Fine Arts at the Prep
The arts play a leading role in campus life at St. John's. Whether you are an aspiring musician, actor, director or artist, you'll discover exciting ways to explore your creativity here. And if you love seeing great plays, concerts and art exhibits, you'll find plenty to enjoy as well!
“We are all working artists and our passion and experience give us a unique perspective on what it takes to tap into your creativity,"
You feel a noticeably creative vibe the minute you you step into the Ryken Center for the Arts. Theater classes and set design workshops take center stage on the first floor, music permeates the practice rooms on the second floor, and light fills the busy art and ceramics studios on the third floor.
"We encourage each student’s unique abilities, and every department in this building does that in some way,” says art teacher Harriet Malone.
"I tell students that their art should evoke a reaction, and if does, they know it works."
Whether in drawing, painting, printmaking or sculpture, Harriet Malone encourages students to push boundaries and explore the outer reaches of their creativity. For some students, an interest in art is second nature. For others, it is a revelation that changes everything.
Ms. Malone is justly proud that many Prep students have been recognized in the prestigious Boston Globe Scholastic Art Awards program each year. And just as exciting, many graduates have gone on to become professional artists, designers, architects, photographers, and educators. Among them is Andrew Carr ‘02, who painted a mural depicting the history of the Prep to commemorate the school’s Centennial in 2007.
“I like to say that I teach magic.”
Working on the 12 wheels that fill the pottery studio, Bryant’s students make wonderfully creative teapots, mugs, chalices, and ceremonial objects.
“Transforming water, mud and fire into beautiful objects really helps students think about the roots of ancient civilization," says ceramics teacher Dale Bryant. "And what boy doesn’t like to play with mud?”
Byrant makes sure that there is a place for every student, whether they are beginners or advanced. Like her colleagues in the Fine Arts Department, she encourages students to experiment, think creatively, and work collaboratively - all skills that have become increasingly important in a variety of professional settings today.
“When students use their hands to create something beautiful and help someone else, they’re living our mission in a tangible way.”
First semester in ceramics class is spent making bowls - as many as 500 - for the Prep's annual Empty Bowls Dinner Party. Guests purchase one of the handmade bowls and fill it with soup that is generously donated by area restaurants.
Empty Bowls takes place in January (perfect for hot soup!) and the proceeds from the event benefit Haven from Hunger, a food pantry in Peabody. Empty Bowls events have been organized by potters across the country as a creative way to use art for social action. Dale Bryant introduced the idea to St. John’s in 1999. In addition to raising money through Empty Bowls, students from St. John’s prepare and serve meals at Haven from Hunger throughout the year.
“What students find exciting about theater is the ability to create something entirely their own.”
Drama teacher Alicia Greenwood smiles when she describes the Prep's Drama Guild as a large and quirky family. “They love the sense of ownership and community that comes from working together, cast and crew, to stage a production.”
They derive some of the that sense of ownership from a course offered in play production, where the students act as a non-profit theater company.
The Nuts and Bolts of Theater
The success of every production depends as much on what goes on behind the scenes as what takes place on stage. That's where the stage crew comes in: designing and building sets, working out lighting, and dreaming up costumes that not only look the part, but work well for the actors. To learn the ropes, students can choose theater courses in everything from playwriting and acting to scenic design & lighting, and stage make-up and mask making.
Members of the Drama Guild put on two major productions a year: a musical in the fall, and a 40-minute production for the annual Massachusetts High School Drama Festiva in the spring. Recent productions run the gamut from "How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying" to "Macbeth."
“Music combines creativity with rigorous discipline.”
Musicians in the making find a wide range of courses at the Prep with a rich selection in everything from jazz combo and chamber music to music technology and songwriting.
Music teachers Michael Hamill and Seelan Manickam share the conviction that every student - whether they aspire to become a professional musican or want to play for personal enjoyment - needs a strong technical foundation.
"There is a discernment process that has to be learned," says Hamill. "Teaching students how to discern isn't meant to enforce an opinion. It's meant to teach them to question and take their understanding to a higher level. When a musician can do that, we say he 'has ears,' and that is what we hope our students learn here."
Going on Tour
Learning to perform with confidemce is a big part of music education at the Prep. Feeling comfortable in front of an audience and knowing performance etiquette are skills students find useful, but not only in concert. "More than once, parents have told me that what their sons learn in music will help them in their careers," says Mr. Manickam.
St. John's offers a variety of ensembles, including the Celtic Band, Men’s Chorus, Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, and Spire Brass, among others. And with more than 100 concerts on the schedule each year, Prep musicians appear locally and as far away as New York, Dublin, Rome, Vienna and Bruges.