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College Performing Arts and Media Tour

May 10, 2013 at 12:13 PM

With thanks to Head of Middle School, Duncan McQueen

San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. Where better in the world to take the classroom to absorb live theatrical performances, behind the scenes studio tours and hands on workshops, than the homeland of the motion picture and entertainment industry.

With many months of meticulous planning, the Performing Arts and Media tour of 48 students and 7 support staff embarked to the US amid a programme brimming full of events and sights. What lay ahead over the next 15 days would take them from the West Coast to the East, and to some of the most pioneering and institutional theatres, television studios and dance academies in the world.

Their journey began in the portside city of San Francisco, the cool climate embracing the group with typical dry fine days. The first exposure to the sheer size and capacity of a US media company was a visit to Pandora, the largest internet music provider in the US, with over 70 million listeners per week. Then from a modern-day digital platform to the oldest professional ballet company in America, the students felt privileged to experience the San Francisco Ballet Performing Arts Centre. The Centre has enjoyed a long and rich tradition of artistic firsts since its founding in 1933, and is one of the three largest ballet companies in the USA.

Famous for its hills, a visit to San Francisco could not be complete without an iconic cable car ride and waterfront tourist attractions, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. The Golden Gate Bridge in all its suspended glory beckoned to be walked, as did the pull of retail therapy in Union Square! Nonetheless, the overall highlight was a trip to the isolated former prison Alcatraz, which the students unanimously agreed was ‘educational and cool.’

The lure of the global power city New York soon beckoned and further sunlit days were jam packed full of hands on learning workshops and activities. Ticked off were visits to the Museum of the Moving Image, NY Conservatory for Dramatic Art, Broadway Dance Centre and a workshop at Broadway theatre. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.

New York’s Julliard School for Dance, Drama and Music was sure to impress our students. Founded in 1905 as the Institute of Musical Art, the alumni have collectively won more than 105 Grammy Awards, 62 Tony Awards, 47 Emmy Awards, 26 Bessie Awards, 24 Academy Awards, 16 Pulitzer Prizes, and 12 National Medals for the Arts. Juilliard also maintains an inventory of 253 Steinway pianos, the largest collection of any institution in the world.

Having felt they had mastered the Subway challenges and maze, the groups ventured on to the ever lively Times Square, and a boat cruise on the Hudson River out to the colossal neoclassical sculpture, the Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial was quite a moving experience for all, especially for the few who actually spoke with a survivor from the day. Collectively the fountains were pondered to be amazing - very fitting and visually stunning structures. The group then moved on to the adjacent Trinity Church which was very central during the recovery phase in the days and months after 9/11.

One of the challenges set for the students while abroad was to film their own Big Apple movie. Footage was shot in self-selected locations -Wall Street, Central Park, the subway and Grand Central Station, and then was taken back to New Zealand to be edited and produced into a three to four minute video story.

From the East Coast the group then headed back to the West. Los Angeles County was a definite change of environment coming from a cityscape of high rise apartment blocks in Manhattan, to the quieter, flatter, and more spread out city of Santa Monica.

In nearby Manhattan Beach the students were able to gain a good appreciation of the real American High School experience, rather than a television or movie version, by shadowing a high school student from Mira Costa College, aka 'The Mustangs'. Attending a day of lessons included the live production and broadcast of the twice weekly student TV Mustangs News show, which is beamed into every classroom on the High School campus, a total of 2,400 students. Later in the afternoon they all got to hear from three Hollywood professional actors and coaches, who spoke about their experiences in the Performing Arts world in LA, and gave some sage advice to our students.

Just as the tour was drawing to a close the weather heated up a notch. One of the final excursions was an amble through Beverley Hills on an open topped minibus tour of breath-taking mansions and grand celebrity lifestyles. Following on from the movie star circuit, a three hour behind the scenes studio tour at Warner Bros. Studios awaited that was deemed just brilliant.

It was most certainly a once in a life time experience, and one that the students will embrace and re-live over for many years to come.

Our thanks to all of the staff involved: Motu Samaeli, Ian Thomas, Rochelle Craig, Tim Olsen and Clare Jennings and in particular to Mrs Emma Bishop for her key role as Tour Leader.

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