As if watching time-lapse photography, the Van Nuys High Performing Arts Magnet constructed a multi-platform performance of their own creation that blossomed in less than 90 minutes under the guidance of guest director famed guitarist Kevin Eubanks.


Eubanks, who earned his household name as bandleader and sidekick to Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, manned the stage on behalf of the Beyond the Bell Branch, a little known enrichment program in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  The performing arts magnet is one of the few strongholds of the arts that the cash-strapped district provides the budding youth of Los Angeles, long considered the nation’s entertainment industry capital.


Van Nuys High Performing Arts Director Robert Eisenhart said he was especially thrilled and jumped at the chance of having Eubanks visit because it would encompass all elements of the performing arts: dance, choral, drama, as well as the music department.


An abundance of energy filled the otherwise empty auditorium as the students awaited Eubanks arrival.  The auditorium was devoid of audience because this workshop wasn’t about Eubank’s notoriety or showcasing the student’s talents, but rather fostering the uninhibited flow of creativity…without the anxiety of what anyone thought what was said or what was tried.


Without the quick wit and humorous remarks Eubanks is generally known for on television, he was quickly getting down to business as the workshop commenced.  The various musicians, dancers, actors, vocalist and artists were assigned their spot on stage, then, with the focused attention of trained professionals, the students eagerly looked to Eubanks for instruction.


Searching, or rather soliciting, a theme for what would become the production; Eubanks turned to the three students of the dance group and asked for their inspiration.  Without reluctance one young woman stepped forth and preformed a series of moves that met with Eubanks approval.  Then turning to the rhythm section Eubanks summoned an acoustic bass line inspired by those moves which was quickly followed by the sound of wire brushes on the snare drum and soon doubled with the vibraphone creating a beatnik vibe.


As the musical theme emerged, the leaders of each section were asked for a contribution from their groups.  After a few moments of experimentation for the various sections (sounding somewhat like an orchestra tuning up before a performance), order emerged from the chaos. The horns created a part, as did the pianist and the guitars and electric violin and bassist.


Soon a multi-part vocal chorus emerged with actual lyric lines.  Eubanks then turned his attention to the actors and artists, asking them to expand upon the vibe and the lyric content of what were happening on stage.


The two male actors self-created dialog had friends meeting on the street confessing (or trying to make each other fess up) the nature of their relationships, only to find they are both dating the same woman.  Two fine artists working at tables set at the front of the stage off to one side, started making what one would assume were fine guide lines on paper.


Secondary themes emerged, and Eubanks reinforced the young musician’s ideas by suggesting dynamics, slight changes, tightening up the section or, in once case, bolstering a dissident piano part with a pair of trumpets.  These various sections and themes were sequenced and arranged, practiced and then sometimes re-arranged.


Music swelled and receded, dancers slinked and performed intriguing moves; the actors entered from opposite sides of the stage and performed the dialog, and occasionally the artists would look up from their work, survey the happenings, and resume their charcoal or pencil and ink drawings which would later be revealed as cityscapes and noir street scenes. 


After a few run throughs, a slight lagging begins to fall among the students.  Not surprising given the fact the students have already logged an entire academic day and   the intensity of the workshop.  Eubanks rallies the troupes complimenting their efforts and telling them their goal is in sight.  He asks if anyone needs a break, but none of the musicians take him up on the offer, instead choosing to directly forge on ahead.


New ideas were needed for a conclusion to the student’s multi-dimensional play.  Some of the suggestions the students offered up were light-hearted, off-base, or just plain goofy…but, at this point Eubanks lightening mood enhances the students.  He laughs, and lets out a couple of humorous remarks which lifts the momentary fog that had dropped around the stage.  A second wind sweeps around the throng and new attention is given to the task at hand.


Pooling their thoughts, a scene with a sense of finality is constructed and is used to cap the production.  Then the piece is run through in its entirety.


Moments afterwards the students and Eubanks are all smiles.  It’s clear something special happened here.  Many shake Eubanks’ hands in thanks, and congratulate each others performance.  However, many don’t have the opportunity to do so since the workshop ended just moments before their bus was to leave the school grounds.


Opportunities like these for the students are golden and don’t happen often enough: which is a shame considering the vast resources available in Los Angeles, which is to say Hollywood.  Many professional actors, musicians and artists could follow Kevin Eubanks’ example and foster and encourage young talent if programs such as Beyond the Bell Branch were given the resources to expand their mission.  Today’s workshop for the 60 young musicians and artists was more than inspiring: it exemplified the word “Enrichment.”

Originally posted 2012-04-14 03:18:07.