Fine Arts teaching more than just art

Theater, visual arts, performing arts, and music—the Laboratory Schools can seem a bit overwhelming when considering the variety of clubs, co-curricular activities, and electives a student can take.

Middle School Theatre production of Newsies, spring 2023.

Walk into Gordon Parks Arts Hall on the historic campus. There’s currently a professional art display—Immersed by Lab alumna Louise LeBourgeois ’81—in the Corvus Gallery across from Griffin Auditorium.

Boundless by Louise LeBourgeois

Starting at Nursery 3, all students have access to music and fine arts programming, which further enforces the experiential learning theories espoused by Laboratory Schools founder John Dewey.

“Much like Dewey’s adage of ‘learn by doing’, we learn by singing,” said Larena Code, music teacher for the first and second graders. “Music helps our young learners understand themselves and the world around them.”

Our youngest learners at Earl Shapiro Hall have monthly Community Sing performances, which aim to support its curriculum of identity formation, identifying childrens’ ideas and voices, and respect and value of other people, races, and cultures. In September, students sang songs in Spanish, Hebrew, Ewe, in addition to English.

This whole-child approach to all aspects of fine arts continues into high school, where Mrs. Ambrosini (Mrs. A), Theatrical Director, requires that all of her students learn every aspect of performing arts in order to participate.

U-High Theater students running lines

“Theater at Lab is a very thorough experience,” said senior Sienna Yamini. “I have learned other parts of theater like crew, acting, directing, and backstage, which influences the way you represent yourself onstage.”

Middle School Stage Crew for Newsies

While a challenging approach to theater, Mrs. A has quite a few admirers, as she gears up for retirement after fifty-three years of teaching at Lab.

“Mrs. A not only helped me become a better actor and director, but she’s given me the space to be able to play and explore who I am,” said senior Lena Valenti. “She’s definitely one of the major reasons I want to pursue theater for the rest of my life.”

The theater department just finished its fall performance of Our Town, a play by Thornton Wilder, in which alumnus Dave Steck ’84 also performed when he was at Lab.

U-High Theatre fall production of Our Town

Now the founder, executive producer, and creative director of Numeric Pictures, he credits the teaching styles of Mrs. A for his success. Almost forty years later, Mrs. A’s style of teaching hasn’t shifted one bit. Steck said that the performing arts department has always focused on every aspect of theater—not just performing—which gave him the foundation for his future career.

“It was a great experience to be in the theater because Mrs. A empowered us to make decisions,” said Steck. “The big skills that I took away were problem-solving and listening, and really making best efforts to work together and realize a shared vision.”

Steck and Ambrosini have a few things in common—they are both terrified of performing and are perfectionists. Which can come in handy when contending for an Emmy Award as a film producer.

“Mrs. A was one of the first teachers, maybe one of the first adults, to say you can do better,” added Steck. “I think creative problem-solving starts early. If people foster that, and certainly Mrs. A did, you get good at it. Those seeds were planted for me with Mrs. A and the Lab theater program.”

Lab is honored to have these incredible students, alumni, and faculty amongst our community. Please support these programs that leave a lasting impact on our children, and the faculty that dedicate fifty-three years of their lives to this journey.