LONE WOLF — 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.
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.
Pickens isn't the only one who gets a homey vibe from Quartz Mountain. Students automatically click because they have something in common: They all are artists. Troy Word, photography professor and alumnus of the camp, has made his way back after enjoying much success in his industry. He describes the camp as a place for kids to discover that they are not alone as the “artsy” kids in their school.
“If you live in a small town and you're the only one who is the crazy painter, you know what, there are actually another 20 equally crazy painters that live in other towns, and you should embrace that,” he said.
Luckily, the sweltering Oklahoma heat has yet to set in, this early in the camp. In the afternoon, professors send their students outdoors to bask in the 85-degree weather.
The filmmaking students are dispersed throughout the grounds on a scavenger hunt; the photography students are placing eggs in sunlight attempting to create emotion in a photograph; and the orchestra students are lugging their heavy instruments across the wooden bridge to the performing arts center for practice.
Olivia Wilson, 16, is one of two harpists in the institute orchestra. Wilson, a homeschooled student from Edmond, has played the harp since she was 8 years old. She plays in the Oklahoma Youth Orchestra back home; however, playing in the institute orchestra is a new experience, she said.
“So far, all the musicians have been at a different level,” she said. “The first rehearsal ... I was amazed at how well it went for the read through. Back home, you read through, but it's like, ‘What are we playing? ... This isn't the piece I listened to.' Here, I was like ‘Wow, I could listen to that; that sounded almost performance ready.'”
As the sun sets over the picturesque campgrounds, the photography students begin snapping photos with the cameras that are constantly adorning their necks.
The nature surrounding the camp plays a big role for students.
Madaya Eakins, 16, who attends Classen School of Advanced Studies, gives the scenery a lot of credit for her positive experience last year and so far this year.
“It's gorgeous out here; it's incredible,” she said. “I think that's probably half of the inspiration ... you're out here and you feel free because the sky's the limit, literally.”