COFAP draws on industry guests for student success
Eighth in a nine-part series on GCU academics
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
The entertainment industry doesn’t just roll out the red carpet for everyone. It can be difficult to navigate the business, which is why Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production brings in industry professionals to share their stories and work with students.
“I think it has to do with our push and our goal of helping our students succeed once they leave here,” said Dean Claude Pensis. “It’s a matter of really trying to use every tool that we could possibly get to help them make contacts, to help them get to know industry professionals in the Valley and, hopefully, to be interviewed by them and find jobs.”
It’s a goal all the college’s departments take seriously.
Director of Dance Susannah Keita has hosted numerous guest artists from multiple genres over the years. They work closely with students, even helping them put together work for the end-of-semester dance concert.
“We’re thinking first and foremost about the student and maximizing their experiences,” Keita said. “We’re just trying to give students more opportunities — more perspectives — to work with diverse people.”
Outside artists bring their own unique perspectives and styles to campus, Keita said, and learning from them will make her students more successful.
This fall, dance students will work with such artists as contemporary dance choreographer Janice Rosario and master teacher and choreographer Susan Quinn. Choreographers Heather Beal, Taimy Miranda and Joan Rodriguez will head to campus in the spring for residencies.
Digital design students have a lot to look forward to, as well, from drone workshops, to a class on proper film equipment protocol, to a film festival.
“It will be the first drone film festival for Arizona and will be hosted on our campus,” said Digital Film Department Program Director Lisa Tervo.
Chris Tinard, Head of Production for Hire Story and Director of AzDroneFest, has visited GCU to help students improve their drone videography skills. Although his drone workshop will be open to the public, it will remain on campus because Tinard wanted to make sure it is still accessible to students.
“He’s just always been really supportive of the program. He’s hired a couple of our graduates, and through getting to know them, he wanted to get more involved in our program,” Tervo said. “He had this idea to come in and do a couple of workshops for us and then that kind of grew with his interest in doing workshops for the film community as a whole. He said, ‘Hey I’ve got to grow this out beyond your students, but I still want your students to be able to attend.’
“It’s been really awesome to be able to see it grow and just get bigger and bigger and bigger, and we’re so happy to be able to host it for him, that way we can keep staying involved.”
Students will receive a discount, bringing the cost down from nearly $600 for the weekend workshop to $50.
“The quality of the skill set that students have, I felt is outstanding,” Tinard said. “We’re very thrilled to continue to build that relationship, to still have them get involved with the workshop, and to see them learn a skill set that is complementary to the film program is awesome.”
Pensis believes more than just digital film students will benefit from learning how to operate drones.
“The drones are film, but they’re also sometimes advertising and graphic design,” Pensis said. “We bring him (Tinard) in and he brings certified people … So it’s really a matter of learning how to use the equipment but then using those shots in a way that makes sense for whatever project you’re working on, whether it’s helping a Realtor sell a house or whether it’s part of a movie, part of an industrial sort of movie, so that’s very exciting.”
In past years, the Digital Film Department has welcomed guest animators or representatives from companies such as Disney and Pixar to talk to students.
Although nothing has been confirmed for this year yet, Tervo said the department is hoping Disney will return.
Theatre students also will work with professionals on several of productions this year.
For the second show of the season, “Arms and the Man,” the Theatre Department will bring in a guest designer.
Jeffrey Thomson, who has designed for Cirque du Soleil, the Arizona Theatre Company, Arizona Broadway Theatre and many more, will be reunited with former mentee, COFAP Assistant Dean William Symington.
“It would be lovely working with him, but it would be terrific for our students to get to know him because he has contacts all over, and a lot of his students have gone on to do some major things. So he’s got those ties that we can hopefully take advantage of,” Pensis said.
The Theatre Department also is bringing in Debra K. Stevens, who will be the guest director for this year’s performance of “A Year with Frog and Toad.”
Stevens, who works for Childsplay, has been acting and directing in the Valley for more than 30 years.
“She’s a great director,” Symington said. “Whenever we bring someone from the outside … it’s meant to be sort of a master’s class in terms of they’ll often share how they worked their way up.”
Listening to others’ experiences, Symington added, is invaluable for theatre students.
“Lots of professions do that, but I think in the arts especially, especially in theatre, there isn’t always a clear way for students,” Symington said. “They don’t know the way to work their way up because it’s not like when you start at a business. The classic way is, ‘I’m a manager and now I’m a director.’ But in the fine arts, it’s not really like that. You kind of need to make your own ladder as you go, and so the more pros we can bring in like that to explain that to them, the better.”
As for music, Pensis said music convocations are planned, where guests will be brought in to talk to students.
By inviting professionals from the outside, Pensis and his team are making an effort to create connections and networks for their students.
“We bring people we have connections with to help our students understand the industry and the best ways to go out and find employment,” Pensis said.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or email@example.com
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