The Academy

The Academy

Kalie Strain

I spent the three hour car ride lost in the music from the radio. I didn’t know what to prepare myself for. I had no expectations, other than the fact I would learn a lot about the fine arts.


I pulled into the parking lot at the Wells House at Missouri State University, I was filled with anxiety. As I walked to the entrance of the dorm my stomach was rolling around. This was going to be my home for the next three weeks.


As I filled out the paperwork and got my keys, my nerves were going wild. It was beginning to feel too real. When I walked into my dorm I saw a note from my soon to be roommate. “I took the bottom bunk if that’s okay. If you want the beds come apart and we can fix it later.”


Soon it was time for the opening convocation. I couldn’t really focus on what they were telling us. I was too busy in my thoughts.


All too soon it was time to say goodbye to our parents. All of us were uncomfortable. We didn’t know what to do now that we were trapped.


When I got back to my dorm I finally got to meet my roommate. She was about my height and had beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes. She soon became my best friend.


Soon we found ourselves out in the courtyard, all standing around confused. Studying each other and wrongfully passing judgements. The famous tickle-tickle began. Nobody knows why it’s called tickle-tickle, there is no tickling involved. It’s just a series of ice breaker games. After the ice breaker games we ate barbeque and sat around and talked. This is where I met my best friend, Angie. She came from the same town I did, and we happened to have mutual friends. We stuck together for the entire 3 weeks, and still stick together now.


Eventually we all went back to our halls and had our first house meeting. Our RA, Rae, was absolutely gorgeous. She was really laid back and called us her humans, avoiding gender specific terms. She told us the basic rules: when breakfast lunch and dinner were, when our classes were, where we can and cannot go. Then she gave us our notebooks.


“Write in them all the time. All the past great artists always kept a notebook full of ideas, you should keep one too,” she told us.


My house was full of a group of very interesting people. Nearly all of them were visual artists. A few were singers, my roommate a creative writer, and I alone was an instrumentalist. I would learn more about love, compassion, friendship, and acceptance from this group of people more than I ever did in my 18 years of life outside of the Arts Academy.


The first morning of my interdisciplinary class, the smell of Starbucks filled the room. Soon an older man came in. We recognized him from opening convocation. He was the coordinator. When he came in, he didn’t say a word. He stood in the middle of the room, and started clapping a rhythm. He began to motion to us that he wanted us to start clapping with him. Once we all were clapping the rhythm, he began another. It fit perfectly with the rhythm that we were already clapping. He then gestured to a small group and they started on the new rhythm. Soon there were three different group of rhythms that we happening, all fitting together perfectly.


That was the way Ray wanted to break the ice. It was effective. The most important thing he taught us was “show, not tell. Create then discuss,”. He taught us that discussing something before hand destroys the creative process.  Start the creative process, and then discuss how to improve upon it, then repeat, discussing and keep improving. This stayed with us until the end of the academy. It will stay with me for the rest of my life.


Another morning Ray came in and told us to lay on the floor with our heads in a circle and close our eyes. Then he told us to make a song without using any words. Without discussing anything we created a 5 minute long song. At the end we were so excited and amazed at how well we worked together. We convinced him to let us do it again, and again another time.


All of these things that Ray taught us, we used to create our final performance. We didn’t discuss much when we started. We came up with a general idea of how to start something, and then we built upon what everybody else was doing. Then we would discuss, change, and try again. We did this for a solid week. Soon we had a story that we loved that included rhythms, dancing, singing, emotions and contrast. When we performed, we performed for us. We enjoyed ourselves and we didn’t really mind what our audience thought of it, because we were happy about it.


After we ate our lunch of gross cafeteria food, lemon bars and ice cream cones, we would have an assembly. The houses would shout out their house calls. The shower dragons, the wild flowers, the sheeple of the west, all shouting out their calls. Then the RAs and staff would make announcements and the RAs would perform a skit. The skits would always have a moral. Don’t make plans to take over the world after lights out by the light of the microwave. Do NOT talk to the football players during lunch. They even had me of all people dress up as an old legislator to make sure everyone wrote a letter to our legislator to thank them for funding the academy.


In my instrumental class, we had a diverse group of musicians. We didn’t play much music. The professors wanted to break our boundaries. They wanted us to throw out how we viewed music. They wanted us to challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones. We played happy birthday in horrible tones. They made us make a song to represent a different natural element. I had to play classical music like we were performing at a rock concert in front of an audience full of cows and another like they were a drunk sailor searching for love.


Some nights we would have a guest artist or performance. Cole Closser came and changed our view of comic books. An academy alumni came to visit us and urged us to follow our dreams wherever they take us, and performed with us, not to us. Then our idea of theater was broken with a flux performance. This performance was an interactive theater process that highlighted different forms of discrimination.


Other nights we had our C elective. I chose to challenge myself and took the choir class. Here I came out of my comfort zone and sang among and in front of my peers. We sang Beyonce, scat, an improved song about someone needing to pee, and in small acapella groups. It was fun, and terrifying all at the same time.


Within this three week span, I learned more than just art. I broke up with cliche, so to speak. I learned that there is more to gender than just male and female. There’s a spectrum of gender, and it doesn’t have to be what you were born with. I’ve begun to ask people what their pronouns are.  I learned to better deal with my anxiety and how to help others with their’s. I learned to take risks and to embrace things outside of my comfort zone. That perfection is the enemy of the good. Perfection is impossible and will tear you down. That I can shed light on social injustice through art and that there is people out there away from the society I currently found myself in that are like me.


At the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, I found teachers of all shapes, sizes, and ages. I found knowledge in little things. I came to a new respect for life and the people in it. I found new forms of art and love. I found friends. Most of all, I found a family.