By Nathan McIvor’ 17
“I thought it would be a huge time commitment, but there’s never been a dull moment; I’ve been singing, dancing, and growing as an actor,” said Ethan Jones, a student enrolled in Just Off Broadway, a new Eagle Term class offered by the Lincoln Academy Department of Visual and Performing Arts. Jones, a sophomore, was initially concerned about the class’s length, since it occupies three of the four periods allotted for a typical day in Eagle Term, but does not regret his enrollment, throwing himself into ensemble song from “West Side Story” with a gusto reminiscent of Patrick Swayze in his sprightly days.
The class sees theater as both an art and a business, with students using the stage as a mock-audition while instructors Beth Preston and Griff Braley critique from the front row. The period progressed with the students performing prepared group and ensemble work after opening with an intense warmup of stretching and vocal expression.
Such innovative programs are enabled by Lincoln Academy’s Eagle Term, a new, additional academic unit deployed this year. With eighty-four total courses being offered, the program seeks to cover material beyond the typical boundaries of secondary education, offering both STEM and humanities courses in addition to less-explored areas integrating outdoor activities and hands-on learning. Resembling the “short-term” programs used by colleges and universities, the initiative, spearheaded by Headmaster David Sturdevant, will become, in his words “an integral part of LA student’s’ education … [exposing] them to a broader range of curricular experiences as they prepare for life after high school.”
Pushing the students, Preston urged them to hit the “sweet spot” of performance, where their voice fills up the whole space; Braley, himself a stage actor, shared an anecdote from his experience with the process.
“While in Massachusetts, I would have to audition in a huge auditorium, usually standing on a small platform. It’s uncomfortable, but it means you have to own the space from the second you walk up there.”
That professionalism drives the course, with frequent lessons on etiquette and presentation specific to casting. On the virtues of this experience, Braley noted how “of the kids in this class, nine out of the sixteen have never sung publicly,” and seems proud of how his students’ self-confidence has grown throughout the program.
The course’s extended length—occupying roughly four hours—enables a deep dive into acting methods, with emphasis on using body language both appropriate for the context of the scene, but also complementing their vocal presentation. Preston prompts the students on characterization, asking “what is this character thinking,” when a performance fails to deliver. Despite professional mannerisms, the course delves into acting with a vigor enhanced by the course’s intensive nature, adding a sense of urgency to the proceedings as students strive for quality work in their craft. Though a “challenging” experience according to Braley, the results, impressively, speak for themselves.
Elsewhere, media literacy takes center stage in a timely course engaging students to reflect upon the news they consume. Employing a critical mindset while parsing the social and economic factors behind modern-day journalism, the course helps a young generation come to terms with a media environment unlike any of its predecessors in a sector undergoing much upheaval and change due to the digital revolution. Not without prudence, Media, Politics, and American Culture aims to make discriminating, savvy consumers of the news. Examining a Facebook feed to which they collectively contribute, the class picks out stories of great interest and examines the clockwork therein.
The students justify the articles they added to the feed, beginning a discussion regarding form and subject matter. Of the pieces in question, the recent Reality Winner leak gains significant milage, discussing whether a reporter should emphasize the leaker or the information leaked while setting priorities for investigative coverage. The class leaned towards the latter.
Co-taught by Social Studies teacher Kelley Duffy and Communications Director Jenny Mayher, the course urges students penetrative questions about the media presented to them. One participant, when prompted about an article he showed the class, a BBC feature about mitigating terrorism, cited a neutrality bias in its depiction of internment, stating “an obvious moral failing, as it is clearly unethical, so why bother presenting both sides.” Debate ensued about a typical presentation applied to controversial subjects.
Duffy tends toward theory; Mayher, craft. After the discussion, she broke down the difference between an editorial, a feature, and breaking news. The emphasis, the class learned learned, revolves around timing. Features, being more reflective and detailed, tend to come days after the fact, while an immediate news post leaves only the essentials, parroted in short, efficient sentences. Opinion, if useful, should contain frequent citations and sound reasoning.
The shared consensus between the instructors and their students: The Washington Post and the New York Times comprise some of the most valuable of each category, and serve as a model for which students should create their own journalistic material. A light assignment, delivered at the end of class, requires the students to write their own news article; the responsible citation of sources, being of course, a given.
Easily the most academic, the course and its correspondent, Journalism and Media literacy, seek to educate students in contextualizing and picking apart the messages presented to them. Explorations that “we could not cover as thoroughly during the regular academic year” says Mayher.
Even further off the beaten trail, Old World Crafts has students make candles, needlepoint items, and soap—sans technology—using a hands-on approach that involves local vendors through a community outreach program. Frequent fields trips expose students to these local artisans, who in turn pass on their knowledge to a younger generation.
The class visited the Danica Candles in Rockport, a company owned by Eric Danica, where Kelcey Westhaver, who co-teaches the course, was impressed after watching workers “tie every candlewick by hand, then dip it eighty times.” The proprietor had previously travelled to Denmark to learn traditional, hand-crafted techniques, before launching his own candleworks operation. The process was replicated back at Lincoln, on a smaller scale, with students preparing the wicks in small glasses, dropping in colors and scents as they saw fit.
Westhaver justifies the experiential learning process, saying “these techniques are still used,” and points out the success of the various local vendors they have visited, where these pre-industrial methods are in demand within respective niches. While visiting these business, students gathered information about pricing and selling the goods.
In another outing, the class visited Studio J-Bone in Warren, where the owner, Jay Sawyer demonstrated his extensive metal sculpture work. An established artist, he frequently exhibits his work across the state, at locations such as the University of Maine, Farmington’s art gallery. Andrea Keushguerian, who also co-teaches the course, said she was impressed by the extent of his success, noting that “one of pieces is on display at the Portland Airport [and that] some of the large metal spheres he let the students play with are sold for several thousand dollars a piece.”
Entering modernity for a secondary project, the class will be laying down a boardwalk on the Lincoln Academy cross country trail, a project described with enthusiasm by Colleen Kaplinger, a student participating on the project, who remarked that “It will be better for the Cross Country team, as this will help with mud problems” she said.
The students utilized power tools, mulch, and lumber in while on the project, and hope to complete the project with eighty feet laid down; future expansion includes two fifty-foot segments and another thirty-foot one. Keushguerian added: “It [the trail] has multiple uses. It is used for hiking, biology classes, and the poetry walk, and more. That’s why it was necessary to do this project.” The collaborative nature of the work involved, which includes service to others, has given them an different view on how they can apply their education to the larger world.
The diverse opportunities offered during Eagle Term further Lincoln Academy’s mission of creating “lifelong learners who understand their complex relationship to the broader world,” be it through expressive, analytical, or hands-on means. Complementing traditional disciplines, the program puts theory into practice, which in turn, makes an actor reconsider his craft, an informed citizen her scrutiny, and a craftsperson her intent. As in any project, the end crowns the work.
Nathan McIvor is a 2017 graduate of Lincoln Academy and an intern in the LA Communications Office.