A story about instantaneous inspiration on set with local videographer Kent Kessinger.
Every year throughout high school and college, Ronald Chase and the Art & Film team would throw a big party Christmas Party for their students and alumni. Art & Film For Teens is a program in SF that introduces teens to high art in a big way. They take (or took, as in before Covid) teens to the symphony, the opera, the ballet, modern dance performances, the city’s museums and art galleries, the cinema, and would even host their own film screenings of classic films and modern masterpieces. But most importantly — they opened discussions about the work at every event, training students to not only take in art as consumers, but to form their own opinions, develop their own taste, and make intellectual connections between works and artists throughout history. This program was a huge influence on my own work and life as an artist, and I continue to participate in the program as an alumnus and a patron.
The Twelfth Night Party always occurred on a Saturday roughly 2 weeks after Christmas. There was a live classical quartet or a jazz trio, sometimes both: one in each room. There was a giant Christmas tree covered in single Poinsettia flowers, strings of white lights, and three-dimensional Gothic buildings that Ronald had handcrafted himself with paper and ink. The students, parents, mentors, and alumni would often arrive in costume — something frilly, something French, something black, something poetic. There was eggnog, apple cider, and Martinelli’s for the little ones. There was a giant cake, so tall that it leaned like the tower of Pisa. And somewhere hidden inside the cake was a large dry bean. Later in the evening at the cutting of the cake, Ronald would make an announcement about the bean, warning people to chew carefully.
Whoever finds the bean will be King or Queen for the night!"
He’d say, holding a paper crown to bestow upon our winner.
Eat meticulously," Huntly would chime in, "and for heaven’s sake, don’t swallow the bean!”
This bean-for-the-win idea was based on the old English tradition of Twelfth Night, where Kings would dress as peasants and vice versa at the end of a 12 day festival following Christmas. The festival originally started on Hallow’s Eve, hence the dressing up, and marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. The church appropriated this concept in the 19th Century to allow for Christmas festivities to carry on longer than just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
At the very end of the party, most of the students and parents would leave, and only a few of us long-term mentors and alumni would be left. We’d help clean, gather plates and cups, put things away, and restore Ronald’s art studio back to a functional space. Before we’d leave… someone would always beg Ronald to play a song on the Harpsichord. And he always would, but it had to be at the end of the party. The harpsichord looks like a piano, but it is nothing like it. The keys are in a different order, so whatever you thought you knew on piano would sound completely ridiculous on a harpsichord. The sound is very different because where the piano has hammers that hit the strings within, the harpsichord has plectrums that pluck the strings, and for that reason it is much quieter. If Ronald would play it in a room full of people, you would barely be able to hear it, especially if people were talking. It was a small and quiet moment we all shared — shutting up around the harpsichord — but it left me with a feeling of peace and tranquility that I’d take with me on my walk home through the mission to my parents house, hearing the trills of the keys fade into the night sky above.
Merry Christmas Art & Film, thank you so much for hosting some of the most enriching memories of my young adult life.
You can learn more about the program at artandfilm.org