In the midst of a global pandemic, Florida Southern, like most educational establishments, is adjusting to a new way of life. Theatre and Dance at FSC is adapting their curriculum and programs to a new, more socially distanced way of life this year, and the organization’s leaders are forging ahead safely.
Theatre and Dance Department Chair James Beck and the rest of the department have carefully crafted the fall season with shows that could without a doubt be streamed without copyright issues. The shows include “As You Like It,” “Oedipus Rex” and “A Christmas Carol,” which was adapted by Beck and other FSC faculty in what Beck described as a “highly collaborative, creative and enjoyable process.”
Beck states that rehearsals for this season will be a hybrid of virtual and socially distanced in-person rehearsals, with masked cast members. Even the performance itself will have stage direction made with social distancing in mind.
“I have had meetings with our choreographer and we have been discussing the nature of the movement for ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and the need to maintain that six foot distance in everything we do,” Beck said. “For all of the shows that will be streaming, we have secured a supply of clear masks that will allow for more facial visibility of the performer’s faces.”
Senior Musical Theatre Major Emily Hermey is thankful to be on campus this semester and gaining “some sense of normality.”
“The situation is not ideal because COVID-19 is still a large concern for all of us,” Hermey said. “We are being [as] safe as possible on campus through these circumstances and I really miss all my friends that couldn’t be on campus this semester.”
She also finds many of the school’s COVID-19 precautions to be appropriate, but some “are more problematic than effective.” Elaborating on this point, Hermey explained she found the email regarding the cut in attendance on campus to be last minute and lacking in proper communication.
Other precautions Hermey mentions include “scheduling campus events with large group gatherings that makes social distancing difficult, and limiting the amount of students allowed in campus dorms and apartments when teachers are still assigning group projects where in person work is important.”
Hermey says she understands that the current situation right now will never be perfect and that the school has made many beneficial rules, but that the aforementioned issues aren’t effective.
Beck expects to face challenges along the way, but he hopes to give students real experience in live entertainment, as long as it is safe.
“I cannot emphasize enough that I want to make sure our students and faculty all remain safe throughout this process,” Beck said.
Beck explains that he and other staff members collectively made an effort to educate themselves and come together to create a safe and impactful season.
“So, as a leader, I have provided what guidance I could, but I have also listened to my colleagues and we agreed upon a plan together that would allow for our work to proceed and at the same time, keep everyone safe,” Beck said.
Each staff member will assess how best to adapt to any changes, which Beck ensures will result in the same quality instruction taught by staff in years prior.
“So I think what I am saying is that the curriculum is not changing, just, perhaps, the way we deliver it,” Beck said.
Hermey is experiencing these changes now.
“For example, my dance classes were moved to a place with carpet, making it harder to dance, and with no mirrors to correct ourselves, so we rely more on our professors to correct us,” Hermey said. “Our voice lessons were moved to Zoom, which is very hard since we do not have a pianist with us and our professors can’t correct us as much.”
Hermey also mentions that masks, although important, hide facial cues and affect Musical Theatre Majors who use expression in their discipline. Despite these difficulties she is “very happy” with her classes and thinks that face to face instruction is more ideal than online.
“I am thankful to be on campus because I get to have the opportunity to talk with friends, speak with my professors in person, and take my classes in person,” Hermey said. “Although it is certainly not ideal I am thankful for these opportunities.”
Overall, Beck states that he is “hopeful.”
“I am a positive person, so I tend to see positives all around me,” Beck said.
He explains that he wants to resume being creative, but not enough to sacrifice the health and safety of students.
“I am hopeful that we can create our fall season in a safe way, but I also remain committed to being both creative and safe for everyone involved in this process,” Beck said.
FSC Dance Program Coordinator Erin LaSala is also planning a virtual season this fall, and dancers will prepare for this with masked and socially distanced rehearsals, limited partner and group dancing, and routinely cleaned studios.
The “Fall Into Dance” performance will be live streamed this year.
“Although it will be quite different not having a live audience in Branscomb Auditorium during the performance, we are excited to ‘virtually’ share the talent and artistry of the FSC Dance Program using the wide reach of technology,” LaSala said.
Junior Dance Major Shannon Smyth believes that the changes brought on by Covid-19 may be weird for everyone, but that they are necessary to keep people healthy.
“The positives that come from this are that we are still able to come back and see each other, even if it is a bit different,” Smyth said. “We are lucky to get to come back.”
LaSala explains that masks during the performance itself is still undecided, but she finds the possibility to be more of an opportunity to work the precaution into the costume design.
Choreography too will reflect Covid-19 guidelines.
“As for the onstage interactions, the choreographers will be considering the limitations associated with distancing when they create and set their works,” LaSala said.
Smyth says that wearing masks will not affect her education, but she does think that “online classes do affect the learning experience for the worst.”
“They are not worth the money we pay and are often not as effective as in person classes,” Smyth said.
With all of this change, LaSala aims to keep the original dance curriculum unaltered, save for live performances and group work.
“The only large difference will be the absence of off campus performance opportunities, conference attendance and possibly in-person professional audition opportunities for the graduating seniors,” LaSala said.
LaSala is confident in the program’s ability to give quality instruction this year, though she does find it difficult to make plans when conditions may change at any time. LaSala anticipates these changes as well by creating alternate plans in order to be as prepared as possible.
“My priority to guide the students through the academic year, regardless of the obstacles in front of us to ensure they are receiving the outstanding education and dance training the FSC Dance Program has become known for,” LaSala said.
LaSala, like Beck, sees positives to the current circumstances, as many creators are seeking new ways to share their art without an audience.