KISD/TODD MARTIN - Senior Darian Guzowski paints an image she drew of a Peking opera singer Wednesday at Killeen High School. Art and theater students collaborated on the floor-to-ceiling mural during three days of class.

By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

Over three days, 45 feet of white space in Killeen High School's downstairs theater room transformed into a colorful painted history of theater.

Students in art teacher Kaylene Rudd's five classes and theater teacher Lucas Howland's five classes collaborated to draw the original artwork and paint the floor-to-ceiling mural during three days of class.

The mural begins with a representation of Greek comedy and tragedy, moves into medieval times, featuring a large portrait of William Shakespeare and words and images known from his plays.

From there, a large tree leads the viewer's eye to Asian figures showing Peking opera and a dragon, cherry blossoms and Japanese Kabuki figures.

Then, there are images from contemporary theater such as "Phantom of the Opera," "Hair," "Angels in America" and other productions and playwrights.

Rudd and Howland said they wanted their students to collaborate on a major project outside the traditional classroom setting.

Students put together presentations to share knowledge about color mixing and painting from the visual art side and about the history of theater from the drama side.

Students brainstormed ideas for images to paint on the walls.

Rudd printed out 80 of the best student-created works and spent a Saturday tracing a mural on the classroom wall with the projected student work.

Last week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the students worked together to turn the black and white drawings into a color mural.

The result was more than a finished piece of art.

"It takes my breath away," said Killeen senior Darian Guzowski, who plans to study art at the college level.

"I think it's great. I don't think a lot of schools would let students do a mural in a classroom like this," she said. "It lets us come together and do something to make our theater room look better."

Howland, the one who will spend the most time in the transforming space, said he was excited to see the project inject new enthusiasm in many students.

Many students, he said, connect with visual elements - "If you can't see it, sometimes you can't see it," he said of the tie between visual elements and academic comprehension.

Students also painted a green wall for use in video projects, which Howland said his classes would begin working on.

The school is planning a major production in January of the musical "Fame" that will provide opportunities for more collaboration for creating backdrops and promotion efforts.

Both teachers are excited to guide students into more self-generated projects.

Today's generation, Howland said, is deeply connected to online services like YouTube that allows regular people to shoot and load video in minutes.

The mural took longer, but the time seemed to make the effort sweeter.

"It's been fun, but hectic," said Guzowski, as she continued to paint a large standing figure of a Peking opera singer she created.

"It's a big space and we have only so much time to fill in all the detail," she said.

The project made for a natural learning environment.

One student asked questions about mixing the non-toxic acrylic paint to get the right shade of purple while another student sought tips on drawing out just the right image of a star.

Some art students who were wondering if visual art was a good fit found inspiration in the mural work, Rudd said. "They have a lot of freedom and it's not pencil and paper," she said.

"There's a lot of creative freedom and it feels important to them," the teacher said. "They all want to know if this is going to be here forever."

Like her theater counterpart, Rudd said she hoped large-scale collaborative projects would become commonplace at Killeen High School and into the larger community.

"Transforming space transforms the people working on it," she said. "Hopefully, this will become more frequent."

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