No Curtain Call? No Problem!
Whitfield’s Performing Arts program is designed to develop communication skills and creative problem-solving strategies; and, to promote in our students positive self-concept, social awareness, empathy, a clarification of values and attitudes, and an understanding of the art of performance. While traditional performances and productions are not options this year because of the show-stopping pandemic, our performing arts faculty continue to create engaging, relevant, and student-centered classroom experiences for in-person and Live Remote learners.
In Middle School theater classes, students participate in exercises and theater games to develop performance skills, such as concentration, observation, problem-solving, and imagination. Their classroom has moved to a classroom located in the Middle School Cohort from the Black Box theater located on the Garden Level (the location of the 9th Grade Cohort). Like many necessary changes made this year to maintain a safe environment, theater faculty member Keith Borzillo is making the best of it and sustaining a robust experience.
“We can create theater anywhere we want—the space really doesn’t matter,” said Mr. Borzillo. “I try to design a fun atmosphere where the kids are willing to play, take risks, and develop confidence as they perform in front of their peers, and learn to trust themselves and each other. That hasn’t changed just because we are in a different room.”
Live Remote Learning students engage in class activities via the OWL camera.
“There are times where we directly acknowledge the pandemic and work it into a scene or improv activity,” said Mr. Borzillo. “Other times the students learning from home might act as producers of a news or TV show. We had a lot of practice last spring doing online theater so we gained confidence and comfort that we could make it work.”
Vocal music teacher Mary Kate File is also teaching in a new space this year—the dance and cheer room. Using a combination of daily choir rituals like warming up and sight reading along with timely music selections, Ms. File is focused on creating a genuine choir experience in which students are challenged intellectually, emotionally, physically, and musically as they strive to recreate great works of art.
“Making music together in the same space is an amazing, magical thing to do,” said Ms. File. “Whether the students are there in-person or joining class via Zoom and the OWL Camera System, I believe they are experiencing the social bond of choir that is just as important as the singing aspect—especially now, when things can feel so uncertain at times.”
Making music together is an important component of Whitfield’s instrumental music courses, as well. Band students utilize two types of masks during class: a performance mask covering their nose and mouth that closes around their instrument mouthpiece and a mask that covers the bell of their instrument.
Instrumental music faculty member Anna Seim notes that while her students certainly miss the excitement of preparing for concerts and competitions, they continue to work diligently to refine their skills.
“In a typical year, we might spend six to eight weeks preparing and polishing pieces for a concert or competition,” said Mrs. Seim. “Now we are using that time on technique and music theory. In some ways, the students are progressing at a faster pace and becoming better at playing their instruments.”
Upper School theater teacher Amy Allen Cano has been impressed by her students’ resilience and enthusiasm.
“It is terrific to watch the students adapt to the challenges of wearing masks and socially distancing during improv games and scenes,” said Ms. Allen Cano. “[Because they are wearing masks] they know that they can’t just stand around and be talking heads – they have to engage head to toe as actors which has always been a goal of mine. And they are going for it!”
Students and teachers alike miss the opportunity to perform in front of live audiences. Students in Upper School theater classes are staging a variety of performances in class that will be recorded and shared later. The sophomores are putting the final touches on monologues and juniors and seniors are working on two separate plays. Both band and choir classes are exploring creative ways to share small ensemble performances. Information about in-class recordings of theater, choir, and band performances will be posted in upcoming editions of Whitfield Weekly.