A Brief Check-In with the Arts Departments

This past Fall Term, the Performing Arts and Visual Arts Departments adapted their curriculums and teaching styles to fit the new hybrid model.

This past Fall Term, the Performing Arts and Visual Arts Departments adapted their curriculums and teaching styles to fit the new hybrid model. In replacement of the Fall Musical, as the singing component did not meet Covid-19 guidelines, faculty and students produced the play Clue: On Stage. The Performing Arts Department also worked to continue its orchestra, Lawrentians, and jazz band program while moving some events to the Spring Term. At the same time, the Visual Arts Department brought students back into the studio setting. The Lawrence had the opportunity to speak with Chair of Performing Arts Keith Roeckle and Chair of Visual Arts Department Brian Daniell H'89 '06 to reflect upon the Fall Term as well as discuss plans for the future.

When asked about the play, which had both in-person shows and was broadcasted online, Roeckle said, "We streamed [the play] online and had a lot of people tune into it. We were even able to have a small live audience for it; Clue was a big hit." Despite the challenges of a hybrid term, the cast and crew still managed to make Clue a success.

In addition to the department's production of a play instead of a musical, faculty readjusted how music ensembles like the orchestra and the Lawrentians rehearsed by splitting into smaller groups and working "outside whenever possible." Faculty also adopted new ways of teaching students and aimed to provide students with more flexibility and freedom in courses. In particular, Roeckle bought "mini keyboards that everyone [could] play" for his Honors Music Theory class and regularly brought his students outside. However, it soon became "way too cold to keep on practicing outside," forcing the faculty to look into other ways to adapt, many of which will be implemented this Winter Term.

All in all, students and faculty were able to "make the best of the situation and get a lot more done than originally thought," Roeckle commented. In the spring, the department hopes to produce its annual production of Freshman Shakespeare and the Spring Dance Concert (SDC).

Looking forward, all performing arts classes will still be running normally with only minor adjustments. In terms of musical ensembles such as orchestra, jazz band, and the various choirs, Roeckle commented that the faculty are investing in a new piece of technology called JackTrip, a software application that enables people to organize live performances over the Internet.

"It allows very, very low latency audio transmission so that we can have synchronous rehearsals if you are within 350-400 miles of campus," Roeckle said. While this new technology comes with benefits, Roeckle acknowledges that, regardless of the type of gadgets the department uses, international students will inevitably have a hard time engaging in performing arts over zoom, "fighting both time zones and circumstances where they can't practice like they used to." Certain students may not have access to instruments or quiet places to practice at home, as opposed to the conditions they would normally have access to in the Clark Music Center. Roeckle remains apprehensive towards the unknown ins and outs of this Winter Term.

"The hardest thing is knowing where everyone's going to land and what sort of access they have to technology," he said. On a more positive note, he feels that the virtual term has "made [him] get into gear and approach 2021 with new strategies."

The Visual Arts Department has also been busy adjusting its curriculum. Daniell found that the hybrid Fall Term helped ease students and faculty into a completely virtual term.

"We were fortunate in the fall because of our large teaching spaces…but the few remote students forced us to be ready for the winter," he said.

Throughout the Fall Term, the Department used a combination of various technologies and will continue to do so this Winter Term. Some technologies include "specialized software for Tech Design and Fabrication classes…2-D design software…high def[inition] cameras to help with demonstrations," and many more. Daniell also added that incorporating these technologies will be "difficult remotely because of space and material limitations," but teachers were able to properly distribute necessary materials to students before Thanksgiving Break because they "were aware ahead of time that [they] were going remote this winter."

In addition, the faculty also placed the activities that were "more conducive to remote learning" and sought to introduce more hands-on collaboration projects in the winter, a temporary adaptation as many continue to look ahead to a potential Spring Term with in-person classes. For now, teachers will focus on organizing activities that can easily be done remotely, like demonstrations and digital teaching.

Daniell's only concern for the virtual Winter Term is that "it's hard to replace the dynamic of the studio with a teacher available to check on a student's work in progress and make suggestions in process." It is more difficult to "build personal connections with students remotely." However, he hopes that the faculty members will continue to "get to know [the] art students individually, keeping as many of the [artistic] principles taught intact even as the methods may be altered." Daniell recognizes that "this type of teaching and learning is still relatively new, and new things take time to get moving…We are doing our best, though, and I'm proud that the Department members have been creative, hardworking, and uncomplaining to get through this unique challenge."

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