How Will Your Story Be Told?

by Bart McHenry

My friend heard the neighborhood kids playing what sounded like an organized game over his backyard fence. Curious, he peered over to see a bunch of junior high school kids making a movie using their cell phones.

Filmmaking for this generation constitutes the relevant art form of choice. The affordability of digital movie cameras and editing software makes film production possible for any teenager wanting to tell a story. And storytelling and sharing are as easy as uploading to YouTube, drawing 300 million viewers a month worldwide.

The Ultimate Reality Show

This explosion of media also aids the growth of theater. Apparently, in our world of ever-increasing media content, the ultimate reality show continues to be live theater. The Tony Awards in spring 2009 reminded us that theater still thrives, both regionally and on Broadway. That year’s season saw the opening of 43 new productions on Broadway, and despite an ongoing recession, theaters experienced the highest grossing season in the history of the Broadway League.

In the May 25, 2009 issue “The Future of Work,” TIME magazine predicted that theatrical and performance careers will have the fastest growth rates through 2016, and backed up these claims with its January 4, 2010 article “Box Office 2009: A Very Good Year,” stating, “No matter what else Americans skimped on when they got slammed by the Great Recession, they didn’t stop going to the movies. For the first time ever, the annual box-office total exceeded $10 billion, outpacing the previous record in 2008 by nearly 10 percent.”

Echoing these statistics, APU’s Department of Theater, Film, and Television now boasts its largest enrollment with more than 200 students majoring in theater arts, cinematic arts, screenwriting, and critical studies of film. Further, a brand new degree program resonates with incoming students. The new Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Cinematic Arts: Production—the first cinema BFA in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities—offers a professional degree that prepares students for work in the arts and entertainment industry. Major changes from the previous B.A. degree include a required internship, more hands-on study of creative and technical subjects, and a required capstone project (the undergraduate equivalent to a thesis).

Prepped for Real-World Competition

Historically, the West Coast has only offered BFAs at secular institutions. Now, APU gives students a choice. Held to the highest standards in arts education, APU students benefit from this intense program when they graduate and enter the highly competitive Hollywood arena. Students prepare for this influential industry through writing, producing, and interpreting stories of truth and beauty that entertain, educate, and inspire. Over the course of their studies, they write or produce more than 10 projects plus a capstone (a short film, written creative or critical work, a reel, or creative portfolio), so that they graduate with tangible proof of their skills. Located just 30 miles from the heart of Hollywood, APU students also benefit from outstanding guest speakers, adjunct professors who work in the entertainment industry, and “A-list” internships, ensuring that our graduates enter the field with experience on their résumés and professional contacts in their mobile phones.

In addition to the new degree, APU also provides more performance opportunities for its burgeoning guild of APU actors with the recently completed, 1,000-seat amphitheater. Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, kicks off the 2010–11 theatrical season, which also includes two musicals, three plays, a festival of one-act plays, a sitcom, and a Hollywood showcase for seniors transitioning to the Hollywood acting industry. These productions complement the dozens of student films made each year with APU actors.

Touching the Human Spirit

Inscribed on the wall at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in New York is this John F. Kennedy quotation, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered, not for our victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contributions to the human spirit.” I am proud to say that we, as Christians at a thriving Christian university, choose to contribute to the next generation’s human spirit—discovered and told through the arts. We know that God continuously creates. Therefore, created in God’s image, we, too, will always create. APU professors see it as a privilege and a responsibility to nurture this creative spirit in aspiring artists. Combining our new course offerings, facilities, and strategic location, APU stands to impact an entire industry.

But more importantly, APU offers students a place to explore their artistic talents within a Christian community, strengthened by the faith of their peers and sharpened by professors who tell their own faith journey and discuss what it means to be a Christian in the arts. As these talented and creative students use the arts to shape the entertainment industry, the place they choose to train for their life’s work becomes critically important. After all, future generations impacted by their work will study our contributions to the human spirit, and we pray that “after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered.”

Bart McHenry, who holds a BFA in acting and an MFA in musical theater, is the outgoing chair of the Department of Theater, Film, and Television.