Following the spring 2020 shift to entirely remote learning, the music and theater departments within Trinity’s fine arts program faced a drastic challenge. In addition to adjusting their purely academic courses to virtual learning, both departments were forced to cancel or postpone planned performances. However, for the fall 2020 semester, faculty and staff have worked diligently to ensure that performances will still go on.
The music department is anticipating an even distribution of on-campus and fully remote students across courses as well as among musical ensembles. For those in person, safety measures such as air purifiers, enforced social distancing and divided rehearsals would all be implemented to ensure students’ safety. Dr. Joseph Kneer, assistant professor of music and director of the Trinity Symphony Orchestra (TSO), described these changes and how they’d affect his courses, private lessons and orchestra performances.
“Performing is a little different because when playing brass [instruments], you’re expelling air more than you normally would compared to when you play string instruments,” Kneer said. “Nothing’s completely safe or without risks, so obviously, we have lots of measures.”
During the fall, the department plans to hold in-person rehearsals in preparation for a live-streamed show available to those in the Trinity community; yet while performances will still be occurring during the fall semester, Kneer cited some a degree of apprehension that comes with the uncertainty of the future amidst COVID-19. With regards to musical performance and teaching, Kneer described his anxiety towards being unable to demonstrate musical techniques or fully connect with students virtually.
“I believe very strongly in connecting in class with students. Whether it’s an ensemble or in classrooms is so important to how you deliver the content,” Kneer said.
Similarly, faculty within the theatre department at Trinity have been preparing for students to engage in both academic and performative courses and activities. Dr. Stacey Connelly, associate professor of theatre, teaches writing-intensive academic courses as well as performance-based acting courses at all levels. During the spring semester, she had anticipated to direct an April performance, which student performers had auditioned for in January.
“We had only gotten in about six rehearsals before spring break happened and then, of course, we found out the news about the shutdown. We talked with the cast and with the rest of faculty, and we pretty much decided to postpone it until the next academic year,” Connelly said.
In addition to the courses she is teaching during the fall, Connelly will be directing a Zoom production of the postponed performance.
“Through a company called Zoom Theatre, both technical tools and strategies are being provided to us to try and create the illusion of a normally-staged performance,” Connelly said.
The student actors chosen during the spring semester have been preparing over the summer with faculty to deliver the live show entirely over Zoom. Using newer technological tips and tricks, they’ve worked to emulate shifting stage scenes and costume changes all while remaining in character over camera.
“We’re trying to adjust and find new ways through this. We’re going to learn a lot of really cool stuff that we will continue to use, and that’s the thing that makes this exciting, in an odd way,” Connelly said.
Dr. Kyle Gillette, associate professor of theatre, is teaching all of his courses virtually. He distinguished that he is not optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming semester but is instead very hopeful.
“Optimists and pessimists both have something in common: they think they know what’s going to happen. Hope is seeing an opening while accepting that the future hasn’t happened yet and depends on what happens now,” Gillette said.
With the hope he holds, Gillette plans on using this unique time to rethink course content and the possibilities offered to students in acting from home.
The fine arts program at Trinity is incredibly focused on making this semester one where students can continue to explore creativity and performance from wherever they are.
“I’m hopeful that there’s a possibility, an opening up, for rethinking a lot of things and assumptions about education, about theater, about the relationship between creating art and learning what it means to be human. I think that we’re seeing a much richer opening up of possibilities,” Gillette said.