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Performing arts gets creative with live shows

Arts Oct 21, 2020
A woman and a man in masks participate in a play
A woman and a man in masks participate in a play

KOKOMO, Ind. —The show must go on — even if the way it is performed has to change because of a global pandemic.

With concerts canceled and Broadway shows silenced because of COVID-19, performing arts teachers at Indiana University Kokomo knew they faced a tough challenge, to continue providing the opportunities students want and need, to learn and perform in front of an audience.

Because of their inventiveness, the campus will host its annual fall play, band concert, and choir concert — just in different ways, for the safety of performers and audience.

“It’s taken some creativity, but it’s important to give our students these opportunities,” said Wendy Grice, senior lecturer in music. “It’s important for their emotional and spiritual health. We are committed to doing whatever we need to do to make sure they have a chance to perform in a safe environment.”

That means the fall play, Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, will be performed outside at the Pavilion, as a radio play. Dennis Henry, visiting lecturer in theatre, selected it because it allows the actors to be physically distanced from each other and the audience – who will watch from their cars, tuning in via FM radio.

“It’s a fun challenge, both in the classroom and in staging the play. How do we connect with people without being close to them, or having ourselves too close?” he said. “The actors aren’t interacting, but are talking into microphones, like you are watching the recording of an old radio show. It’s socially distanced, but you’re able to have the feel of a full performance.”

Rehearsals — and the acting classes he also teaches — have been outside in the Main Building courtyard as much as possible, and students wear masks unless they are performing.

“They’ve been very excited to perform,” Henry said. “A lot of them have mentioned how it’s different from what they’ve experienced in the past with plays. They’ve really embraced it.”

Performances are set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, October 28 through Saturday, October 31, with a matinee at 1 p.m. Saturday, October 31. Admission to the one-hour show is free. There is limited seating on blankets, placed six feet apart, for those without cars.

Grice said while musical groups practice inside, they are spaced out safely, with choir members placed in Havens Auditorium audience seating and the band on stage. When the choir performs its November 20 Sounds of the Season concert, they will be on a bigger set of risers than usual.

Band and choir concerts will be live streamed on Zoom and the IU Kokomo Facebook page, with a link posted closer to the time of the concerts. Grice said faculty and staff may be able to attend the choir concert, to provide the experience of a live concert.

“It’s going to be hard on the kids to have nobody applauding,” she said.

All musicians wear masks when not performing, with percussionists wearing them through the performance as well. Grice noted that voice and instrumental music lessons moved out of the small rooms where they were taught previously, into larger rooms that allow for 15 feet between teacher and student. Because of COVID, the choir rehearses only as a large group, not by section. These changes mean students have to speak up if they need help.

“I told them you have to get your hands up and tell me if there is a spot you need to go back and work on, and they’re getting really good about it,” she said. “The choir students have been really good about wearing their masks. I’m getting used to the sound now.”

The 2020 spring musical, Pirates of Penzance, had to be canceled because of COVID-19, but Grice plans to stage it in 2021. Auditions are coming up to fill roles left open by graduation. She said there’s not a safe way to sell and take tickets, so performances will be free. Without ticket sales, she will scale back to piano accompaniment rather than an orchestra, and a few drops rather than a full set — which also accommodates that Havens Auditorium is being used as a classroom this year.

“I don’t think the students care how we do it, they just want to be able to do the musical,” she said. “Last year they lost the musical, and the choir lost its spring concert, so they are ready to get back to some normalcy, whatever that looks like.”

The Halloween band concert is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 28. The choir’s Sounds of the Season concert is at 7 p.m. Friday, November 20. Both may be viewed via Zoom, with a link available closer to the time of the events. Go to the campus calendar for more information, or contact Grice at gricew@iuk.edu

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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