I’m a product of public schools, and even more than that, I am a product of a public school that provided me with a myriad of opportunities outside of basic required classes. I spent time in band, choir, drama and yearbook classes with the occasional sport thrown in. Let’s just say I’m much better at watching sports than playing them.
So when I went back home to Jonesboro to see the choral department’s production of “The Phantom Of The Opera,” I was looking forward to supporting my former school and enjoying talented students trying hard and giving their best. I knew it would be good. I was blown away at how amazing the production was.
Much like Conway, Jonesboro has been instructing new facilities for its students. While Conway is enjoying its new high school, and everything that comes with it, Jonesboro has been renovating its structures, and one is the new state-of-the-art auditorium, capable of holding twice as many people than the old one and providing the latest in technology advances for all special events held there. Is it foolish to spend that type of money on something that is outside of what some think are the basic tents of education? Of course not.
Those who are familiar with “Phantom,” which is the most successful musical in Broadway history and which is is still running after 25 years and 10,000 performances, know that this is not a typical undertaking of high school students, even those who would participate in a performing arts environment. This isn’t “Grease” or “Bye Bye Birdie.” Those musicals present their own challenges, but “Phantom” requires, above all else, the ability to sing ... well, like you were in an opera.
It also requires a certain level of special effects and costumes and set design, not the least of which is an enormous chandelier that rises at the beginning of the play and nearly drops to the ground just before intermission. Does anyone really think a high school could pull off something like that?
I’m here as witness to say that it did. I was in several productions in high school, and our drama teacher laid a foundation of discipline coupled with incredible fun. We became the cool thing on campus. Everyone wanted to be in those plays and musicals. The result has been a number of graduates moving on to work on Broadway, in television and in movies. In the years that passed, the instructors changed, but the quality has certainly not diminished.
What I saw last week was incredible: students singing and acting like professionals and an orchestra made up of more students playing some of the most difficult notes you’ll ever see.
It would be silly of me to think that this was an oasis in a desert of element classes and standardized testing. My assumption is that this type of work is done at varying levels throughout the state. I have heard members of the choir at Conway High School serenade us at the Hall of Honor banquet, and just recently, the Greenbrier band performed with a Beatles cover group.
Which makes me plead with those who hold the purse strings to make sure the arts continue to be funded in our schools. They are vital to the success of our communities and to our future.
I can say from experience that being in a play (or being on a yearbook staff or being on a football team) teaches responsibility, discipline and structure. But being a part of the arts also unveils a love of something not found in textbooks. In the case of “Phantom,” just learning to read music requires knowledge of math, and delving into the story of the phantom also requires history, English and even a little French.
If you don’t believe that these types of programs help, go and see your school’s marching band at halftime next year or attend a school choir’s concert. There is talent everywhere, and cultivating that talent makes better citizens.
I’ve seen it, and it is amazing.
(Ricky Duke is the editor of the Log Cabin Democrat. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)