Theater Educators Struggle to Keep Shows Going Amid COVID-19

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High school theater troupes across the country are trying to do something that even Broadway can’t do-live and remotely broadcast during a pandemic.

Convinced that the performance must continue, the school broadcasted the program live through social media, hosted outdoor performances, performed socially distant performances in the empty theater, and planned to broadcast Charles Dickens’s "Christmas Carol" and other holiday classics Radio show. Involve drama students and audiences.

Studies have shown that the coronavirus can stay in uncirculated air for several hours and can cause infection when people inhale it, especially in enclosed spaces such as theaters, auditoriums, and stadiums. In recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that the spread of the virus may exceed six feet, which is the standard distance for social evacuation in many schools across the country.

As the number of COVID-19 cases across the country has soared, leading to more schools closing or postponing reopening plans, schools may face difficult decisions about the fate of winter art events, forcing the focus to change from "will the performance continue?" to "should it?" "

Tracey Gatte, the theater director of Harry Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, said that it is important for students to have no live theater performances for a whole year. This is one of four schools in the United States. Last spring Received the Outstanding School Award from the Educational Theater Association.

The Truman Heights drama program was the inspiration for the NBC TV series "Rise" aired in 2018. Broadway producers also applied to the school for trial broadcasts of popular programs before obtaining permission for the National High School Theater Program.

Gart said: "It is shocking to think that my child cannot be on stage." "I have seen too many directors posting that they had to cancel the rehearsal, or they were shut down, or they had to be quarantined. I don't know what happened to them. [Student's] Hope, and then destroying them in this way is it worth the risk."

I hope that the students can perform in the spring of 2021, and the school staff has recorded tapes in the recording studio to achieve social distancing. The auditorium can accommodate 800 guests. According to current safety guidelines, the auditorium can accommodate more than 100 people.

Outside of schools, the epidemic is generally punishing the performing arts. Broadway is closed in March, and there will be no performances until May 30 at the earliest. Because large indoor gatherings are discouraged, small theaters across the country have closed their doors, took vacations to staff, or switched to low-budget live scripts.

In the spring, the school performance did not improve. A survey conducted by the Educational Theater Association this summer found that nearly 91% of schools cancelled spring performances. In the absence of ticket sales to support budgets, the survey found that nearly 25% of drama teachers and drama directors are cutting budgets this school year.

The association estimates that in 2017 the school sold nearly 50 million performance tickets. In a school year where production costs are bound to soar, this number is bound to drop. The demand for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies and the unwillingness to use shared clothing and props may lead to barebone production or sideline business.

The Illinois High School Drama Festival, which usually attracts 5,000 high school drama students, has cancelled its January 2021 event and plans to reopen in 2022. If there are no live events, the organization behind the festival will strengthen the activities by providing more virtual courses and activities. produce.

Aimee-Lynn Newlan, executive director of the Illinois Theater Association, said: "The show will continue, and we can adjust as needed." "We will look for ways to make this magic happen."

But in some places, things are less magical.

The precautions taken to ensure student safety will not only change the performance. They are reshaping the theater classroom and the experience of students and teachers. According to the high school drama teacher, classrooms that once flourished due to interaction have become sterile and rigid.

Before the pandemic, at Truman High School, Gate's classroom had sofas and plenty of open space. Visitors will see students scattered on the floor in small groups when viewing the script. The students are still scattered, but now they are sitting on desks instead of sofas, and they are reading parts of the script on a computer screen instead of on paper.

"We have a lot of teachers who have created very cool classrooms with tables, recliners and flexible seating arrangements, and all of this has disappeared," said Amy Miller, director of theater art at New Albany (Indiana) High School.

Theater production is not the only show facing an uncertain winter. Band and chorus performances also pose the risk of coronavirus infection.

