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Performing Arts: Finishing the Semester

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

In this socially-distanced world we now find ourselves in, going to class is a little different for college students. Although staying in your pajamas all day may have its upsides, technical difficulties and getting familiar with new educational platforms are just half the battle. For some majors, copying notes from a screen-shared powerpoint isn’t far off from an in-class experience, but for students in the performing arts, social distancing and online classes come with a whole new set of obstacles. Majors in dance, music and theatre all have one commonality: personal interaction. Whether it be timing group choreography, adjusting position when playing an instrument or working through group scenes, physical isolation makes these tasks difficult to say the least. From an educational standpoint, each department of the arts has found ways to bridge the instructional gap. As with most other classes at Meredith, Zoom has become the online teaching platform of choice for dance classes. Although classes are still able to be held, some technological aspects of online learning have brought challenges. Meredith College senior and dance student Amelia Bryant shared her personal experience with the transition to online classes and plans for rescheduled performances. The biggest challenge Amelia discussed is the audio delay on Zoom. Lagged audio means that dancers aren’t in unison, which requires increased clarity on professors’ parts about counts so that students are able to follow along on their own without confusion. The major spring dance performance, DanceWorks, has been postponed until the fall. Seniors who had work prepared for the performance will be allowed to perform in fall as guest artists, so long as adequate rehearsal time can be arranged. On Saturday, April 25, which would have been the night of the third show of DanceWorks, students gathered together for a “pre-show” warm-up. The warm-up was a chance for students to do pre-show rituals, since, as Amelia stated, “no one wanted the weekend to go by without doing them, even though we aren’t performing.” Although teachers and students have created ways to work with the technology, some things can’t be replicated over webcam. Since the start of Zoom classes, Amelia noticed how often she makes eye contact with her friends in the studio mirrors on campus: “the only reason I noticed is because I instinctively tried to make faces at them like I used to be able to and I realized they couldn't tell that I was looking at them. It's kind of lonely to be taking class completely alone when you've been taking class with other people for your whole life.” And yet, despite these missed moments between friends, Amelia knows that “across the board we all would rather have the adjustment over not being able to dance at all.” Just as hearing the music plays an integral role in dance classes, hearing the music while playing the music is necessary for music majors. Dr. Wozencraft-Ornellas, Department Head of Music and Associate Professor of Voice, described the transitions that music students have made over the weeks to ensure efficient continuation of their education and performances. Finding video conferencing platforms that give the best sound, such as Skype and FaceTime, was a priority for class instruction, though technology glitches continue to make virtual practice difficult. Graduation recitals are being performed live in Carswell Hall, with a limited number of family members in attendance and both the audience and stage members practicing appropriate social distancing. Recordings of these performances are posted across various music department social media channels. Likewise, virtual ensemble performances will be recorded, compiled by directors and posted to appropriate channels for viewing. Although the music department has found ways to continue education, Dr. Wozencraft-Ornellas says the things students miss most are “being able to create sound together and receiving audience feedback, like laughter and applause, after performances.” Though musicians are generally able to practice and perform on their own, trying to act out scenes over webcam presents a different set of challenges. Professor Roten of the theatre department spoke to the ways that classes have changed to accompany online learning platforms, as well as how theatre students are attempting to keep up morale and maintain their close relationships. Class syllabi have changed to replace the typical group scenes with monologue work, and papers are written on recorded performances instead of live shows. However, despite this successful change in class format, the ultimate goal of the students’ theatre studies, performances, are unable to be held, which has understandably put a damper on students’ spirits. And yet, unwilling to let these unfortunate circumstances get the better of them, social distancing has forced the theatre department to get creative with ways to maintain personal connections and excitement levels. “Two weeks ago, one of my classes challenged me to create a glitter beard for them and I did,” Roten said; “It was fun. I think I ate about a pound of glitter before I got through the class, but it made them laugh and picked up the whole class. It was totally worth it.” In addition to fun challenges and students sticking around after class to talk and socialize with one another, Roten said that his acting class appeared for a coaching meeting dressed as “outrageous” characters: “They looked great and we really enjoyed the class!” Despite the challenges that social distancing has brought to Meredith’s performing arts students and faculty in the completion of the semester, their strength is apparent through their patience, creativity and adaptability. The Meredith community remains united, even when isolated, and will get through this difficult time the only way they know how: together. By Hannah Flood, Staff Writer


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