“The AXP magic truly prospered despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic,” AXP@Home Session 1 Director Edward Johnson said as he reflected on the first session. The beautiful thing about artists, Johnson said, is “their imagination can find a space to create anywhere.” These words were never more true than when arts-X-press had to reimagine summer camp a few weeks ago. With the COVID-19 pandemic still haunting daily life, the staff of the immersive summer arts program announced the transition online. “With AXP@Home,” said AXP@Home director Alison Levinson, “students can look forward to an escape from their day-to-day, a creative outlet, opportunities to meet new friends, inspiration from professional artists and the special type of fun and magic that AXP brings out in people.”
The online structure included activities like singing, dancing, writing music, sculpting, creating a theater presentation, and more. The class contents were all the same, minus the in-person instruction. Instead of instructors moving easel to easel, or watching the dance floor for improvements, they would lean in closer to their screens, trying to beautify form and improve technique over Zoom. Or instead of taking a field trip to the Pageant of Masters festival in Laguna Beach, students watched the previous year’s performance with a Pageant of Masters artist, all the while asking her questions, trying to understand how and why she created a piece, and the path she took to be an artist in the first place. Another similar activity took place while watching Cirque du Soleil with the head coach and stage director. Students wondered how these athelete-performers brainstorm ideas on the tightrope or how they increase risk in acrobatic feats. The students were able to grasp how much creativity goes into staging an event; not just in the execution, but in the planning, the lighting, the stage direction, and how it all comes together to present a polished show.
The online-only element seemed to not disadvantage the camp-goers, and instead boosted a sense of togetherness, camaraderie and artistic excellence. Kids who felt hesitant during activities, became bolder as the classes went on. They saw their peers sing or act for the first time, and they saw that their first attempts maybe weren’t so bad. They began to explore avenues of art that they felt an inclination to and ones they were less inspired by. Students learned to dance with the “whole body in rather than just certain parts,” and about “different songs from around the world” that became “stuck in their [minds].” Pacific Symphony musicians visited a couple of times, allowing the conversation to get personal, with the musicians talking about future goals and personal ambitions. On multiple occasions, Music Director Carl St.Clair joined the students, encouraging them to set goals and to go after their dreams. And over the course of the program, the students began to understand how it’s possible.
At the end of the session, the recurring theme in the student responses was that they became emboldened. All of the “AXP magic” would not have been possible without all of the people involved. The overextension of effort by AXP staff and guests was palpable. Hopefully, next year arts-X-press will return to its original format, but this year’s AXP@Home certainly does not lack energy, enthusiasm and passion. It continues to artistically inspire in the hearts of the next generation.
Onto Session 2!