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Nature provides backdrop as students polish talents at Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute

The Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute is taking place through June 30 at Quartz Mountain State Park near Lone Wolf. Artists of high school age from across Oklahoma have come to perfect their skills and learn from professionals.
BY RACHAEL CERVENKA Modified: June 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm •  Published: June 26, 2013

— The day begins ever so simply at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. High school students' alarm clocks buzz in their cabins, and the students groggily make their way to breakfast. It's early for most at 8 a.m., since it is summer vacation, after all.

What started as a simple day soon intensifies as the students get settled in their classes. Jeremiah Gentle, half asleep, makes the mini nature hike to the acting pavilion. Within minutes of entering, A. Dean Irby, the acting professor, begins vocal warm-up. Irby, a New York City-based director/actor/educator and a former acting coach for “The Cosby Show,” is one of several distinguished faculty members.

Irby instructs the 16 acting students to “undulate their uvulas,” creating a tongue-clicking echo throughout the room. After several minutes of this, Irby begins repeating various tongue twisters and the students attempt to follow, in almost perfect unison.

“Billy Button bought a bunch of beautiful bananas,” class members say. “Billy Button bought a bunch of beautiful bananas.”

If Gentle, 18, a recent graduate of Edison Preparatory School in Tulsa, wasn't awake before, he is now.

“It's my way of waking up and warming up my voice, but also getting my mind ready for the day,” he said.

The acting class is just one of nine classes taking place simultaneously throughout the campgrounds on a daily basis.

Since 1977, student artists from across Oklahoma have gathered for the intensive, two-week residential academy held each June at Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center near Lone Wolf. Each student has personal goals, but they all hope to sharpen their skills at the institute taking place through Sunday.

“In high school you have people that maybe just signed up for the class and aren't necessarily very serious, but here, everyone wants to be here and wants to grow exponentially,” Gentle said.

All students have the privilege of being taught by nationally renowned artists in their individual disciplines, ranging from drawing to filmmaking. Of the 1,100 students that auditioned for this year's academy, 271 were admitted. Some are alumni; others are attending for the first time.

Shared identity

Iasiah Pickens, 16, who attends Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, is in his first year at the arts institute. What was already an uncertain situation for him got even more intimidating when he discovered he was the only boy in the drawing and painting discipline. However, after only a couple days, he said he feels at home and already has learned more than he could've imagined.

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