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The Spice of Life Show

Posted By Jeff Westbrook, Sunday, November 13, 2016

Everyone has heard the old proverb: “Variety is the spice of life.”  New and exciting experiences make life more interesting and joyful.  Variety opens the door to new insights and creative imagining and it makes us more thoughtful and receptive people.

In 1996, my first year at ACS, the art department decided to create something new.  As we were thinking about how to shape a new production, we quickly focused on a few key ideas:  we wanted it to very kid-centric, we wanted it to be fun for performers and audiences alike, we wanted it to be relatively free of the pressure that so often comes with public performances, we wanted it to be very inclusive, and we wanted to encourage students to think and play outside the box.

We also knew some things we didn’t want:  we didn’t want it to be a typical talent show where students feature only polished skills and abilities that have been developed over many years, we didn’t want it to have the formality of our Gatherings that feature students performing mostly classical music (though those events are naturally wonderful in a different way), we didn’t want it to require students to give up other activities and sports to participate, and we didn’t want to discourage kids who haven’t performed in public before or don’t see themselves as “theater people.”

One of the first decisions we made was that we would have a theme to bring all of the acts together and (hopefully) inspire students to explore and create something new.  The first theme was “We, the People,” a show about voting, politics and democracy produced on election night 1996, when incumbent Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole to retain the presidency.  We’ve had themes about places (Chicago, New York, France, Hollywood, the United States, the American west, the entire world), times (world history, Halloween, holidays, the 60s, the 80s), and “genres” (rock ‘n roll, romance, vaudeville, fairy tales, science fiction, mysteries, sports and movies).  What has united them all together over these twenty years has been seeing students develop a concept that will tie their interests and abilities to a specific thematic focus.

A few of the hundreds of performers and crew members from past variety shows are actually pursuing careers in the performing arts – in music, theater, and film – but a vast majority are getting an education or are working jobs in other areas: law, medicine, science, business, engineering, education, and so on.  I like thinking about doctors and lawyers and such who may never perform publicly again, but one time (or eight times) many years ago they sang and played and danced and acted like the performers they are.  For a little while, they were able to focus not on the rigorous academics of ACS and the various duties and pressures of daily life,  but on being a star on the stage in the spotlight.  In the process, they also gave family members, friends, and other students the thrill of seeing a burgeoning artist in action. 

The arts cannot be a full meal for most people, but they can be the salt and pepper, making everything else taste better.  I am deeply honored to have shepherded so many students along their creative journeys as they have discovered that variety truly is the spice of life.

~ Jeff Westbrook, Drama Teacher

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