Interest Rises In Student-Led Performances At Baltimore School For The Arts

Archive, School Year 2021-22, The Arts

By: A. W. Taylor

In February, the students of the Baltimore School for the Arts performed in the annual Black History Month Showcase. Unlike other performances like the Nutcracker or Junior Scenes, this performance is not mandatory; it is led by students. The showcase stands as BSA’s only performance that is organized and directed by students for the student body. 

The Black History Month Showcase was led by five student directors and overseen by two faculty advisors. Students were able to pitch their ideas to the student directors and, after auditions and three months of rehearsals, they were able to perform them for their peers. 

“It was really exciting because I was able to express my culture of being a native of Baltimore to people who probably haven’t really had that experience before”, said Junior Dancer Iyona Kane, who choreographed a dance piece on Baltimore club music. 

Kane believes student-led performances are “where it is”. She believes that students can express more creativity when they can perform their own piece for their peers, rather than being given a piece to perform. 

Rehearsals for the Black History Month Showcase, though, took place at a problematic time. With Winter Break, Midterms, The Nutcracker, and the Winter Concert, BSA students had many conflicts during the showcase’s prime rehearsal time. 

“I think we could strive for a little more organization”, said Senior Dancer Jaylah Symonette, one of the student directors for the Black History Month Showcase. “Even scheduling wise, making sure we’re meeting all of our deadlines. I feel like tightening that up would make the whole process a lot less stressful for the leadership team.”

“Everything was pretty much against us”, said Christian Whitley, one of the faculty advisors for the Black History Month Showcase. As a faculty advisor, his job was to make sure the students had what they needed to put on the performance. 

“It’s one thing to put a performance together, it’s another to understand how the performance fits into the technical aspect of the show”, Whitley explained. During the rehearsal process, Whitley wanted to teach students the overlooked aspects of putting on a performance. 

“If you want this to be a part of your show these are other disciplines that need to know that information too. Even though you just choreographed your dance pieces, your lighting people need to know x, y, and z”, Whitley described. Because of time conflicts, however, he had to organize most of the technical needs of the show.

He explained, “I would recommend the school start explaining that to students versus just teachers taking it on themselves. It’s another thing to know how to establish communication between different art disciplines and just not focusing on one thing.” 

Crossing art disciplines is something that is not usually done at BSA. With the exception of Interdisciplinary, an elective class that focuses on collaboration between different art forms, students at BSA are rarely able to venture outside their art. 

The Black History Month Showcase provided students with an opportunity to explore other art forms. Musicians were able to dance and dancers were able to sing. 

“It was so fun because not everyone had the same dance experience”, explained Kane. “Sometimes people might look at that as difficult, but I looked at it as a new challenge, as a new opportunity. And, it gives that person something under their belt.”

Symonette wants to see more cross-discipline performances. “I really, really, really enjoyed that and it makes people get out of their comfort zone and try something new.”

Kane also wants to see more interdisciplinary performances. She expressed interest in producing a show with people from different art forms. 

“Students, nowadays, are in their prime moments of being able to exercise creativity. We, as an art school, need to understand that, recognize that, and be able to encourage that”, said Whitley. “Yes, we have things as a school that we require you to do, but let’s also push you beyond your comfort zone. Let’s have you put together something on your own and let you exercise creativity.”

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