The Lovett Fine Arts Department is a force to be reckoned with. The teachers are working professionals. The facilities are state of the art. And the student actors garner accolades for their work in straight plays and musicals. So it makes sense that the Lovett Fine Arts Department announced the introduction of an Honors Theater Class, to debut next fall of 2019.
Still, it’s been a long time coming. The “Honors” Fine Arts class concept began 10-12 years ago when the Fine Arts department started talking about offering an honors credit for Art’s classes with a rigorous curriculum. “We were looking at programs like Ellington and Singers where there was this huge amount of work inside and outside of class,” says Mr. Freer, the head of the Fine Arts department. “We kept talking with the Upper School Administration about giving arts students an honors opportunity and they quickly agreed!” After the success of the Ellington and Singers program, the Fine Arts added honors visual arts classes and the Bach Ensemble.
Every time the Fine Arts department introduced a new honors curriculum, Mr. Freer could see his dream of an Honors Theater class becoming more of a reality. “I had been thinking for years that kids who do plays after school ought to be rewarded for that commitment and we [also wanted to] help them to understand how to work in every performance situation,” he says. By having an educational link in-between after school performances and in-school training, “we could have consistency to the vocabulary we are using when we are talking about acting. We could implement consistency in the expectation of how to come to a rehearsal… how students work with each other and respect each other,” Mr. Freer says. “Those are the key pieces to feeling safe and being able to dive into acting.”
With the Lovett Administration’s approval, the Fine Arts Honor’s Theater Class is slated to begin in the 2019-2020 school year. To join the class, students will have to go through an audition process. The auditions first consist of choosing 1 of 5 monologues, provided by Mr. Freer. Students will perform that monologue in addition to 6-8 measures of a song during a short audition slot. The rules around who can audition, however, are a bit different because it is the class’ first year. This year and this year only, Mr. Freer will be allowing anyone, including those who have not taken Theater Arts 1, to audition for the class. “I will be looking to see if students have real potential… I want to help students explore that potential,” he says. After this year, the class will require students to complete Theater Arts 1, so that they will have the necessary foundation before stepping into an accelerated, honors classroom.
The curriculum will cover a wide range of acting techniques and skills. “Whether it is mask and movement work, makeup, or character work, we are going to go through everything,” Mr. Freer says. Another important part of the curriculum is the class requirement of participating in two after school Lovett productions. This means that “every time they are in rehearsal, every time they walk into the black box, they are automatically on the grade,” explains Mr. Freer. “How are you behaving now to lead us to getting ready for the rehearsal this afternoon? Are you coming in off book”? It may sound simple, but these rules and expectations have never truly been defined before.
All of this training and practice is meant to prepare the Honors Theater student to debut their work if they so choose. “By the time a kid gets through with this class, which will most likely be a 2-3-year commitment, they are ready if they want to audition at a Liberal Arts [college] or at any training program,” says Mr. Freer, “which can be a fairly rigorous process.” In addition, Honors Theater students will be invited to attend and present work on the New York Fine Arts trip. “We will invite Juilliard and NYU and all these programs to send a rep. And we will also invite alumni!” Mr. Freer says. “That is another way that we will be able to get our theater kids out there and being seen.”
The Honors Theater class is also encouraging students interested in Musical Theater to join the class. “Musicals have always been a really weird mix between the theater program and the choral program, but really they are theater,” Mr. Freer says. After the separation of the spring musical from the Singers class this past spring, “there is no reason why that should be a thing stopping someone, who is interested in musical theater, from being in this class.” The curriculum for all Honors Theater Students will include dance classes with Mrs. Metzger in addition to required voice lessons because “we want to help people to be prepared for all genres of acting,” he says.
Prospective students are enthusiastic about the opportunities the class will provide. “The idea of working with people at that level of the industry really appeals to me,” says Sophomore Marshall Smith, who played the title role of Ren McCormack in this year’s Footloose. “Learning in a class is one thing, but when you’re really there speaking to someone and having a conversation about what to expect it’s very different and much more exciting.”
Junior Catherine Sherling is “excited to work on audition material in class too!” Catherine is planning on auditioning for Musical Theater University programs during her senior year. Lovett’s new Honors Theater Class “could really help me work on my monologues with professionals, which will help me for auditions.”
Overall, it is clear that the new Honors Theater Class will elevate student theater arts in the classroom and on the stage, ensuring more accolades for years to come at Lovett and beyond.