Academic Insights: TCS Arts Department

Artwork by Grade 11 student Agnes

“If we are to empower our youth. If we are to prepare them for a dynamic future – we must help them develop their creativity. As the essence of the human experience – it shapes the future… it is the building block that connects our human experience to life itself, a core discipline for developing human potential.” – Bob Bates, Inner-City Arts

At the writing of this article, it is Monday, May the fourth and, while thoughts of Star Wars may be top of mind for some, there is little doubt that the arts at Trinity College School are collectively adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 using the full talents of our professional, imaginative and creative artists. Collaboration has been the watchword since our journey together began back in September, and we now find ourselves working as a true ensemble of artists, intent on continuing to inspire students in drama, music and visual art.

While the work continues beyond the classrooms, studios, practice rooms and theatre, each arts discipline has found unique and engaging ways to foster a continual development of skills and knowledge, reflecting the necessary learning outcomes for each course and adapting to the needs of our students through an e-learning platform. All of us have remained committed to instilling a love of the arts and strengthening the wide-ranging skills that come from creative exploration.

Throughout the year, student actors, musicians and visual artists have engaged in a myriad of challenging course material that has engaged the imagination, fostered discipline and focus, and explored the boundless wonders of creativity through structure and improvisation. From old masters to contemporary artists, from musical forms exploring classical and jazz to the exploration of dramatic works from Shakespeare to Beckett, the art department at TCS has provided a unique exploration of arts culture and its impact on a history yet to be created.

Dramatic Arts

“The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time. The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.”Stella Adler

Imagine, create, explore and perform: key words that describe the ongoing pursuit of a student’s understanding of this performance based art form. Led by Mr. Bill Walker, Ms. Nicola Lee and Mr. Thomas Sandziuk, students pursue their passion and interest in dramatic arts during Grade 9 and 10 with an exploration of how, as an ensemble, students can collaborate to create a myriad of engaging performances with growing self-confidence. From improvisation to short scene work, from monologue to creating elements of technical theatre and design, students find the freedom to explore and experience various facets of dramatic production and its impact of our culture. What would have been a small group children’s theatre production for the year-end summative, the work has now been adapted to the new e-learning platform with students developing their own original character monologue taken from a children’s literary source.

Under the direction of Mr. Walker, Grade 11 students took time this year to explore the history of theatre through play performances, grasping the contributions theatre has provided audiences for centuries. Beginning with the Greek tragedy Agamemnon, students explored the roots of theatre and experienced its influence on every other facet of performance. Moving through time, students experienced the works of Shakespeare, Shaw, Beckett and Ibsen, with a culminating monologue performance, adapted to an e-learning platform, wherein students explored the play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen.

In Grade 12, Mr. Walker and his students this year explored the craft of slapstick comedy, from its roots in commedia del’arte to the sophistication of Neil Simon. Students looked at the influences of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and others on modern comedy, culminating in the creation of original stand-up comedy material. Ever mindful of theatre as a performance based art form, the study of dramatic arts allowed the students to perform with a bolstered level of self-confidence and the recognition that the skills developed throughout the program will lead them to an appreciation of the cultural impact this subject has on our future.


“Education in music is most sovereign because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the innermost soul and take strongest hold upon it.” Plato

Under the direction of Ms. Nicola Lee and Mr. Jeff Biggar, music at TCS is about creative energy and passion directed towards the study and performance of many styles of music. The School offers credit courses in music from Grade 9 to Grade 12, as well as an Advanced Placement (AP) option. Both instrumental, including guitar, and vocal music courses are offered. The School also provides interested students with the option of taking additional instrumental or vocal lessons through one of our private music instructors. In addition, a comprehensive co-curricular music program continues to thrive.

As each discipline within the arts adapted to the unique challenges of instruction through online learning, the creativity of each instructor afforded our students new and exciting ways of learning.

As Ms. Lee notes: “The music department is being very creative in the realm of e-learning. Our performance focussed programs are giving way to other areas of the curriculum. Both Mr. Biggar and I have been working with the digital composition software, Soundtrap. The students have been creating a remix of a popular Bruno Mars tune and will be creating a movie trailer to complete their work for the school year. The music students have also been completing their work on music theory and critical listening units using the elements of music. Mr. Biggar and I miss the sounds that normally fill the rooms and halls of TCS and hope we can be back in rehearsals and performance programs soon.”

Visual Arts

“Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can only be explored by those willing to take the risks.” – Mark Rothko, artist

Visual artists Ms. Sally McKay-Lepage and Ms. Jessie Ironside have brought their own skills and talents to our visual arts students throughout the year, instilling within them a passion for this art discipline and honouring student work through various gallery exhibitions.

The study of visual art at TCS is a fulsome one, encompassing a myriad of forms and styles combined with its historical roots and influences for the future. Courses begin in Grade 9, and by the end of Grade 12, students have a unique perspective on the world of visual art.

Grade 9 students are learning about contemporary drawing practises. As Ms. McKay-Lepage explains, “Artist Victor Nunes has taken this concept to a whole new level by pairing multiple objects together into wildly animated scenes. It’s amazing what artists can do with everyday objects. When put in the right context, popcorn becomes an elephant’s face, pumpkin seeds become fingernails, and a pretzel can steer a car. Students render 20 drawings around their chosen object, photograph the drawings and make a video that tells a funny narrative. Great fun!”

Her Grade 11 students are learning about the appropriation and juxtaposition of disparate elements when creating an artwork called a “Mash-Up.” Students chose an iconic artwork from a specific era and infuse contemporary references in a clever, ironic or humorous way. For example, Zoe has chosen Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which she will combine with references from Star Wars into artwork created using Photoshop software.

And Ms. McKay-Lepage’s Grade 11 Media Arts students are learning about installation art through a study of work spanning Dada artist Kurt Schwitters and his Merzbau installations to contemporary creators like Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and activist.

Ms. Ironside’s Grade 10 class has been looking at digital painting built on the foundations of their unit about the Group of Seven and landscape painting. Students are in the process of completing a progressive unit starting with observational drawing and finishing with a completed digital painting of their choice.

Her Grade 12 students are learning about the appropriation and juxtaposition of disparate elements when creating artwork using digital painting and digital collage. Students are taking inspiration from contemporary collage to create a whole new work appropriating images from their lives and contemporary culture. And, in the AP art course, students are currently completing their portfolios containing 10 sustained investigation pieces, three selected submissions, and written components as per the requirements of the College Board.

The study of the arts is one of the cornerstones of an excellent education and one that we strongly believe is central to leading a rich and fulfilling life. Creative and imaginative thought, focussed and self-motivated personal development, adventurous and refined performance, critical and thoughtful reflection; these are attributes taught and developed through the arts but are essential in every field of endeavour. The roles within the arts are many, from performer to consumer, but it is our goal to graduate young men and women with creative and passionate involvement in, and understanding of, the cultural life of their communities, as well as refined skills in one or more arts disciplines.

- By Bill Walker, head of the arts