“I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna learn how to fly, high.” Anyone who turned on the radio in the early 1980s couldn’t escape these lyrics from the song “Fame.” It was the title song of the hit movie of the same name, which was followed by a long-running TV series and, a 2009 movie remake. Each iteration focused on the lives of students attending the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, New York City.
While Rowley, Massachusetts, might not match the bright lights and big-city feel of New York, local students now have a greater opportunity to express themselves with Clark School’s expanding performing arts program.
Clark School, an independent private school, was founded in 1978 to provide a unique and individualized approach to education. It moved from Danvers to Rowley in 2014, but has always offered drama as part of its yearly curriculum for both lower and high school students.
Drama is just one element of the Clark School arts program, however, which focuses on developing an individual, local, and global understanding of art. Students work on finding their own individual artistic voice by learning techniques in a variety of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and digital photography. Each student works on expanding their skills and improving their art foundation.
One particularly interesting class is a yearlong course on video blogging, known as vlogging. “This replaces a typical journalism class and allows students to create a library of YouTube videos for private or public viewing,” says Jeff Clark, head of Clark School. “It is another way to get kids interested in the important art of storytelling.”
Performing arts have always been extremely important to Clark, who, after college, performed professionally in repertory theatre, including a Broadway tour, prior to his educational career and founding of Clark High School.
“Performing is a terrific way for young people to build confidence and overcome anxiety,” says Clark. “Acting, and public speaking, are critical, transferable skills, no matter what career path a student chooses.”
Enter Nicole S. Gulino, from Middleton. This Masco High School grad, who started performing professionally in shows at the North Shore Music Theatre when she was 15, earned a BFA in musical theatre from Point Park University in Pittsburg. She spent time working in theatre in New York and regional theatres around the country before landing the role of Mama Bear in the national touring production of Berenstain Bears. During this time, Gulino would return to Boston often to direct and choreograph shows at Boston Children’s Theatre.
While wrapping up a summer production in Boston in 2015, Gulino and her husband, David, decided they wanted to come back to the North Shore to live. The timing was perfect, as Clark School was looking for a performing arts teacher with the skills to build a larger theatre program.
“Nicole is a vibrant, enthusiastic triple threat meaning she can act, sing, and dance,” says Clark. “Because she is trained in so many areas, Nicole can adjust the curriculum based on the interests of the students. If one year they want to focus on musicals and the next drama, Nicole can make it happen.”
“Before I started, Clark produced one lower school and one high school play a year,” says Gulino. “This year we produced four shows, and next year we will have six productions.”
As the program has expanded, so has the physical space. Clark recently took over the front building on its rapidly growing campus across from the Ipswich Country Club in Rowley. The new 2,700-square-foot space has been completely renovated to include a black box theatre that can seat up to 150 people, a green room, dressing rooms, and a technical booth.
“As we continue to build performing arts and related programs, we will offer courses in set design, lighting design, and stage management,” says Clark. “There are so many jobs behind the scenes in theatre; we want students to understand that they can still be in this exciting world without having to perform on stage.”
“Collaboration and teamwork are hallmarks of a Clark School education,” says Gulino. “They are also found in successful theatre programs. It is the perfect place to build a program as well as help inspire confidence in young people.”
Another benefit of the new space is that it will allow community members to enjoy local theatre with the goal of having professional summer stock, educational lectures, and other programs for all to enjoy in the near future.
“It has been exciting to watch this building come alive, and we are just getting started,” adds Clark.