This much I know about…the importance of Huntington School’s Arts Festival

I have been a teacher for 30 years, a Headteacher for 15 years and, at the age of 54, this much I know about the importance of Huntington School’s Arts Festival.

I wish I could play a musical instrument. At primary school my attempt to master the violin came to a screeching halt soon after it began; at secondary, things fell flat between me and my trombone early on in our relationship and as an adult, life with a guitar was all fretful discord. I have one minor musical success: in Year 7 I was the drummer-boy soloist in the school musical, All the King’s Men, because I could sing, but then my voice broke and I became all Barry White in the Streford End.

As for art, I loved the idea of being an artist, but lacked the gumption to improve my limited skills. Dance? Well, I can jive, up to a point, and then it is pure Brighton Stomp. And treading the boards in serious drama has never been an attractive proposition; most of my first year of secondary school drama in 1975-6 was taken up with an improvisation of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and I have never quite recovered.

Despite my lack of artistic success I support the arts at Huntington as much as I possibly can. In no way, shape or form do I claim to be some unfettered champion of the arts; the pressure upon schools to do well in the Ebacc subjects, coupled with the increased academic challenge of the new GCSEs, led to us reducing the curriculum space for other subjects. I feel a mild shiver of guilt at admitting such a thing, but, until you are a head teacher it is hard to understand just how far accountability measures affect decision-making.

Whilst some of our decisions over the past years may have disadvantaged the arts in our school, many other aspects of school life at Huntington positively promote the arts, none more so than our summer Arts Festival.  Like so many schools, the last two weeks of term are dedicated to school productions. For years, inspired by Richard Tither our erstwhile Director of Sixth Form, we would perform a musical, all done from scratch in a week. We now have an Arts Festival where Art, Dance, Drama and Music showcase their best work during the evening of the last Thursday of the year.

Last year’s Arts Festival began in the shadow of an impending OFSTED inspection; to huge applause, I announced to the cast that even if OFSTED rang we would not send 250 students back to classes – the show had to go on! This year, post-OFSTED, our Arts Festival adopted the theme of  “The Journey”, something that left enough creative space for each strand of the arts to interpret the theme as they wished.

You’ll find below the programme notes which give the merest hint of what went on in Art, Dance, Drama and Music. It is worth reading in full; it justifies the place of the arts in the school curriculum as well as anything I have read:

 

More than 250 students have been involved in the creation of what you will see and hear tonight. This event provides students who are passionate about the Arts a unique opportunity to experiment and create innovative and inspiring works of art, theatre, dance and music.

It exposes them to the challenges of making ideas reality and pushes them to be resilient in the face of critical appraisal.

For the performers, there is the adrenalin rush that comes with the live performance – the joy of success, and the camaraderie of working together. For the artists it is the chance to ‘think and make’ collectively, working towards a brief on a large scale. For the film makers, photographers, front of house team, sound teams, back stage, props and lighting team, the event provides opportunities to both develop skills and take responsibility for the smooth running of a large scale event.

It’s important to stress that the Arts festival is not just for students who want to go into the creative industries in the future; it is real world learning, learning that is relevant to everyone’s future working life.

More importantly still, it’s the stuff that makes us human.

Huntington Arts staff offer varied extracurricular opportunities throughout the year. The Arts Festival is just one of them. For academic study we are a body of experienced, teachers delivering great results in GCSE Art, Drama, Media and Music and A level Art, Drama, Media, Music, Music Technology and Photography.

Please come and talk to us at open evenings and parents evenings and learn about the relevance and value of what we do. We hope you have a great evening.

Liz Dunbar (on behalf of Paul Birch, Amanda Blunt, Buffy Breakwell, Tim Burnage, Karl Elwell, Cassie Garbutt, Caroline Hight, Luke Redhead, Sarah Sellars, Joao Vilar, Katy Welford, and Ian Wilson).

The following explains how the various teams have engaged with this year’s theme “The Journey”.

 

Main Hall – Art

‘Art speaks when words are unable to explain’

Over the 4 day festival period, students from years 7, 8, 9 and 10 have transformed the hall into both an installation space and a gallery.

Together we have explored the theme of ‘the journey’ in several ways.

The first explores the journey of ‘waste’. Approximately 91% of plastic products are not recycled. Tragically most ends up as rubbish in landfill or in our oceans.

One of our ideas has been to chart the journey of the plastic water bottle, the can, the crisp packet by reusing and reinventing them as objects of beauty.

Students have painted images of nature onto the rubbish to pointedly illustrate the vast scale of waste and to remind viewers of the fragility of our planet.

The second examines the differences between immigration and migration through a piece of installation art.

Students have created 3 tepees which are decorated with maps representing the imagined journeys immigrants might have taken.

Inside the tepees we have focused our attentions on the idea of migration by creating origami birds also made from maps.

In addition to works created in response to the festival’s theme, you will also see examples of this year’s work from GCSE and A level students, showcasing the diverse range of their creativity.

We hope you enjoy exploring the exhibition.

 

Library – Music

‘Crossing continents and cultural boundaries’

Music travels with the people who make it. It crosses continents and cultural boundaries. It leaves its fingerprints on the history of nations and reflects the actions of people through peace and through war.

Tonight you will hear aspects of the journey music has made in the last century, from the rhythms of samba and African music, to the heartfelt emotions of gospel.

We close with the journey that we all make at the end of every day……to bed and into our dreams.

