One of the joys of looking back over the history of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy is stumbling on photos, stories, and videos that capture a day in the life of our school. Formal performances are wonderful, and looking back at recordings of music, dance, and theatre is an inspiration; yearbooks offer a window into the past, they are chronicles striving to present the year writ large; but for a glimpse into what it was like on campus in years gone by it’s those more impromptu moments, the times when daily life or more modest school events were put on film, that may offer the best seat in the house. Two of these that do a wonderful job of showing life in the early 2000s come in the form of ACMA News and a full recording of the ACMA Gong Show.
Watching the video of the ACMA News is a delight. Predating, but anticipating, “Between Two Ferns,” this adventure in pluck shows the playful charm that one can imagine those same teenagers brought to math class and science class and English. Our hosts introduce several segments, including a look at the major changes to ACMA, with a student body “now above 475 students!” There is also a bit on yearbook photos, with a look behind the scenes at the fans that blew hair and photographers who captured the silliness. A stock market report, a testament to the way in jokes age, is delivered in perfect deadpan. I imagine some of the students who were here at the time will get the gag. A segment on theatre shows the Quonset Hut as performing space. And in a surrealistic turn, “TV Tutors” show up, leaving the audience with an understanding that at ACMA “the news” was as serious as a painting by Dali or a play by Beckett.
In December 2003 ACMA hosted their own Gong Show. With a run time of just over twenty minutes, the video of the ACMA Gong Show shows flashes of talent, humor, and youthful exuberance, all presented with a dash of silliness that is as much a part of ACMA as artistic ability.
Current ACMA teachers Jon Gottshall and Geoff Hunnicutt, both with fantastic facial hair that should delight today’s students, help judge the affair. When I showed them the video at least one of them confessed to a touch of guilt for banging the cymbal that served as a gong.
The crowd seemed to love the show, laughing and clapping as the series of performers took the stage for a variety of acts from serious to playfully kooky. From a moving rendition of “Summertime” that had the audience snapping their fingers to a smiling tune called “Uhhh…” that earned not one but two gongs, ACMA performers worked the crowd, engaged with the judges, and showed ridiculous talent and a willingness to be ridiculous.
Not everyone was sure what to do with a cover of the Talking Heads tune “Psycho Killer,” so in true ACMA style they chose simply to enjoy it …at least until the gong brought the act to an end. Other students finished songs before that cymbal crashed, but even for those who made it, eyes shifting from judge to judge to judge to gong were the rule, rather than the exception.
The most rigorous gong came for The Dancing People, whose act from beginning to (quick) end brought the crowd to their feet, and the judges too …as they rushed for the gong.
The night ended, as the best Gong Shows do, with our emcee lowering expectations for the winners with: “Keep in mind we don’t have very nice prizes. What’s that? A used pencil!”
The Dancing People were told they needed to share their pencil.
The grand prize, delivered with fantastic game show music and much aplomb …a pencil!
Laughter ensued. So very ACMA.
There is much, much, much more to the story of ACMA in the early 2000s than is captured in these videos, fabulous facts, splendid stories, and marvelous memories, and yet as a slice of life these are clear windows into a creative and wonderful world.