“The biggest challenge is really not being able to connect with other actors,” says junior and Honors Theatre student Joey Boveri. “Building off of each other is a big piece of building energy in a scene.”
In a time when all interpersonal connections have been challenged by social distancing, students in Lovett’s Fine Arts programs have been challenged in how they connect with their peers and their teachers as they pursue their disciplines of art.
As it became clear over the summer that school this fall would look a lot different than it has in years past, the art departments began to reimagine their curriculums and find new ways to allow students to continue their artistic studies amidst this new normal.
In the field of performing arts, this response has largely been based on an international study on how aerosol particles are transmitted when students, both masked and unmasked, are playing instruments, speaking loudly, or singing. It found that, although it varied between mediums, there was a risk involved in each style of performance.
In order to keep students as safe as possible, the department ultimately had to make the decision to suspend in-person performances until further notice as well as make alterations to art classes themselves. While this certainly was a disappointment to students, it has also had some positive effects on their studies.
Orchestra director David Eccles, who actually participated in this international study, says that one benefit of this change is that his students no longer have to worry about the deadline of a concert date as they learn their pieces. Now, they are able to work on a piece until it is at its best, and they can share their performances through video recordings.
“We’re freed up to go and create and tell our own visual story as an orchestra,” Mr. Eccles says, as he tells me his plan to record his students playing their pieces in different parts of campus, such as the Dell or the football field, in order to visually augment the music itself.
In dance classes, the flexibility of virtual performances has also had some positive benefits. Dance teacher Rebecca Metzger has been able to focus more on technique work with her students rather than just preparing them for their usual November concert.
As she reflects on her teaching style in years past, Mrs. Metzger says, “The work was essentially teaching them a dance, not how to dance.”
Now, without the stress of a looming concert date and a set amount of dances to be learned, she feels that she is able to better help her students develop the foundational skills of dance that might not have been such a focus in the past.
Senior dance student Elaina Samedy says that the actual setup of dance class doesn’t feel too much different. Each dancer has to stay in their taped-out section of the gym floor, but Mrs. Metzger has found ways to incorporate this social-distancing tool into their choreography. The most disappointing part for Elaina has been the fact that she might not be able to have an in-person performance this year.
“Dancing in front of people is always the best part,” Elaina says. Still, she and her friends are trying to make the most of their new platform and are talking about filming their “senior trio” at different sites across Atlanta.
Theatre, an art built upon interactions between performers, was perhaps one of the more difficult programs to adapt. Unable to perform on a regular stage or come into close contact with their fellow actors, theatre students have had a bit of a hard time getting into character.
“We’re looking at finding different pieces we can do to make this year as memorable as something we would do live,” says Director of Fine Arts Jay Freer. Recently, the Upper School theatre department announced that they will put on a fall production. The sci-fi play they selected will allow actors to perform their scenes socially distanced from different parts of the school. The different scenes will be strung together in video recording that will be made available to the school community.
While visual arts haven’t had to deal with the challenges of re-creating in-person performances, they have had to adjust the logistics of how an art class is taught. Rather than sharing supplies, art students each now have their own supplies, and they are more spread apart in class than they used to be.
Painting teacher and Visual Arts Chair Amy Story feels that the physical distance between students may be causing them to be more independent than they used to be and less inclined to interact with each other to discuss their pieces.
“One of the parts that is missing is the chatter,” Mrs. Story says. “The chat is really important because it’s how we learn from each other and be comfortable with each other.”
Senior Sadie Burge admits that it can be difficult at times to navigate her artwork on her own. In her Honors Art class, they are only able to work with dry media (such as pencils) when they are at school. Any wet media (such as paints) have to be used at home because they get a lot messier and pose the issue of cleanliness in this time of COVID-19. This means that Sadie is essentially always working on two pieces at once: an oil painting at home and a pencil drawing at school. While she wishes she could have more feedback on her painting as she works on it, like she would in a school setting, working on two pieces simultaneously is an interesting creative challenge.
“Right now, I would say it’s helping me,” Sadie says, “because it’s forcing me to have all these things going on at once. I feel like in this class, I’m always thinking about what I can do next.”
As a whole, the Fine Arts department at Lovett is trying to figure out what they can do next semester to adapt their programs and continue to support the arts. Many teachers are starting to think about and put together virtual performances to share with the community.
Still, it’s hard for students to deal with the fact that Fine Arts this year won't be exactly the way they have always known it and expected it to be.
Orchestra student Anika Singh knows that she’ll be able to participate in virtual concerts this year, but she also feels that they simply won’t match up to the in-person concerts she is used to. She says, “I wish there was another way for us to show what we’ve been doing.”
Although he’s grateful Lovett found a way to hold a virtual play this fall, theatre student Joey Boveri is most looking forward to next spring when he hopes to perform in the outdoor amphitheater that the design and production students are building. He’s ready to get back on the stage and, like everyone else, ready for this pandemic to be over.