Wed | Mar 21, 2018

More options for performing arts

Published:Friday | May 13, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Students of the Excelsior Commuinity College's School of the Performing Arts stage a dance/drama/music production for an examination on Tuesday.

A jump start programme is now available for high school students planning to attend the School of the Performing Arts (SOPA), Excelsior Community College (ECC). As the pilot year of the Early College Readiness Programme (ECRP), which involves two high schools, draws to a close SOPA head Kenny Salmon says indications are it has been successful.

He told me on Monday that a formal evaluation will be conducted over the summer. If the results are positive another 10 high schools which are interested can sign on in the new school year.

At an ECRP workshop held at the ECC's Church Street campus, where SOPA is located, Salmon explained that high school students can begin SOPA's one year certificate or two year associate degree programme. The latter constitutes the first half of a planned four year performing arts degree programme, which encompasses studies in dance, drama and music.

Successful ECRP students are not only guaranteed a place in SOPA, but get exemptions for subjects they already passed and so save money.

At the workshop Marlon Williams, senior education officer, Ministry of Education, spoke about the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Theatre Arts programme and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) Performing Arts programme. The former, subscribed to by 78 high schools, is now 13 years old and "growing from strength to strength." Jamaica did "very well" in the CAPE programme's first exams last May.

Williams' cryptic announcement sent me to the Overseas Examination Commission on Tuesday for details. From its executive director, Hector Stephenson, I learnt all candidates nearly twice as many female as males who sat the CAPE Unit 1 exam (which focuses on entrepreneurship) did well enough to matriculate to advanced studies. Of the total 35 per cent achieved grade two, 40 per cent got grade three and 17.5 per cent achieved grade four.

Stephenson said the CAPE programme was "another bold initiative by CXC to create new career pathways for Caribbean nationals." He added: "The Overseas Examination Commission is very pleased with this development in the performing arts and will continue to provide the highest level of support for the programme."

Stressing the CAPE programme's usefulness, Williams repeated an often-heard complaint. "Most of our playwrights are not writing for upcoming performers," he said. "When some of our Theatre Arts students leave school it's difficult for them to get a role in a play because the playwrights/producers say they want this [established] actor or actress in their production. As a result, you see the same faces over and over. Yet you have talented, maybe even more talented, students coming up in the system."

Williams said when he suggested to one writer/producer that he use a Theatre Arts or School of Drama graduate in every show he produced, the response was "this is about business, about having actors who will pull a crowd in. It's about the money."

Williams said the producer was right but now, because of the CAPE curriculum, students learn how to make money from not only theatre but also the other subjects offered in Unit 2 dance, cinematic arts and music.

"There's something there for just about every student who is interested in the arts," Williams concluded.