Students take part in a MADE workshop.
U of G student Will Wellington leads a MADE workshop.

Guelph teenager Hemi Patel has shown her abstract paintings in a couple of art shows. But the idea of appearing in a high school production of Romeo and Juliet later this spring is “nerve-racking.”

Classmate Nik MacMillan has acted since middle school and will perform this month in the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. But visual art? “I had never put paint on canvas before, so for me that was kind of terrifying.”

Exploring connections among the arts – from the familiar to the “terrifying” – is the purpose of a pilot program that brings together 26 Guelph high school students with arts mentors including U of G undergrads.

Called MADE (Music, Art, Drama and English), the new program allows the teens to earn four Grade 11 credits by the end of this semester. It’s open to students interested in the arts from across the local public school board, and has drawn participants from Guelph CVI, Centennial CVI and John F. Ross.

Kelly McCullough, BA ’95, teaches English and drama at GCVI. She runs the program with colleague Jeff Bersche.

She says MADE takes students out of the normal classroom structure to learn from each other as well as from working artists and older arts students. Says McCullough: “We’re building everything from the ground up. That’s been the most difficult and most exciting part.”

The program draws on local artists – including a photographer and a portrait painter – to run workshops in their field. Looking for drama mentors to fill in the stage performance piece, McCullough and Bersche came to the University’s School of English and Theatre Studies (SETS).

Prof. Alan Filewod, SETS director, saw the proposal as a way to provide students with experiential learning to gain teaching and leadership skills.

“I knew immediately there would be pick-up here,” says Filewod. “Many students plan to teach and they’re looking for opportunities to enhance their portfolios.”

From a slate of applicants, he and the GCVI teachers chose nine undergrads, most in fourth year, the others in third. About half are pursuing double majors in drama and English. The program constitutes a special topics course for the U of G students.

Besides finding theatre mentors for the new program, McCullough says, she turned to her alma mater because “I wanted to introduce students to the academic culture of the arts.”

“I had an incredible experience at the University of Guelph. I wanted the kids to see what that looked like.”

The group has toured campus, including Massey Hall, the George Luscombe Theatre, the costume shop and Zavitz Hall.

Since the program began in February, the U of G student mentors have taken turns delivering lessons. Workshops take place at the high school, on the University campus and at the Guelph Youth Music Centre (GYMC).

Various students have imparted skills and ideas in playwriting, “speaking Shakespeare,” wardrobe, lighting and stage management. They’ve learned a few things in turn, including how to make lesson plans and how to keep activities flowing.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” says Jennifer Pataki, fourth-year theatre studies. “This is a great opportunity for me to share my knowledge.”

Ashley Harrison, a fourth-year student taking theatre studies and studio art, says “teaching has always been a possible career choice. This is an opportunity to explore that.”

Beyond this month, a few mentors might continue working with the high school students as they prepare to stage Romeo and Juliet at the GYMC in May.

Patel says the program has taught her some useful theatrical skills that she hopes will help her through that “nerve-racking” production.

MacMillan says MADE has given him a look at arts besides the theatre. “The program has shown me the other side of music and art that I don’t get to see too often.”

Participants plan to offer the program next year. It’s also called the Urban Art Project to underline connections between arts and community.

“I want to see this continue,” says Filewod. “I sense a lot of excitement.”