Penn’s performing arts groups have struggled to coordinate, rehearse, and perform their work remotely since students left campus, and are concerned about how to do so in the fall.
Many of Penn’s nearly 46 performing groups had to cancel their spring performances once coronavirus distancing guidelines went into effect. As the fall remains uncertain, performing arts — including theater, a cappella instrumental, and dance — groups expressed concern about recruiting new members and operating remotely for another semester.
For many dance groups, the transition to a virtual format prohibited them from rehearsing spring performances.
Rising College sophomore and Onda Latina dancer Julia Lottman said the team's spring performance was canceled after students were asked to leave on-campus residences in mid-March. Because Onda Latina’s performances involve partner dances, such as the salsa and mambo, rehearsing remotely is almost impossible, Lottman said.
“Our style of dance just relies so heavily on human contact,” Lottman said. “You can't modify a partner dance to be done when the partners aren't together.”
Lottman said that in place of traditional rehearsals, Onda Latina members have been attending virtual dance workshops with alumni and professional dancers over Zoom, and plan to continue doing so through the summer and fall.
Rising College senior and Chair of Arts House Dance Company Erin Bailey said AHDC’s dance choreography is also not conducive to physical distancing guidelines.
“A lot of choreography involves partnering or touching someone or getting closer to people in a tighter formation to portray a certain emotion,” Bailey said. “Dancing’s not meant for you to be six feet apart from everyone.”
Some vocal and instrumental groups have, however, been able to perform music pieces remotely. Rising College junior and Penn Band President Jessica Conway said Penn Band asked members to record themselves playing their parts on their own instruments. Penn Band then combined them to create a final video performance.
Nearly all performing arts groups have grappled with uncertainty over what rehearsals and performances will look like this coming fall, and whether groups will be able to meet in person next semester.
The University outlined four scenarios for the fall in a community-wide email sent on May 21. According to the email, in-person scenarios would involve social distancing regulations and gatherings limited to 25 or more people.
“Our campus is also home to a thriving arts community that would not be able to mount exhibitions or present live performances for large audiences," the email stated. "We are thinking through new ways in which we could bring these activities to the community through different approaches, including online platforms."
Rising College senior and Quadramics Theatre Company Chair Anika Dalvie said the group plans to choose a fall show that could be performed virtually or outdoors.
Other performing arts groups are considering streaming their productions instead of performing in front of an audience, which has led to questions about how to proceed with production.
“Do you charge money for [a virtual performance]? Do we make the show free this year? There [are] just so many different moving parts that we have to consider, especially because most of our revenue for the year comes from ticket sales,” rising College senior and Bloomers Chair Reagan Bracknell said.
Bracknell also expressed concerns about whether a virtual recruiting strategy would attract a diverse class of first years to her troupe.
“We have a lot of people who come to Penn and know they want to be in Bloomers,” Bracknell said. “But then [there are] people like me, who never performed in her life, and they just happen to join. Those are the kinds of people we need in our troupe to make it more diverse and inclusive, and you can't do that if you have an entirely virtual recruitment campaign.”
Other groups were unsure about whether in-person auditions would be possible, or if incoming first years who join the performing arts community in the fall would get the authentic experience of a performance.
“I don't know if we'll be able to have auditions because I don't know how large or how small of a group Penn will allow to gather in one room,” Bailey said.
Even if students are allowed to return to campus in the fall, Lottman said, the experience of being in a campus dance troupe will change.
“For Onda especially, if you're not doing partner work you're missing out on a very, very large part of what we do,” she said.
Conway said a large part of the Penn Band experience includes performing at sporting events, such as football games, which may not take place in the fall.
“We're just waiting to see how sports will be set up, and we’ll cheer on the Quakers whatever way we can,” Conway said.
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