Emily Chervony is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, she graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, she spent several years working in New Orleans, Louisiana…and now she’s taking over Chicago, pursuing her career goals in Columbia College’s Master of Arts Management program. After working her recent internship at Chicago Opera Theater for just a few months, she received an offer for employment as the Education Assistant for their Education Department, recently named a finalist in the International Opera Awards for their work with Chicago Public Schools students.
We caught up with Emily to ask her about her experience with COT and to see if she had any advice on how to leverage an internship into a paying position, and how to balance career, school, and a personal life!
How did you find your internship?
I found the internship online. I’d been scouring the League of Chicago Theaters and the Chicago Artist’s Resource, both awesome sites for artsy job-hunting. I sent in my cover letter and resume, and literally two minutes later, Linden (now my boss), responded to set up an interview time!
How was your first day there?
It was pretty hectic. I started at Chicago Opera Theater (COT) as an Education intern, and my top priority was to go observe our teaching artists in schools. I tried to go to a number of different schools, so I spent most of my first day driving around Chicago and signing into different elementary schools, snapping pictures of kids and taking notes on the teaching artists’ lessons.
Why do you think they offered you the position? What do you do?
I was promoted into the Education Assistant position after spending only a couple months in the internship. One of the factors was my three years of teaching experience prior to coming to work for them, plus one year as a camp director. I’d proven my experience with kids and desire to work on arts administrative skills. Another factor I’m sure worked in my favor was my work as an intern. In the brief amount of time I’d spent at COT prior to my job offer, I’d proven myself to be reliable, hard-working, and mission-aligned.
As the Education Assistant, I do…a lot! COT has two different programs: one for teens (COT for Teens), and one for 3rd-8th graders (Opera for All). I do what is necessary for both programs, which runs the gamut of activities. Recently, I totally revamped the Lesson Plan format for the Opera for All teaching artists, making a nicer template and crafting thoughtful lesson plans with recommendations for modifications for older and younger learners. I also handle a lot of administrative tasks: tedious ones like printing music for classrooms, and more challenging ones like coordinating schedules for guest artists and interns, etc. Basically whatever the COT Ed programs need, I’ll handle it!
You have a long history of working with children. How does that impact your work at Chicago Opera Theater?
My teaching experience is a huge boon to me at COT. I’m able to plan for the educational programming much more effectively, and can communicate with Teaching Artists in a language they understand, coming from a place of experience. I can write high-quality lesson plans using best practices, and can speak to what is possible to do with kids when they put their minds to it (spoilers: it’s a lot).
Can you share any funny stories of your work with kids?
As for funny stories, I’ll share with you one that happened recently with COT. I was in a classroom working with a small group trying to write a scene for their opera script. I was helping them out by making them run through the story point by point, and then had them share ideas for what they thought a character might say in that moment. Their story centered around a painting of farm animals in a nobleman’s house. One night, the animals came out of the painting and decided to make a mess of the house. When they’d finished making the mess, I asked the students what they thought the animals might say. One shouted out, “What a mess! This is almost as bad as Jayden’s (his friend’s) room!” Luckily, Jayden has a great sense of humor.
What’s your dream job?
I’m in grad school to make my dream job happen: I want to open my own theater to work with underprivileged youth, specifically those in the refugee communities. I have seen what a powerful tool theater can be for kids, and am also frustrated by how focused on standardized testing schools can be, particularly those serving low-income students. I want to offer stage time free of cost to kids who normally wouldn’t have access to theater programming, and help them use theater as a tool for self-expression and social change.
How do you balance two part-time jobs, a graduate assistant position, school, and your personal life?
Really good time management skills! This is definitely a work in progress for me, but it involves a commitment to writing down all of my to dos to get them out of my head, tracking my emails carefully and managing them closely, and syncing my Google Calendar with my husband’s. I also try to stay ridiculously organized, and have developed habits and routines around eating (meal planning is a godsend) and nightly self-care rituals to keep my mind and body healthy.