I was there on the first day of school, and I dropped off a child on the last.
In between, I had an opportunity to follow the students at the Metropolitan School of the Arts Academy with my camera, chronicling the first year of an exciting new venture that has impacted all of our lives.
The result is this video, titled “Year One.”
Our kids have taken classes at MSA (formerly the Metropolitan Fine Arts Center) since they were in kindergarten. The studio has been and remains a huge part of our children’s lives; Ben and Emma continue to dance there and Kate works in their after-school childcare program. The instruction and life skills they all have received at MFAC/MSA is second to none.
Last year, MSA founder Melissa Dobbs decided to open a private performing arts high school at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. Despite its fine public schools, Northern Virginia is sadly lacking when it comes to instruction that has a performing arts focus, and I believe Dobbs is a true visionary.
In part because I was between jobs, and partly because Ben and Emma are satisfied with the mix of academics they receive in school and at MSA, we did not enroll them in the academy. However, I have been working with MSA for much of this year as a freelance photographer, taking promotional pictures at the studio, in various performances, and at the Academy. You can see many of those photos on my Facebook photo page.
As a journalist, I’ve always wanted to follow a particular group of people for an extended period and chronicle some aspect of their lives. What I realized several weeks ago was that I had done just that with the MSA students, a group of high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who come from all walks of life.
From that first day in September, when I asked them to line up for the standard class picture and was rewarded with a batch of nervous, sleepy smiles, to the final showcase performance last weekend, I saw a group of teenagers grow tremendously in the areas of acting, singing, and dance. They come from a variety of backgrounds and places, some with great talent in one area and no training in another. What they have in common is a desire to grow.
One of those students, in fact, is growing up with us in our home now.
Earlier this year, we took in Jeremiah Porter, one of Ben’s friends from New York, who started attending the Academy during the second semester. Jeremiah was a student at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School, but he has not had the training at the level that MSA offers.
Bringing a fourth teenager into our home is not something any of us thought we’d do, but we’ve navigated the transition successfully. In some respects, we’re paying it forward because so many people helped us when Ben was in New York and on the road.
What’s interesting, at least to me, is that New York — especially Manahattan — offers so many chances for performers, but it can be very daunting to find a focused environment if you don’t know where to get the necessary training. Places like Broadway Dance Center, while providing terrific instruction, are more a la carte, whereas MSA offers a continuous curriculum that starts in September and ends in June. And because a number of MSA kids want to eventually move into a career that will take them to places like New York, they are more likely to be focused here than if they were already in the city.
Jeremiah, who came into performing somewhat late, recognized that MSA offered him that opportunity for focus, although he did not understand at the beginning how difficult it would be to immerse himself as fully as the school and studio require. Our goal was to give him the chance; it was up to him to take advantage of it.
And fortunately, he has. After those initial transitional bumps, he’s become part of the extended reality show that is our life, and we’re happy that he’ll be returning to the academy and our home again in the fall.
MSA has gone through a few transitions of its own during the first year, something you also might expect given that it’s a start up that was just a dream about 18 months ago. But it has been fascinating to watch and follow that evolution, to see the various kids grow with the school. I feel fortunate to have been a small part of it.
Enjoy the photos and the video…