Hillsdale College Sym­phony Orchestra and Choirs per­forms. Carmel Kookogey | Col­legian

Masks are required course material for the choir. Orchestra sec­tions will practice sep­a­rately. Ensemble dances will be min­i­mized, and actors will be socially dis­tanced. This is the fine arts at Hillsdale after the coro­n­avirus.

Despite new pro­tocols due to COVID-19, Hillsdale’s theatre, music, and dance depart­ments plan to keep stu­dents involved in the fine arts by having as many in-person per­for­mances as pos­sible this fall.  

“What matters right is that everyone keeps their eyes on the prize,” said Music Department Chair and Orchestra Director James Holleman. “The prize is classes, college ensembles, and making music together. And the other stuff becomes secondary…so I’m hoping these other things are minor incon­ve­niences until we’ve got a handle on this.” 

The Show Must Go On 

Chairman of the Theatre Department James Brandon said he and his col­leagues are deter­mined to make the year as normal and enjoyable as pos­sible for stu­dents.

“We are ready to adapt so that we can keep stu­dents engaged as much as pos­sible,” Brandon said. 

Brandon said he has been devel­oping safety pro­tocols to min­imize contact between theatre stu­dents while allowing them to con­tinue rehearsing and learning in person. In accor­dance with the College’s reopening guide­lines, all stu­dents are required to wear masks during class, audi­tions, and rehearsals. Stu­dents will rehearse and perform in large spaces that allow them to con­tinue social-dis­tancing. 

 Both theatre and dance depart­ments have developed a new reper­toire of shows for this fall to keep stu­dents involved in the fine arts and to keep up morale on campus. 

After March of last semester, the fine arts depart­ments lost many oppor­tu­nities to showcase their work due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and the ensuing state shut­downs that caused stu­dents to have to com­plete the semester online. The theatre department had planned one-act plays for the month of April that never got to happen. 

Cur­rently, the theatre, music, and dance depart­ments both intend to host as many live per­for­mances as pos­sible. Brandon said the number of guests will be limited, in order to min­imize contact in audi­to­riums and concert halls. Addi­tionally, he sug­gested the pos­si­bility of pro­jecting per­for­mances over Zoom as an option to protect actors and guests that may not feel safe attending in-person per­for­mances. 

The theatre department plans to perform “War of Worlds,” a radio play by Orson Welles; a staged reading, “Trav­esties”; a play by Tom Stoppard, “J.B.”; and a play from the 1950s by Archibald MacLeish which  retells the book of Job. Each of these per­for­mances will be posted on the Fine Arts Cal­endar.

Music as Col­lab­o­ration 

For choir and orchestra, this semester is the antic­i­pated “Messiah” season, which comes once every four years. As the choir and orchestra embark on learning Handel’s mas­ter­piece, Holleman has to con­sider who can wear masks and who can’t, and to what extent social dis­tancing is prac­tical.

“The strings [section] can wear masks, but wood­winds and brass are blowing into instru­ments,” Holleman said of the orchestra. “So right now we’re rehearsing sep­a­rately; strings alone, winds alone, brass alone. We’re hoping, as we get in October, we can put it together.”

“It’s the process that matters,” Holleman con­tinued. “So as long as we’re in rehearsals together, whatever we have to do as far as an audience — be it live, live streamed or recorded — that’s less important than the process.” 

Addi­tionally, pieces from last spring’s orchestra concert have been added to the October concert, and several senior winners of the aria and con­certo com­pe­ti­tions will perform during this semester’s parent weekend. Domine Clemens ‘20 and Christa Green ‘20 will perform voice and senior Britta De-Groot will perform on the piano.

Though recording pieces sep­a­rately is a pos­sible tactic it is never ideal, said Holleman.

“We are  in ensembles  to be in a com­munity with other musi­cians and to exercise our musical senses,” he said. “There’s this kind of non­verbal lan­guage of eyes and lis­tening and motion and movement that causes real subtle changes that you can’t do when you’re staring at a screen and everybody’s on Zoom.”

Dancing On

Last year, upper­classmen dancers in the Tower Dancers grad­uated without being able to perform in front of a live audience. This year, Hobbs said she wants to keep things as safe as pos­sible while still allowing her stu­dents to have access to some­thing as important as a live per­for­mance. 

To do this, Hobbs said she hopes to install more duets, solos, and trios into her per­for­mance reper­toire so less stu­dents are on stage at one time. All equipment used in each dance class is being thor­oughly san­i­tized and wiped down as well. There will be wipe sta­tions in the studio and stu­dents will be required to wash their hands before class.

 “The fine arts are such an essential part of a liberal arts edu­cation, and people like dancers are ath­letes,” Hobbs said. “They need to maintain dis­ci­plined bodies with con­stant work. A year off is not pos­sible.”