From concert ensembles to theater, many students have found themselves at home within Leigh’s performing arts department. During a typical school year, students dedicate large chunks of their time to these activities; however, as the pandemic surges, students and teachers alike have to develop creative ways in which to pursue the activities virtually.
The musical theater classes have compensated by rehearsing songs with backing tracks, allowing students to individually develop their skills. They have also been establishing theory fundamentals through the platform Breezin’ Thru. Tech theater students received several tools such as exacto knives and architect rulers for various at-home projects. And in theater classes, students have been rehearsing the Shakespearean classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Despite their successes, though, theater department leader, Johnathan Yani expressed some of the inevitable hurdles that come alongside teaching virtually.
“The biggest challenge has been dealing with lag and latency in teaching online. That and trying to teach full-body acting concepts is difficult. We’ve compensated by focusing on areas where we could still excel (more individual-based projects) and working on the fundamentals.”
Despite distance learning, the theater department still carried on their haunted house tradition via a drive-through event; it proved to be immensely popular throughout the community, and tickets rapidly sold out. In previous years, students took around 2 months to prepare for the event. However, this year, the students managed to successfully pull off the production with a mere 2 weeks of preparation.
Similarly, Leigh’s instrumental music ensembles, conducted by Alex Christensen, have been forced to adjust their classes. Much like musical theater, students have been rehearsing music with click tracks and conductor videos. In December, students in some ensembles submitted individual recordings that were later compiled into a virtual concert. Students submit recording through Upbeat Perform regularly, a platform that enables students and the director to combine and calibrate individually recorded selections.
As expressed by Christensen, “Putting together a Virtual Performance from the production standpoint is very time consuming! Once all of the recordings are turned in, they have to be balanced (volume of each track) and aligned, so that the music is in time and sounds as it should. From there each piece is put in order and made into a production.”
Even though the music department has found ways to compensate, it goes without saying that conducting a band virtually is simply not preferable. Christansen expressed that, “The biggest challenge of Virtual Band is not being able to conduct the ensembles. In a virtual setting, it is very difficult to connect to the emotional and expressive material provided by music. I have adjusted by understanding that virtual band is simply different than in person.”
Distance learning has adversely impacted the performing arts department, posing obstacles for its staff and students alike. Much like the rest of the world, they are anxiously awaiting the return to normalcy. Some aspects of the performing arts simply can’t be replicated in a virtual setting.
With this in mind, Yani expressed that they will, “… come back with a roar next year!”