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Ingenuity brings new initiatives to BW arts

"Never in our lifetimes has art and music held greater importance or value. I firmly believe that our collective creative voice defines our pathway through and beyond our current crises."

-Susan Van Vorst, Dean of the Conservatory of Music


photo of BW theatre In the arts hubs of Boesel Musical Arts Center and Kleist Center for Art and Drama, there is a creative flow of energy and anticipation that stands in contrast to the quietness of the buildings this summer.

Amid the arts faculty and staff who are working remotely, the ideas, possibilities and ingenuity are flourishing freely as if to challenge everyone to lean in to uncharted territory with ardent determination.

Flexing Their 'Creative Muscles'

For the performing arts, COVID-19 health protocols can present challenges related to physical proximity, use of instruments and singing, and other factors related to safe social distancing and health practices. Giving students outstanding educational experiences goes hand-in-hand with following wellness and safety protocols.

"The pandemic offers us all tremendous learning opportunities," emphasized Van Vorst. "As creatives, our ability to be nimble and responsive to our audiences - both physically and virtually - is key. Students this year will have rich experiences as they explore ways to hone their artistry, prepare musical content for varied audiences and platforms, and build skills in collaboration and listening."

Similar to Van Vorst, Brennan Murphy, chair of the department of theatre and dance and coordinator of BW's BFA in acting program, is meeting the challenge with an optimism and a strategic mindset. "The department of theater and dance is flexing our creative muscles to think outside the box this year. It is a challenge, but we love a challenge and the students are game."

Using Artistic Vision to Create Exciting Opportunities

Murphy went on to say that they are planning to have a full season that includes theater, dance, staged readings and even some virtual theater pieces. He admits it will be a challenge to safely teach an art that needs to be practiced, but believes they will find creative ways to achieve social distancing, utilize masks and employ interesting "COVID-19" staging.

"One thing that I have been thinking about is taking my classes outside whenever possible," he noted. "There are a lot of theater games and improvisational work that can easily happen on the grass with lots of space between us. The entire faculty is on board to provide wonderful opportunities that are altered for COVID-19. Dance professor Sara Whale is thinking of having the fall dance performance outside on the Kleist parking lot."

Meaningful Mentoring, Learning Experiences

student performing on the celloIn the Conservatory of Music, engaging students in meaningful learning and performance opportunities is at the heart of the BW experience.

"Student-faculty relationships are in no way diminished in the midst of the pandemic," said Van Vorst. "All faculty remain focused on individualized interaction and mentoring relationships with students, regardless of social distancing or online platforms. Many faculty have remained meaningfully connected to their students over the summer."

"Our faculty have plans to engage student performers in meaningful and artistically rich experiences despite the fact that ensembles may look and operate differently this year," she noted. In some cases, she said, Conservatory students will work in smaller ensembles that will combine forces virtually for large-scale finished products. Other times, faculty will employ new practices that give students the same outstanding experiences they've come to expect at BW.

For example, the opera program's emphasis on singing poses a significant risk for the transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, opera director Scott Skiba and his students will engage in a "Micro Opera" project with a host of internationally recognized composers and librettists focused on the creation of new virtual works.

Van Vorst admits the quick transformation to remote learning in March caught them off guard at first. But, it provided expanded opportunities for them to connect students with alumni and other professionals from across the U.S. who offered to serve as guest artists and mentors. Among such opportunities, Emmy award-winning actor and producer Eric Nelsen will teach five-week modules in on-screen acting remotely from Los Angeles to junior- and senior-level music theatre students.

Looking to Increased Livestreaming

Both the Conservatory of Music and department of theatre and dance are planning to offer some livestreamed performances of ensembles, recitals, and music theatre and theatre productions to enable friends and family of students and the BW community to attend from the comfort of their homes.

"Although the global pandemic has impacted the manner in which art is made and delivered, we have witnessed in the past four months the profound truth that artistic expression is essential for the human soul," she emphasized. "The preparation of BW citizen artists is now more critical than ever before. We must rely upon the power of artistic expression to tell our stories, open our hearts and begin the healing that is required for our world."

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