ST. GEORGE — The Tuacahn High School for the Arts building has been buzzing with artistic activity these past few weeks, as teachers and students prepare for the school’s final performance at its current campus, “The Artist’s Journey,” which opens Wednesday.
Due to ongoing performance space disputes, among other challenges, the Tuacahn Center for the Arts board voted to release the Tuacahn High School for the Arts charter.
The Utah state charter board has approved a new board of directors for the high school, to be renamed the Utah Arts Academy, and now they are in the process of finding a space to house the program next year. Student Madison Backman, a member of the ensemble performing the piece, said that she was saddened by the fact that this will be the last performance at Tuacahn High School for the Arts in Padre Canyon, but she’s not losing heart.
“Wherever the school goes, that’s where the school is,” she said. “This is just a building.”
Tuacahn High’s artistic director and acting teacher Kyle Lewis said students and teachers have been pining to perform.
“We’ve struggled with finding performance spaces throughout the year,” Lewis said. “Now that space is free, the challenge is: How do I get everybody involved, without putting on a variety show?”
Lewis’ answer was a cyclical performance, based upon the hero’s journey, that charts the artist’s journey. While Joseph Campbell’s 12-step cycle was inspired by various world myths, Lewis opted to present eight steps centered on the artist’s journey of growth.
“It’s told through every element of the arts that we produce here,” Lewis said. “Visual art, dance, musical theatre, instrumental music, improv and so on.”
Some of the steps included are: The call to adventure, meeting with the mentor, approaching the innermost demon, and rebirth and resolve. According to Campbell, these phases of a story are applicable to virtually every work of literature, because they can be found in our own lives.
Lewis said that each of the eight groups has seven minutes to perform. Each group performs in their own spaces, which are scattered throughout the school. Improv students serve as guides, leading groups of 12 from space to space.
“So, each student will perform eight times each night,” Lewis said. “That’s more dynamic than a variety show, where parents often leave after their child performs.”
The structure of the performance also opens up the narrative to include more than one hero. One of the tenets of post-dramatic theatre, a term coined by German theatre researcher Hans-Thies Lehmann, is shifting the focus from the fictional world of the text to the performers, tasks, and the spaces in which they perform.
In classical texts like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” for instance, or more contemporary ones like George Lucas’ “Star Wars” trilogy, the hero’s journey may be used to track the protagonist’s arc throughout the story. In post-dramatic theatre, which has its roots in experimental theaters like The Open Theater and The Performance Group, beginning in the late 1960’s, performers are increasingly part of an ensemble that has no protagonist.
Freshman Joey Allred, a member of an ensemble led by Lewis, said that he appreciates Lewis’ approach to building this performance.
“No one is assigned a specific role,” Allred told St. George News. “But everyone has a unique part. Without any one of the members, the play would be vitally different. Each member is crucial to the performance.”
August Law, who’s also part of Lewis’ ensemble, echoed Allred’s feelings about working with Lewis.
“Kyle is a genius,” Law said. “Compared to other productions I’ve been a part of, this is a lot more experimental. We get to play with more than we would if we were doing a Disney musical as part of a community theater.”
Law said that the trouble with the more traditional work is that it relies too heavily of formulaic stories done in the same tired ways, which make for bland theatre.
“This is different because Kyle, as an artist, he wants to take it to the next level,” Law said. “He wants to break the boundaries of a lot of art.”
Backman said that this performance is special.
“This will be the last show I’ll do here at Tuacahn,” she said. “It’s also the last show I’ll do as a high school student.”
Lewis added that the artist’s journey applies to each of his students, as it encompasses a search for artistic growth and understanding through an educational journey. Which, in some ways, mirrors the rehearsal process.
“An improv student asked me: ‘What if something goes wrong?'” Lewis said. “That’s the joy of it!”
Performances of “The Artist’s Journey” will take place Wednesday through Friday, April 28-30, and May 1, 3 and 4. Showtime is 7 p.m., and tickets, which will be limited to 96 per night, can be purchased here.
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