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The Genesis and History of Performance at ArtSpace

The Genesis and History of Performance at ArtSpace

Since 2001, ArtSpace  has utilized a combination of direct arts instruction, arts exposure, and arts integration to engage students in their learning.  In this 15 years ArtSpace has built an incredible performance history.  Each year kindergarten – 8th grade students perform in an average of 40 performances on the ArtSpace stage.  However, it wasn’t always this way.  In 2003, the performance tradition began that would set the course for many years: the Multi-media Performance, or MMP.

A 4th grader holding her final pose at the end of a hip hop number in "A Little Spacey"

A 4th grader holding her final pose at the end of a hip hop number in “A Little Spacey”

ArtSpace’s inaugural MMP was the brain-child of then 2nd grade teacher Lesa Schirmacher who wrote agrant through the Asheville Area Arts Council to use the facilities at NC Stage Company in downtown Asheville.  Ms. Lesa wanted to give her students the opportunity to act, dance and display their visual art pieces for an audience.  This first MMP compared and contrasted life in NC with life in Ghana, Africa.

The following year 3rd and 4th grade teachers Ellie Halsey, Erin Carr and Lyn VanOver wanted to join in the fun and create pieces for their students to have a turn on the stage.  With this increase in student performers the school needed to find a new place to perform and the MMP event moved to the theater at the Conference Center in Ridgecrest, NC.  The theme of that evening’s performances was “change”.  Each class adopted the theme of “change” as a unit study and then created a performance out of that content.  This tradition continued for many years until eventually every class, grade 2-8, performed as part of an annual MMP.

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5th grader sharing explorer monologue

In the the 2009 School year ArtSpace opened the arts wing and finally had a dedicated theater space. Since the school had its own performance space, there was no longer pressure to consolidate all grade levels into one event. Every grade level at ArtSpace now takes part in at least one performance piece on the ArtSpace stage each year.  These pieces range from an exploration of the continents in the 2nd grade World’s Fair, 6th graders adapting Greek classics to 7th and 8th graders sharing work from their elective classes.  Performances may be fully realized formal productions such as the school musical, or less formal works sometimes called “informances.”

In the last month, 4th and 5th grade at ArtSpace performed “A Little Spacey” and “We the People” respectively.  These pieces were reminiscent of the earlier MMP’s at ArtSpace – clearly integrating content the students had studied with performance in order to engage and enlighten performer and audience alike.

5th grade’s “We the People”, an american history piece, answered big questions such as “Who are we?” and “Where did we come from?”  The performance began with a dance piece that shared the perspective of the

5th graders dancing original choreography to represent indigenous people in the Americas

5th graders dancing original choreography to represent indigenous people in the Americas

indigenous peoples who lived in the US before the European explorers journeyed to the continent. It was followed by a series of tableaus that discussed the trials and travails of Europeans as they explored the New World.  The historical study continued through colonial times and events leading up to the Revolutionary War.  These events were illustrated with a stage reading of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”, excerpts from the musical 1776, and closed with a recitation of “The Declaration of Independence” while a group of students created a tableaux of the Emanuel Leutze classic painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware”.

This was Ms. Heather’s first time working on a production with her students that incorporated so much. She learned  “that while a lot of separate pieces can be daunting, it is so worth it for the final effect. I think the most important thing I learned was that true arts integration across the board really takes the expertise of all the teachers involved, and that our students are so lucky to have this offered to them every day they

5th grade recreation of "Washington Crossing the Delaware"

5th grade recreation of “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

learn at ArtSpace.”

4th grade’s “A Little Spacey” took the audience on a celestial journey.  In the story, the moon deserts Earth to explore the other planets of the galaxy.  This original piece was written by Ms. Victoria and included help from the 4th graders, and music teacher Ms. Meg as the lyrics to popular songs were rewritten to express specific information about the Earth/Moon relationship and other concepts about the planets in the Milky Way.  Ms. Mary, ArtSpace’s dance teacher, worked collaboratively with students to create original hip hop choreography to illustrate these concepts even further.

The moon and the earth work it out in the end

The moon and the earth work it out in the end

Audiences for both the 4th and 5th grade performances were entertained and informed.  The student performers produced work they can be proud of and the knowledge they gained while researching, rehearsing and performing will stick with them for a lifetime.  They are able inheritors of a rich tradition of ArtSpace performance.