DODEA students let creative sparks fly at week devoted to the arts

Students from all over Europe participated in Creative Connections, a visual and performing arts symposium that features 11 workshops in the weeklong event.
Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 2, 2017

OBERWESEL, Germany — Ask a group of teenagers what they’re doing in school, and you’re likely to be greeted with silence and a few shrugs.

But ask a group of teenagers what they’re doing at Creative Connections, the weeklong arts workshop at U.S. military schools in Europe, and the hands fly up. Everyone wants to talk, whether it’s about the thrill of discovering that you can use salt to add texture to watercolor or the fun of ripping fabric to make post-apocalyptic frocks.

“I’ve been having a great time,” said Mikaela Doctor, a sophomore from RAF Alconbury in England, who jumped to her feet to demonstrate her take on one of the quirkier roles assigned in a drama workshop, that of a gargoyle.

Passions ran high this week at the annual visual and performing arts workshop for Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe students.

Held at a lodging facility near the Rhine River, the event is akin to art camp, with students immersed in the arts around the clock. Even the after-hours cater to art, with evening dance and art sessions and a talent show on tap.

By the time “lights out” rolls around at 11 p.m., “the kids are begging to go bed, they’re so tired,” said Hope Matthews, a vocal music and piano teacher at Ramstein High School and Creative Connections’ lead organizer.

But the real focus of the week is the nearly one dozen workshops that give students the chance, as Matthews said, to “take it up a notch” in intensive seminars ranging from video production to show choir.

Of nearly 500 blind auditions and applications submitted, about 170 students were selected, Matthews said.

Under the tutelage of DODEA-Europe art, drama and music instructors, they spend about four days rehearsing or creating. Their efforts culminate in an art show and performance on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Oberwesel.

On Wednesday, with one day to go before the big night, creative sparks were flying.

Artistic expression was on display in many forms, including voice work in readers theater, a new workshop this year in which students act out a play while reading their lines from a script. The cast took to the stage while Malachi Page, a freshman at Wiesbaden, darted back and forth waving drumsticks. Page, who plays Z in the group’s production of “Flyboy,” then sat on a stool as the rest of the cast took turns talking presumably about the energetic Page: “Eliminate sweets now or he’ll run amuck” and “candy’s the culprit,” among other comedic lines.

What sets readers theater apart from drama is the use of scripts and the focus on voice, the group said.

“You show emotion more with your voice,” said Skyler Berry, a student at Vilseck.

“It’s drama kind of crossed with reading,” said Esther Ager, a freshman at Ankara, Turkey.

In the mixed media room, students had to get creative with materials as varied as bottle corks, seashells, fake flowers and recycled costume jewelry.

Emiko Groder, a sophomore at Alconbury, used fake flowers and feathers to make a headdress. The warrior she had painted originally had a mohawk of flames, but “I really didn’t like it,” she said.

Groder, in her second year of Creative Connections, loves the freedom she has as an artist during the week.

Unlike art class at school, “We have a theme that we have to follow, but I can create whatever I want basically.”

Though most of the students at Creative Connections are experienced artists or performers, a few neophytes slip in. Stuttgart sophomore Ellie Baker doesn’t take any art classes at her school but earned a spot in drawing on the strength of the sketches she submitted.

“A week of just doing art, it’s great,” she said. “It’s one of the major reasons I chose to come.”

The pressure can be intense, even for veterans. “I think they come in at first and they think, ‘Oh gosh, look at what everybody else is doing, the competition,’” said drawing instructor Wade Krauchi, who teaches at Wiesbaden. “But we hope to quickly let that go and make them at ease and have fun. That’s the important thing.”

To check out the live performance Thursday night starting at 7 p.m., go to: sites.google.com/a/student.dodea.edu/cc/

Twitter: @stripesktown

Instructor Jessica Mitchell and Wiesbaden's Becca Adams discuss one of her pieces in the mixed media workshop at DODEA-Europe's Creative Connections, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017.

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