The show must go on: AU student performing arts groups go virtual
Students in the performing arts adapt to the coronavirus pandemic
Editor's Note: This article appeared in The Eagle's October 2020 virtual print edition.
For American University’s performing arts scene, October and November typically signify show dates and a wave of pre-holiday concerts. During this fall semester, there were no posters hung in the Mary Graydon Center and no tabling on the quad. Performing arts groups are facing the challenge of continuing creativity online.
Senior Hunter Rich knows this adjustment all too well. As a student in D.C., he walks in streets filled with socially distanced pedestrians. In Baltimore, he works singing gigs in crowded bars with few mask-wearing patrons.
It’s not the safest situation for Rich, but it’s a necessary risk to pay for school and groceries, and to keep up his music career.
Performing arts groups are grappling with the question, “How?” While some are rehearsing and maintaining community via Zoom, others made the difficult decision to postpone operations until the spring semester.
Even when bars shut down in Baltimore in the spring, Rich kept performing virtually. He hosted weekly Facebook livestreams and encouraged donations via Venmo and PayPal. Rich donated half of the revenue to Feeding America and homeless shelters in Baltimore, and soon other organizations asked him to partner. Over the summer, Rich raised $3,000 for Healing Opportunity Free From Addiction.
Now performing at bars, Rich is careful not to put his immunocompromised family members, who live in Baltimore, at risk. He has set different boundaries for his performance workspace and for the regulars who have watched him perform at these bars for years.
“I used to sit down, have a drink with them, ask them how they’re doing, just kind of catch up,” he said. “I can’t do that now. Even if they want to or even if it’s normal for them, that’s where I draw the line.”
A cappella groups struggle for a space to sing
For AU’s a cappella groups, singing in-person is not an option. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, singing in close quarters allows for an easy transmission of the coronavirus.
That leaves video calling as the only viable option for rehearsals. For AU’s all-male a cappella group On a Sensual Note, Zoom rehearsals have been challenging.
“It’s almost impossible,” the club’s president, Spencer Coben, said. “Our group is pretty musically inclined, but ... a lot of our members can’t read music, and a lot of our members rely on being in person and repeating the stuff that they hear from our music directors.”
The group has been inconsistently meeting to keep up with repertoire.
Meanwhile, co-ed a cappella group Dime a Dozen has chosen to take a break from rehearsing this semester. Music Director Kruttika Gopal said that calling off rehearsals was the most “COVID-conscious” decision as one of the larger a cappella groups at AU.
“With a cappella, it’s very difficult to coordinate rehearsals over Zoom because a big part of it is timing and balance and those essential, in-person aspects of the music,” Gopal said. “When we are back together, we will hopefully have a good, diverse, strong array of music that was arranged by our own members that we can perform.”
All-female group Pitches Be Trippin’ is also not rehearsing this semester. Between members taking leaves of absences and the lack of physical space to sing, Assistant Music Director Emmy Goyette said that rehearsals were too difficult to coordinate.
The other a cappella groups are also relying on social media to stay active in the AU community. AU’s newest a cappella group, TenLi Tunes, has been posting member shout-outs and posted a new song to its Instagram. President Elliott Gold said that his priority is maintaining the group’s connection through monthly check-ins and virtual games.
“I’m just looking forward to getting the opportunity to meet in person again,” Gold said. “Until we get to that point, we’re going to keep being resilient and doing what we’ve been doing.”
Despite the cancelation of on-campus classes and housing, Treble in Paradise has been rehearsing once-a-week.
President Lauren Sasson said that she’s anxious to get back into the “real, physical space of Treble.” To remain close, the group has hosted Jeopardy nights for members and has been planning several activities to involve the AU community, including Zoom sing-along events.
Treble in Paradise, TenLi Tunes, Pitches Be Trippin’ and Dime a Dozen contributed to a Facebook showcase event on Oct. 14. Each a cappella group debuted new and old recorded music.
“Everyone’s in the same boat, we’re figuring it out together,” Sasson said. “If there’s something that works really well, we’ll share it with the groups … making sure that everyone has a similar opportunity to do well this semester.”
Dancers create movement online
Student-run dance club AU in Motion has shifted operations fully online. After auditioning for the fall showcase, students were divided into dances of different styles and difficulty levels. Members will spend the semester meeting over Zoom in preparation for the pre-recorded showcase, which will be livestreamed at the end of the semester.
Mara Greenberg, a senior and AU in Motion’s outreach and communication chair, said that choreographing dances over Zoom comes with certain difficulties.
“I think the challenges are going to be seeing people’s technique and making sure that they’re doing the moves correctly over Zoom,” Greenberg said. “It’s very hard to watch all these different little squares dancing around and trying to focus in on each person, making sure each person knows what’s going on.”
Aside from rehearsals, the club is communicating through virtual events, such as happy hours and game nights. Greenberg said that she’s enjoyed bonding and getting to know new members. According to Greenberg, the group is also planning on selling AU in Motion merchandise later this semester.
Theater performances go virtual
Student-run performance group Rude Mechanicals opened its virtual variety show, “To Be or Not To Be,” on Oct. 2.
The show streamed on YouTube Live and featured sonnets and monologues that the actors chose themselves. Though rehearsals are certainly different this semester, the challenge of directing a show over Zoom also garners new skills for virtual production, said Hayley Budnick, the troupe’s executive director and the show’s producer.
“It’s so different. We don’t have to worry about lights and all of the logistics that you’d think you’d have to worry about with tech,” Budnick said. “It’s now camera angles and Zoom backgrounds.”
Beyond shows, Budnick said that the club’s priority is maintaining a sense of community.
“I would say there’s been even more communication than there’s ever been,” she said. “This semester we’ve been constantly posting in the Facebook group, constantly wanting to have meetings with people and really keep our community together.”
Kelly McDonnell, the Life managing editor, is the president of Pitches Be Trippin’. She did not contribute to the reporting of this piece.