AVPA Dances, Plays, and Paints Process – Chris Ferreira

There is something special about what happens when kids have been given all the tools and then the adults get out of the way. That is what was on stage Friday night at Culver City High School when students grabbed a hold of the creative process and made it completely theirs.
The inspiration for the evening, titled “Creativity in Process” was that the high school’s Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (AVPA) has students who work in film, art, music, dance and theater, but who have few opportunities to collaborate across disciplines. So music teacher Dr. Tony Spano and dance teacher Julie Carson challenged the after-school music composition class and dance choreography class students to work together in small groups to create dances and music specifically made for each other. This apparently is not common. It was just supposed to be an experiment, a workshop, a “let’s try this and see what happens” kind of thing. It turned out to be fabulous.
There ended up being five groups of dancers and musicians on stage Friday night, each group with a different vision. Each piece was introduced by both the composers and the choreographers/ dancers, and it was clear from their introductions that this was an interesting process for high school students to go through. They discovered that talking about a “thingy” was not an effective way to communicate, and that when you create you might start out with one idea for rhythm and end up with a rhythm that is completely different. They also found that problem-solving is part of creativity, like what to do when one of your dancers is sick, or you are trying to play more instruments than you have musicians. They had done all of this with a minimum of teacher guidance, working together after school and over the Winter Holiday to figure out exactly how they wanted their music and dances to fit together. This was their music and their choreography and their art.
But it was the sheer joy on the stage, the absolute love of music, and dance, and expression and art that really shone through. The music was beautiful and energetic and completely original, and the dancers reveled in music that allowed them to express themselves to music that was written just for them. That sheer joy also shone through earlier and later in the evening in the Sony Pictures Theater (Black Box) when student artists drew, sketched, colored and talked about their process of making visual art while talking about art to adults who were mingling and chatting and listening to a jazz combo in the background. The film, theater and art departments were also represented on stage by students to talked about the creative process in writing plays and developing films, including a trailer for one of the films currently in production.
Friday evening did not happen in a vacuum. It happened because a lot of parts have been put in place in Culver City over the years. First, it happened because the schools have been dedicated to the arts starting in elementary school. I played the recorder as a child, and I was delighted to see Kent Seeberger on stage Friday night playing the recorder in a piece that the composers said had been alternately defined as Gypsy, Irish and Peruvian. The fact that our children learned to play the recorder and other instruments back in elementary school and that they learned what music is and how it is put together must impact the high school music program today. The district has also strengthened its music program at the middle school, which sends more students to high school ready for band and string ensemble and those ever-present jazz combos. Then there is the middle school’s theater program, started five years ago by parents who could not stand the idea that their children would be in a middle school where the arts were not just an instrument of creativity, but an instrument of social change. Then there are the community theater programs, like Deelightful Productions and Children’s Civic Light Opera, both of which have developed a group of high school students who simply love being on stage, back-stage and anywhere around a stage. And there are all the parents throughout our community who have taught their own children to play the piano, dragged them to music, dance and singing lessons, insisted on practicing, and otherwise have made the arts part of their children’s lives. Those parents, including many members of the AVPA Foundation board, were there behind the scenes again last night, organizing the evening, providing the refreshments and beating the bushes for future parent volunteers.
Finally, there are the teachers. The problem-solving and communication skills that were on display Friday night were not just developed in the last two months. Those were skills that have been nurtured in classrooms since kindergarten. The students were not afraid to take risks and they were able to develop and pursue a vision with a team. That is one of the beauties of the arts, but it is not just an artistic skill, it is an academic skill as well, that they have been developing in their academic classes for years. I am sure they get tired of hearing me say it, but I am so grateful to the AVPA’s teachers for their time and dedication. This was supposed to have been a casual “workshop” type of evening, but Dr. Spano and Ms. Carson and art teacher Ms. Hatanaka made it look great. The walls of the Black Box had been turned into an art gallery, and the dances had been polished and lit. This all happened the week the students and teachers returned from Winter Holiday. As a teacher, I know that part of the reciprocal process of teaching is that when your students shine, it’s all worthwhile, but it is also exhausting to be at school night after night working with kids when you have to teach the next day.
There was a recurring theme in the talk among the adults (other than how absolutely fabulous the kids were). That recurring theme was the need for the Robert Frost Theater to be a large part of the community’s investment if a bond measure is passed in the spring. Most of Culver City’s children pass through Culver City High School, and so much more could be made of a theater that is better designed and more flexible. It was great to see school board member Steve Levin and district Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Mike Reynolds in the audience.
In the end, though, Friday night was about our kids, who were challenged to work together in a completely different way, without adult guidance or direction, and who turned that challenge into five spectacular gems of dance and music with talent, love, creativity and energy. It was also about the artists showing their skills with their heads bowed over a sketchpad, and the jazz combos playing standards that had the adults snapping their fingers and tapping their toes. What an amazing way to celebrate the arts and creativity in Culver City and to give our students a chance to fly.

The Actors' Gang


  1. Thank you so much Chris for putting into words how so many people felt about the amazing event. A truly inspiring, intriguing and successful evening as students, parents, faculty and community all left with smiles on their faces. Kudos to all involved.

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