Our starting point for every performance is driven by the impact the experience will have on the musicians involved.

To that end we shape all the performance material to enable all levels of musician to take part from the experienced ‘grade eighters’, to those with no training at all.

We have been supported all week in rehearsals by A Level Music alumni Hannah Bayliss, Will Gibbon and Rachael Langtree. It’s a Huntington tradition enabling us to be a little more ambitious with repertoire than we would otherwise be.

 

Sports Hall – Dance

Led by guest choreographer, Luke Redhead

The dance team will be taking audience members on a journey into the future, and exploring how technological innovations shape different aspects of human life.

The first source of inspiration comes from a Sadler’s Wells piece entitled ‘Gravity Fatigue’, where fashion and dance combine, exploring shape and form.

The second source of inspiration comes from a piece Luke created whilst living in Australia called ‘The Gainers’.

In keeping with the theme of technological innovation, Luke uses tap to create the percussive effects associated with the hard metal surfaces of industry. The music you will hear combines Scandinavian electro, with the flare of the Charleston.

 

Studio Theatre – Drama

‘Settle Down’ by Paul Birch

The theatre is the place where audiences see themselves and the world, reflected back’

 In preparation for the Arts festival guest writer Paul Birch led workshops with students which explored the idea of ‘The Journey’ through improvisation and storytelling.

This led to the identification of two major sub-themes students wanted to develop – ‘Dreams’ and ‘Segregation’.

Paul then went away to write the script. In the Arts Festival week students have had just 4 days to bring these words to life, working collaboratively to master physical skills, learn lines and empathise with and create their characters.

There are 35 individual speaking parts as well as choral speech for the entire company.

The play focuses on how dangerous and fearful refugee journeys can be. Whilst there is a strong resonance with Syria, it borrows elements from a range of stories and political situations rather than just one.

The performance incorporates a wide variety of styles, including abstract and physical theatre.

Our interpretation of ‘The Journey’ has been threefold.

It has been a creative journey where we start with nothing and end up with an imaginative play.

It has been a physical journey where our characters leave their home.

Finally, it has been an emotional journey where the thoughts and feelings of the characters evolve and change as the plot moves forward.

 

The following explains the role of the supporting teams within the Arts Festival

Media team

The Media team has two roles: to respond to the requests of each of the Arts Festival creative teams and to document the whole process.

In the past the Media team has worked closely with the Dance and Drama teams to create visual backdrops that create an atmosphere that helps to communicate the meanings behind the performances.

We also understand the monumental efforts that go into making the Arts Festival what it is.
Capturing the creative process on film enables teams to reflect on the event at a later date, something that performers cannot do in the ‘live’ moment.

The performances on the night will also be recorded and edited, allowing us to have something to show to students next year.

 

Front of House

The Front of House team help make the festival run smoothly. These are the first people you will meet when you arrive at the festival, and they will be on hand to guide you throughout the evening.

We couldn’t manage the event without them.

 

Samba band

When it is time to move on your next venue you will hear the pounding rhythms of Latin American percussion bringing the sights and sound of carnival from Brazil to the festival.

 

Technical team

Without a tech team concerts and live performances would be lost.

The ‘techies’ face the immense pressure of ensuring that the lighting, sound and video elements run smoothly on the night and that’s after the epic task of building the stage, setting up and testing the equipment and rehearsing the technical aspects of each performance.

Tech teams live in the shadows of a performance and only usually get a (stern) glance from the audience when something technical doesn’t quite go as planned.

They are there to make the performers look and sound great and if the show goes well then you probably won’t even notice them at all.

The skill of working well under pressure is essential, as is the ability to work as part of a team.

It’s learning for life.

 

The Arts Festival gives us something more than just an Arts Festival. It is a momentous event in our school’s calendar. It is ritual. It is about identity. It is about a sense of community. It is about belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

One last thought. The day after the Arts Festival I spoke at length with Liz Dunbar, our Subject Leader for Music. She has the highest expectations of anyone and everyone involved in the Arts Festival. I don’t think I understood what excellence in the arts meant until I met Liz. Over the years, she has helped students reach levels of mastery in performance which they themselves did not know they were capable of; I told her that she humbles me with her eternal insistence that things can always be better. And her utter refusal to accept anything less than our students’ best has rubbed off on her colleagues and our students – this year’s Festival was remarkable in its quality and the scope of its artistic ambition.

Importantly, Liz Dunbar understands that for so many of our students – in a socially diverse, inclusive, large, co-ed state comprehensive school, just like the one I attended decades ago – performing in the Arts Festival is the pinnacle of their school careers. Bar Freddie Mercury mania, I can remember none of my lessons in the summer of 1976, but I still know all the words to my final solo as the drummer-boy in Uckfield School’s summer show…

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
This entry was posted in General educational issues. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to This much I know about…the importance of Huntington School’s Arts Festival

  1. Thanks for writing this John; so important we celebrate Arts in schools. I bet Liz is chuffed 🙂 Also loved this line: “… in the shadow of an impending OFSTED inspection; to huge applause, I announced to the cast that even if OFSTED rang we would not send 250 students back to classes – the show had to go on!” I wouldn’t imagine some headteachers would do the same. Bravo!

    I can’t remember many lessons from 1981, but I do remember the story of Jesus from my role as one of the wise men 🙂

  2. John Tomsett says:

    Thanks Ross and thanks so much for the RT!

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