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This summer marked UCI’s first Summer Academy in the Arts program, which presented high school students the opportunity to experience what it would be like to study the arts at a college level.

From June 27 to July 8, high school students chose either drama or digital arts as their course of study over the two-week program, which took place UCI M.F.A. Students Lucas Calhoun, Anika Solveig, Siobhan Doherty, and Sonya Cooke came together, with the help of Director of Outreach Ana Halland, to not only teach classes in the Summer Academy but also to design the content of the drama portion of the program. UCI studio art Lecturer Bryan Jackson created and taught the digital arts part of the program.

Though fairly short in duration, this program sought to give high school students a taste of how the arts are approached in a higher-level learning environment.

“We wanted to give high school students a college-level experience in arts education,” said Halland. “We wanted to provide them with practical tools and skills to advance themselves in their art forms. The curriculum immersed the students in art, lots of hands-on experience, expert faculty, all with the goal of college preparedness.”

A typical day for the drama students included warm-up sessions followed by classes in improv, acting or auditioning and musical theater. M.F.A student Christopher Smith, who is studying music, provided musical accompaniment and  private vocal coaching for the students.

A majority of the instruction in the drama portion of the program concentrated on the students getting to know themselves and to be comfortable in their own skin. For instance, in musical theater class students were taught to sing as themselves rather than as what they presumed a singer should sound like. Students were encouraged to be themselves first, recognize what they were feeling and then add qualities of the character they were playing. As Cooke explained, students were given an introduction of how to connect their personal circumstances to their character’s.

Some days, the drama students stayed after their classes to act in films for the digital arts students. The digital arts students created ideas for short videos to shoot, and they also learned how to use the iPad 2 and its applications to record and edit films as well as take photos. Students were able to edit their films and upload it directly to a class blog. This blog included updates on the process of filming and editing , short videos and pictures students took with the iPad around campus.

Although the Summer Academy ended with a performance in front of parents and faculty, the goal of the drama instructors was not to prepare the students for a big show but rather to teach students the intricacies of drama and introduce them to tools and techniques that they could keep working and improving on even after the program ended.

“This program was not about a performance,” said Doherty. “It was about learning the craft, learning the process of creating a role, choosing audition monologues, developing an improv team, and how that process never goes away.”

At the final performance, drama students sang, did improv, and performed the first ten seconds of a monologue they had worked on during the program while the digital arts students screened a short film depicting what a bystander does after witnessing a purse getting stolen.

The Summer Academy was well received by those involved and by the audience of the final performance. There are plans to continue this program next summer with the addition of dance and music as extra courses of study for students to choose from.

“Orange County needs more art and educational outlets like this” said Cooke, “it enriches the community and for arts to have quality education is needed.”

It is true that the Summer Academy serves to cater to students interested in pursuing the arts, but most of the instructors and faculty of the Summer Academy agree that studying the arts is important for everyone and that the skills learned by training in the arts translate into life skills.

“Only through arts education can a person engage all aspects of the learning brain simultaneously,” said Halland, “the exercise of doing art can be compared to a core workout for the body. Everything is engaged and focused; human intellect is served thorough art experience, as is the spirit and body.”

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