Summer 2014
Faculty Creativity Leads to Two Innovative Courses

Faculty Creativity Leads to Two Innovative Courses

At Prep, the creativity and learning aren’t just left up to the students.

Faculty are curious, and they’re encouraged to innovate. Two new courses last year were a direct result of such innovation—teachers were moved to share new perspectives with students, and the results were inspiring.

On the Town

Dramatic Lit Course Sends Students to see the Bright Lights of LA

In the spring of 2013, Performing Arts Department Chair Rob Lewis and teacher Lisa Bierman ’03 took a group of students to see a production of Tribes at the Mark Taper Forum. The students’ inspired analysis and enthusiastic response to the trip begged the question: Why don’t we do this more often?

So now they do.

In the spring of 2014, the Dramatic Literature course made its first appearance on the Prep stage. It was a new sort of course, in which students get to go into LA and see one play a week—a blend that ranged from Shakespeare to musicals and even experimental shows that incorporated puppets, improv and multimedia.

Prior to seeing the show, Lewis and Bierman used class time to set up each play, sometimes imparting information on theater history or on the playwright, and other times giving context to the style of the play or the company putting it on. Each Thursday night, the entire class headed out into Los Angeles, from Westwood to downtown and Koreatown, to see shows. And then on Mondays, they would debrief.

Faculty Creativity Leads to Two Innovative Courses

When creating the course, Bierman and Lewis were excited to be able to offer a theater class that had nothing to do with being on stage. The seniors enrolled had diverse backgrounds, some having acted in all of the school productions, others who were involved in plays but weren’t actors and even a group of students who had never participated in theater before.

Says Bierman, “In high school, theater is often seen as acting, but you don’t have to participate in productions to develop an understanding or love of theater.”

Class discussions were never dull, as students broke down the acting and directing and compared and contrasted elements of each play. As the course progressed, , students had more context to dissect each production.

“They always had to back up their opinions,” Lewis says. “The course was not about creating critics, it was about learning to have a conversation about the same piece from different angles…This class provided the framework to have an educated opinion on forms of communication.”

Galey Caverly ’14 says she loved the diverse makeup of the class, and sharing opinions with her peers helped her broaden her views on theater.

“It was interesting to get the viewpoints of people who were not in plays versus the people who want to be on stage,” she says.

Michael Cassutt ’14 agrees, adding that he enjoyed the wide range of plays he experienced, some good and some not so good.

“Mr. Lewis and Ms. Bierman gave us things to look for, from the choices of the director to the choices of the actors to the composition of the audience,” he says. “I was going in with more of a critical eye and it made me a more informed patron.”

Lewis says the course is on the docket for next year, and he’s excited about recreating the curriculum around whatever plays are offered in the LA area in the spring. The two teachers agree that the class elevated the level of discourse about art on campus, and the seniors enrolled left with a heightened level of creativity and enthusiasm for how to express themselves.

Says Bierman, “It’s a great opportunity for the students. It’s hard to think outside the box when you don’t even know what the scope of the box is.”

On Camera

Students Learn to Express Themselves in Video Art Class

Prep’s Visual Arts Department has always spanned mediums—from sketching to painting, ceramics and photography, students have numerous ways to express themselves. This fall, photography teacher Ricardo Rodriguez introduced one more: video.

Today’s students are used to communicating through videos. Whether browsing the internet for funny YouTube videos, seeing a 3D movie or filming a 15-second Instagram video to share with friends, teenagers are constantly looking at and producing moving images.

Rodriquez, who has studied video art himself, wanted to show interested students that video as an art is much more complex and rewarding than pointing and shooting.

He built a curriculum, got it approved, and the class quickly filled.

Brandt Rohde ’15 had taken photography, and he was interested in trying out a totally new class at Prep. He said he was excited about “making art in a way that I haven’t before.”

Rodriguez started the class with an introduction to the medium. He took students through a brief history of video art, recognizing pioneering works and showcasing different defining works of video art.

For one of the first projects of the year, Rodriguez had the students create flipbooks, teaching them the fundamentals of moving images. It was truly about teaching students the basics—sans technology.

Says Rohde, “It really gave me an appreciation for timing. Some pieces only need to be 30 seconds and some deserve hours.”

In itself, video art is a challenging concept, as video is most often used to tell a narrative story, whereas in art, the message or emotion on display is often nonlinear.

The students quickly moved from flipbooks to making videos. Rodriguez incorporated lessons on advanced editing software, though he shied away from making technology and software a driving force in the classroom. For one project, the students collaborated with dance classes to make a backdrop video art piece for the annual Spring Dance Concert. In another, students were asked to use two videos in one project, whether overlaying them on top of one another or having them play side-by-side.

Says Rodriguez, “I was surprised by every assignment. They were so self driven, there’s always many ways of resolving a project or answering a prompt, and sometimes the results were unexpected.”

At the conclusion of each project, Rodriguez would allow the students to showcase their work to classmates and would open up the floor to critique—a forum that often brought thoughtful introspection and collaboration.
Rodriguez plans to offer the course in the fall, hoping to tweak assignments and continue to hone the course.

Rohde says that being part of a new class at Prep was a great experience, as he felt like he got to really make an impact on the curriculum. Rodriguez consistently asked for feedback, allowing students to help build the groundwork for the future of the course