A couple of weeks back, my post rhapsodized about the unique beauty of the middle school talent show. For me, there are few things more delightful than watching an array of somewhat awkward, slightly pubescent kids cover Ozzy Osborne, dance to dubstep and spout classic poetry. Regardless of an act's polish or precision, every audience member crammed in to the hot cafeteria, magically transformed to a theater for just one evening, got what they paid for (actually, it's free) -- an hour-and-a-half of pure, if somewhat imperfect, entertainment.
But I've often wondered what happens to those brave sixth, seventh and eighth graders once they've moved on from the Follies stage. And this past week my questioned was answered.
They get better. Much, much better.
You see, last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
Throughout Fine Arts Week, during every class period of every day, something artistic is happening in the "Aud" (quite a step up from the folding chairs of the Hamilton cafeteria). There are students performing in, as well as directing, multiple one-act plays. There are rapt audiences watching their classmates sing in concert and treble choir and harmonizing in a cappella groups. There are students playing piano, oboe and percussion instruments -- and playing them beautifully. Audiences are treated to dynamic spoken word performances, abbreviated rock concerts, jazz gigs, as well as an opportunity to take in Multico, the West High theater troupe that writes and performs original skits based on topical societal issues that affect young people.
There was a lot happening off-stage, as well. Just around the corner from the auditorium, the art gallery was displaying incredible pieces from the school's visual arts programs. Gorgeous metal work, thoughtful and well-composed photography and stunning ceramics graced the professional looking space.
And I didn't leave my Fine Arts Week without swag. As I exited the gallery, I was handed a copy of West's Fine Arts Week magazine, published by students involved with The Scribbler, the school's literary and fine arts club. Later that night as I breezed through the pages filled with original short stories, poetry, photography and art I recognized a few names from middle school talent shows past. There had also been familiar faces on stage earlier that evening, looking and sounding not just older but, oh so much, better.
The middle school talent show, I now realize, while an absolute treat in its own right, is merely a delicious appetizer for the scrumptious main course and ooey, gooey decadent dessert all rolled into one that happens when the "talent" gets to high school.
And both unquestionably pay testament to the incredible value of having top-notch arts programs in our schools.
No, the kids aren't just all right during Fine Arts Week. They are absolutely fine. And then some.