Courage in the EPS Arts Education

By Ginger Ellingson, Director of Fine & Performing Arts

In a recent survey of musicians, mezzo-soprano Cecelia Bartoli suggests listening to Handel’s famous aria, Lascia La Spina. According to Bartoli, the aria “tells us to make the best of this situation of forced intimacy—to reconnect with our families, to slow down, to pay attention to our feelings.” At the same time, “it reminds us to challenge our creativity and develop new ideas.” Lascia La Spina could also be a perfect theme song for the Fine and Performing Arts this year. As we distill our art forms and innovate on best practices for EPSRemote, we highlight courage as our uniting theme for the 2020-21 school year. Although we miss in-person experiences, we have focused on what we can do, which has provided new opportunities for us and our students.

One of the things we can do as artists and educators is provide space for both escapism and critical storytelling, both of which are exemplified in this year’s theatre program. While the Middle School’s radio play, The Hobbit, builds the audio world of Middle-earth, students will also build community at EPS and explore storytelling through voice acting and sound design. In contrast, this winter’s Upper School play will tell the real-life story of the townspeople of Laramie, Wyoming as they grapple with a violent hate crime in The Laramie Project. Students and EPS community involved in this show will explore themes of identity, politics, tolerance, and acceptance—issues that are particularly relevant now as our country experiences an increase in reported hate crimes.

The strange juxtaposition of physical distancing and online community has both increased and shrunk the distances between us, encouraging us to invite distinguished guests to our classes. Digital Filmmaking hosted film composer B.C. Campbell and learned about his most recent score for the PBS documentary My Country No More. At the end of this month, the US Acting 1 class will have an amazing opportunity to learn from the most produced playwright in the United States, Laura Gunderson.

While developing the arts for EPSRemote has encouraged us to embrace new opportunities, our curriculum remains grounded in traditional artistic creation. For example, by using home recording set ups and online music studios, students are developing critical listening skills as they review their work and plan for improvement. And yet, after exploring new and vast online resources, creating with simple tools and our own hands provides a welcome catharsis. Students in the 7th and 8th grade Painting and Drawing class experience the ease and simplicity of creating with a pencil and brushes, even if they learn their technique from behind a computer screen.

Although the necessary work of reinventing arts education at EPS has been challenging, it has also been rewarding and we are learning valuable tools and techniques that will benefit the F&PA experience long after the pandemic is over.