The University of Colorado and the University of Maryland are leading a study to explore how singers, actors and musicians spread aerosol particles. The latest round of results released this month focuses on how many aerosols are produced when playing an instrument, singing, performing, talking and dancing. Researchers determined that wearing a mask can reduce aerosol emissions by 60% to 90%, but it cannot eliminate all risks.

According to data released by the National Federation of High School Associations in mid-November, 30 states and the District of Columbia will also postpone the start of high school men's and women's basketball seasons or completely cancel winter sports. Officials have shelved high school wrestling in at least three states, which is considered a high-risk sport for the spread of COVID-19 due to continued contact between participants.

Debates about school extracurricular activities often place public health considerations on the need to keep students in touch with the school during periods of unprecedented uncertainty. Sometimes this kind of debate takes place in unexpected ways.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison released a study in October that showed that the state’s fall high school sports season did not lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections among athletes. However, the Wisconsin State Athletic Association, the governing body of high school sports in the state, cancelled plans for high school football tournaments this month to reduce travel and reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus.

Those who advocate finding a way for students to perform, whether on the stage or on the sports field, insist that other factors besides safety are also at work. The American Promise Alliance conducted a survey of 3,300 teenagers this summer and found that in the pandemic, the feeling of unhappiness and disconnection among the country’s youth is on the rise.

"Although the physical health and safety of participants must be maintained first, if students are unable to participate in sports and performing arts, there are still social, emotional and health concerns," Karissa Niehoff executive director of the Federation of State High School Associations in the organization Wrote in the latest newsletter.

Broadway and other professional theater performances are focused on the audience experience, "Education in the school, it is actually about the process and its meaning to students," Educational Drama Association Executive Director Julie Cohen Seybird (Julie Cohen Theobald) said.

Therefore, Roshunda Jones, the theater director of George Washington Carver High School in Houston, held two virtual performances this school year, and is moving forward with plans to host the socialized musical "Dream Girl" in January. Limited, even in the region, the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations is still rising.

In face-to-face classes and after-school rehearsals, Jones wears a mask for 10 to 12 hours a day. She said it pays to keep students in touch. She spent the spring battle to establish contact with students who were overwhelmed by the virtual classroom.

Texas Thespian Hall of Fame member Jones said: "This is the motivation for certain students to go to school and pass the core curriculum." "I hate anyone who says they don't do art now, they will retreat to second place. That would be a one. A huge mistake, because it is a huge motivation for our students."

Some schools are taking a more cautious approach. Donald Amerson, an instructor who teaches sports and Shakespeare courses at the school, said that at the Orange County Art School, a charter school in Santa Ana, California, all works will remain online until June.

Like Truman High School in Pennsylvania, New Albany Heights in Indiana received the "Outstanding School Award" from the Educational Theater Association in April and had to celebrate this achievement with family and friends who shared the news on Facebook.

Miller said that prior to the closure of Jeonju school last spring, the school ended the spring performance of the "Adams Family" musical with "chin hair", but missed the opportunity to launch a new performance at the international school in the summer Thespian Festival. The event is hosted by the Educational Theatre Association and, like other events last summer, it is almost all virtual.

This month, the school cancelled two performances of the reduced bluegrass musical, and then resumed the performance at the last minute, giving parents the opportunity to watch the performance live.

The surge in cases in Floyd County, Indiana, where New Albany is located, has led to new restrictions across the county, including the school district’s decision to allow students to enroll in all distance learning beyond 60 days under a mixed schedule. Alternate days.

As with sports events this fall, school administrators may have to make daily decisions about whether to host student performances. In this sense, rehearsals and performances have become a trick for students and teachers.

"I am not immune to this, nor can I deny that this is a bad fact. We don't know what will happen next week." said Miller, artistic director of the New Albany Theater. "Sometimes, we don't even know what will happen the next day."

Leadership, summer learning, social and emotional learning, art learning, and coverage of after-school time are partly supported by a grant from the Wallace Foundation at Education Week reserves the sole editorial control over the content of this report.

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