It’s easy to become prolific at Idyllwild Arts Academy. Almost 300 students from three dozen different countries do just that at the internationally-acclaimed residential arts high school for students in grades nine to 12 & Postgraduate in Southern California’s towering San Jacinto Mountains. The forested 205-acre campus provides a verdant backdrop for young artists to channel their inner Picassos, Westwoods, Orwells, and Coppolas.
In this safe, tranquil environment, self-expression runs free in countless ways. Stroll the campus and you’ll find students lying on the grass, vetting their film scripts while hawks soar overhead. Step into the recital hall to witness dancers moving in unison. Walk into one of the theatres to see costumes for an upcoming play come to life.
At Idyllwild Arts, the challenging and innovative college-preparatory academic classes are complemented by intensive, individually-tailored training in the arts. No matter what students wish to achieve, they leave this school with the creativity, life skills and self-awareness to do so.
Born in Costa Rica, Aurora Wackford-Muñoz has spent most of her life in the US. Before she moved to California to join Idyllwild Arts Academy, Utah was home.
From inside her family’s moving truck, she could make out mosaics, a health centre, a pottery studio and more as she toured campus for the first time. Its grounds were expansive enough so that the family often had to reroute. They didn’t mind, though. Natural wonders such as tall mountains and lush trees abounded. Every view brought delight.
Although the alpine surroundings calmed her, Wackford-Muñoz understood that her new scholastic journey would pose challenges. The Academy’s dual arts-and-academics curriculum makes time-management skills crucial.
Her life would soon change — for the better. Today the Theatre major, fully immersed in the Academy experience, bounces from one project to another with ease. No two days are the same for her — or for any Idyllwild Arts student.
At Idyllwild Arts the Wi-Fi takes a break at midnight to encourage students to do the same. As much as Wackford-Muñoz wishes she could work all night on the projects she loves, she knows that she needs rest. She puts her laptop aside and calls it a night.
After dinner, Wackford-Muñoz returns to her campus living quarters. When she doesn’t have homework or a rehearsal, she is never short of entertainment. The self-proclaimed night owl loves unwinding at performances by her friends or at special pizza nights.
She is also active as vice president of the Gender and Sexuality club, which supports queer artists, in National Honour Society, and as co-president of two different clubs that focus on ensuring sustainability on a national scale and on the school’s own green initiatives.
When classes end, Wackford-Muñoz heads to dinner. In the dining hall, students recap their days while making lifelong connections. One of her favourite memories includes sharing a table with a guest acrobatics teacher.
“We just talked about how science and art interact, and how he was an economics major before he switched to theatre,” she says. “He even noticed a tension in my jaw that I never clocked before, describing how words are shaped in your mouth depending on emotions. Artists like him are magicians, in a way.”
Wackford-Muñoz began her Idyllwild Arts journey as a Theatre major with a focus on acting. But the well-rounded programme also gave her exposure to design, stage management and directing. She now focuses on design and production.
Theatre classes often put Wackford-Muñoz to work behind the scenes. She’s kept busy by carpentry, sewing, painting, figure drawing, drafting, sculpture, photography, computer music apps and more.
“It’s my first year as a design and production student and I’ve already discovered that I adore hand drafting,” she says. “It allows me to sit with my thoughts, kind of like meditation.”
As a proud vegan, Wackford-Muñoz always looks forward to lunch with her friends. In the spacious Idyllwild Arts dining hall, all dietary needs are generously accommodated.
She admits that she found it hard to keep up during her first few weeks at the Academy. Then she discovered the benefits of X-Block. This regularly scheduled interval between classes gives students time to unwind, explore topics of special interest, complete homework or spend one-on-one time with teachers.
Last year, as a junior, she spent her X-Blocks tutoring other students. This year she will use the free period to eat a late breakfast or map out the rest of her day.
Her day begins with an academic class. Classes used to start at 8 a.m. until students and teachers rallied together to insist that an extra half-hour of sleep would make all the difference. The change came, and engagement has never been better.
Wackford-Muñoz attends classes in English, Modern World History, Modern Languages, Biology, and Mathematics on a rotation basis. Life skills are also important here, so she spends a lot of time building strength during Physical Education and learning to manage emergencies confidently through first-aid activities. A typical morning at Idyllwild Arts will consist of two or three of these subjects.
Wackford-Muñoz’s morning leaves no time to waste. She showers, brushes her teeth and grabs a granola bar or a pack of saltine crackers. Then she is out the door within an hour.
“Weekends are for resting. It’s all about reinvigorating yourself for another week of excitement.” she says.
Wackford-Muñoz loves theatre, yet it’s not her end-all, be-all. She has a passion for science and intends to study medicine in college.
She’s multi-talented, though, and plans can change. Whichever path she chooses, her Idyllwild Arts experiences have opened her eyes to the world and armed her with the confidence, skills and awareness to drive positive change.
When no morning rehearsals are scheduled, Wackford-Muñoz’s Saturday begins with a class in either Aikido or yoga. Then it’s time for a cup of coffee and a good book.