Students come to high school hoping to cash in on all that school has to offer and this is also true in the case of classes that allow for artistic expression.
From jazz to visual arts, the freedom of expression has impacted the lives of students and teachers. That freedom is an extension of the ideals that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for during the civil rights movement.
Drama director P.J. Sirl describes the process that actors go through in order to portray a character.
“It allows for student expression in multiple ways if you look at the sum total of the way a show is built. Obviously there is what the audience is going to see, they see actors on stage,” Sirl said. “Those actors have taken the written word and they have taken the influence of the director. They interpret what I think it should look like and the words themselves and they create this living, breathing character. That was prior to that, simply just words and someone’s idea.”
The final plays that audiences see are made up of the work of several people, each adding their own expression to that play.
“The other things that the audience does not necessarily [or] cognitively think about all the time. Is a lot of these kids that are working here are doing the technical work they interpret my set design and sometimes they influence that too,” Sirl said. “Those kids have created this set and some cases even the lighting and sound design. So all of that adds together to hit a lot of different peoples artistic abilities.”
Senior Ashley Becker has taken several classes at PHS including choir, guitar, drama and art. Art and music serve as an outlet for emotions, according to Becker.
“[Art] is a really abstract way to express yourself because it is never so direct. [Art] makes people think about it. And so it is an expression of yourself but other people can interpret it too,” Becker said. “Sometimes [art] makes things easier, if I have a bad day then I go and draw or write songs. [Art] gets it out, then I am not all built up inside. It is an easy way for me to get it out.”
For art teacher Joseph Loring, the process of creating art is more important than the final product that comes of it.
“It is not about making the product it is about the experience it is about the place you enter when you are making art. It is not about ‘oh I want this to look good’ or ‘I want something.’ It is about the act of creating something. It is about being in the zone, where you are engaged in what you are doing and are not really concerned about what is going on in the outside world,” Loring said. “That space is what is important to me, it is [about] being able to be creative and be engaged in making something.”
Loring also hopes to encourage the expression of ideas without the fear of saying something wrong.
“Art is the leveler. When you come in here, regardless if you have done anything before and have made images, regardless if you have done nothing; everybody is at the same place in here,” Loring said. “Generally speaking, in my classes I have been able to have pretty much everybody have conversations or group discussions and people can say what they want. They do not have to feel dumb if they say the wrong thing or if they say something about how they feel towards a particular piece of art.”
Jazz, as well as music in general have played an important role in the ability for people to express ideas throughout the history of the U.S., according to Band Director Eric Ryan.
“Jazz is uniquely American and is kind of our original art form. There is a deep expression in jazz because when you improvise solos you are creating on the spot and you can really sense a lot of emotion in improvised solos in jazz. And that is something a few students here at our high school have the opportunity to do,” Eric Ryan said. “You even see that [expression] in the ’50s and ’60s with the civil rights movement. Music was a big way to express, even all the way back into the 1700s and 1800s, [with] slavery and the Underground Railroad. Music was a way they sometimes spoke codes to know what to do and where to go.”
Sirl explains how some of his plays are meant to make the audience think about important topics.
“Up here we perform a lot of stories and some of them are pretty tough. Over the years we have done some pretty gritty things, they are sad but what they are designed to do is to get you to think,” Sirl said. “I think that Dr. King really wanted us to think about what we see around us and if we see ‘badness’ we should work to fix that so that it is ‘goodness’ and love and hope. Hope for the future that everybody can do what they want to do.”