoire is ideal.

Who else may attend: Teachers, accompanists and parents are welcome to attend but are not required.

Registration: Contact Alisa Magall√≥n at 612.342.1604 or to sign-up or for more information. Registration is first-come, first-served and space is extremely limited. 

Cost: $30/participant. Transportation is the responsibility of the student.