By Lindsey Auten
Chicago Academy for the Arts (CAA) high school students are known for their artistic and scholarly excellence. Each year, their talents find a way beyond the classroom and into exceptional arts fields and careers.
Tony-nominated actress Elisabeth Withers, from Broadway’s The Color Purple, is a former CAA student, as is Golden Globe-nominated composer Chris Bruce, who composed “A Father’s Way” from The Pursuit of Happyness. New York City Ballet dancer Craig Hall is also proud to call himself an alumnus.
To celebrate the school and its place in the fabric of Chicago’s – and the world’s – arts community, CAA is once again holding its “A Taste for the Arts Gala” at the Harris Theatre and Millennium Park Terrace May 14. Funds raised at the event will support CAA programs, international partnerships and scholarships and the championing of young, talented artistic minds. CAA is located at 1010 West Chicago Avenue.
An evening of student art and performance at the Harris Theatre will be accompanied by another kind of (delicious) art from some of Chicago’s hottest chefs, like Rick Bayless from Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.
“What’s exciting is being in this world class venue where students have the opportunity to perform on a world class stage,” says Head of School Pam Jordan. “Plus, there’s the endorsement of all these fine chefs and their support…for them to share in this experience speaks to the excellence our school embodies.”
Jordan, who arrived at CAA in 1990, has seen the school grow and change, but one thing has stayed the same: the passion and fearlessness of the students, who take great risks artistically and intellectually. Jordan says it’s a privilege to witness the cultivation of the students’ abilities. The gala, she says, helps increase the visibility of these active learners.
One of these former students is Craig Hall (pictured above), who dances for the New York City Ballet. As he speaks about his time at the school, he recalls the combination of discipline and artistic freedom.
Hall began dancing at age four and studied at CAA with the late dancer and author Anna Paskevska, who gave him his first taste of proper ballet and modern technique at age 14. His freshman year was his introduction to these techniques and he remembers the dedication expected of him from day one. When he entered in the CAA studio and classroom, Hall began to understand what it meant to be expressive and confident in one’s abilities.
A bit of an “instigator” in his family before, his parents were also able to see a change in him as “a thoughtful, caring, gentle young man they had never seen before,” says Hall. “Being at CAA for those four years, I really found out who I was as a person and as an artist.”
For the past two years, Jordan has tried to have Hall on board as Arts Committee Chair of the gala, but his conflicting schedules in New York prevented him from returning to Chicago. This year, however, Hall recently tore his Achilles tendon.
With a stroke of simultaneous coincidence and injury, he sees the recovery time as an opportunity to show his gratitude for CAA. As he talks about his temporary hiatus from dancing, he stays positive, which partly speaks, as Jordan says, to his all-around excellence as a human being and CAA alumnus.
Jordan gushes, “We’re very proud of Craig’s career. Everything about him as a human being and artist embodies what the school continues to be today. He is a very nice person, an interesting human being, and we’re very proud of his humanity.”
As CAA prepares for its annual gala, both Jordan and Hall are excited about what the gala honors: CAA, its students, and its drive for emerging, expressive, intellectual and driven artists. Hall says it can be a lot of work to make these students visible as a part of the large and vibrant fabric of Chicago. Jordan agrees.
“Far too often,” says Jordan, “we think of pro artists coming to Chicago, but the fact is, these students and the training they’re receiving are sought around the world. Chicago should know them and celebrate them.”