The dance costumes and sheet music are stored away, and the lanyards and T-shirts are proudly displayed at home by the 300 budding artists who traveled from across Tennessee to the 39th annual Governor’s School for the Arts at Middle Tennessee State University.
Immersed nearly 24/7 with working musicians, set designers, sculptors, film editors, choreographers and painters to draw, dance, shoot photos, parse Shakespeare and play instruments for almost a month, the high school juniors and seniors also squeezed in a feel for college life, too.
“For many of them, this is when they realize that this could be a career,” explains Governor’s School Director Kate Goodwin, an associate professor in MTSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance who’s also a university alumna.
“Their interest doesn’t just have to be a thing that they enjoy and then feel like they have to go into a different career path. This could be their thing, for life.”
In 1984, Tennessee established summer programs for young people in the arts, engineering and math, and international studies — one for each of the state’s three grand divisions — at the behest of then-governor Lamar Alexander.
Today there are 11 different Governor’s Schools across the state, ranging from agricultural sciences to Tennessee history to leadership to teaching, to immerse students in their chosen fields for three to four weeks. Some give them college course credit, too.
MTSU’s Governor’s School for the Arts serves public, private and home-schooled high school juniors and seniors in music, theater, visual arts, dance and filmmaking.
They apply or are nominated by their teachers, then audition or present portfolios of their work. When they’re accepted, they come to MTSU, with faculty and Governor’s School alumni-turned-counselors from across the country, for days, and often nights, filled with workshops and presentations and master classes and rehearsals and guest lectures and field trips and concerts.
This year’s session ramped up their extra learning opportunities, including:
• Visits to Nashville to the Beatrix Potter exhibit at the Frist Art Museum and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center for Mozart’s “Requiem.”
• An overnight trip to Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre for the world premiere of “Water for Elephants” that also included an unexpected visit with the cast, producers and director.
• A Tucker Theatre performance and discussion with Alex and Olmsted, the internationally acclaimed — and two-time Jim Henson Foundation Grant recipient — puppet theater and film company co-founded by 2007 MTSU theatre alumnus Alex Vernon.
“I was looking for a performance that I could bring in for the entire school, a mixture that represents several of our arts areas,” Goodwin recalls, “and this one did such a beautiful job. They call them puppeteers, but that alone may not really do it justice because there are somany things they do. …
“Our theater kids, our film kids, our visual arts kids, our dancers and even our musicians could all sort of see how all of their areas played into this one. It was really entertaining and also just expertly presented performances.”
‘They all earned their spot here’
At MTSU, Governor’s School staff and more than 100 faculty members work to balance learning opportunities for all their students, aware that their experiences in the arts are as varied as their interests.
“Some of them will have had lots of experience in their arts because they may have had access to private instruction … or they may come from schools that have really robust arts offerings, or they may be coming from some of the smaller or more rural or urban places in our state where maybe those things are not options for them, for whatever reason,” Goodwin says.
“But they’re all here, which means that they all earned their spot here. So even if they look around and realize somebody may not have the same background, they can think, ‘I’m still here. And what I’m getting out of it is just as valuable as somebody else who may have more experience than me.’ Understanding where our kids are coming from, on multiple levels, I think, is really valuable. … We don’t take it lightly, that’s for sure.”
Funding cuts have trimmed the GSFTA to three weeks, Goodwin says, allowing staff and faculty to pivot from traditional full-scale theater productions to a more nuanced, time-conscious, theater-instruction plan. Students can focus in depth on scene work, musical theater, performing Shakespeare, stage combat and the like “to really work on things in deep ways in a class situation.”
Just as they would be, the director notes, if they were already MTSU students.
“They see what it’s like to be a college student who is studying their particular art,” she explains. “They get to work with professionals and see professionals and also our counselors, who are, for the most part either college students or have just finished college, who are studying the art that the Governor’s School students are.
“When you talk to a lot of our counselors, several of them … say, ‘Going to Governor’s School was the thing that let me know that I could be a musician, that I could be an actor or a director or a dancer.’ And again, we don’t take any of that lightly. We realize that we are essentially offering them the experience of what it is to be a student in their art discipline on a college campus, focusing on it, not just having it be ‘a thing that they do once a week,’ but really an intensive experience, what that’s like and what it could be like for them.”
More information about the annual Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts is available at https://gsfta.com. Details on all the Tennessee Governor’s Schools statewide are available at https://bit.ly/TennesseeGovernorsSchoolsInfo.
— Gina E. Fann (email@example.com)