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.”
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.”