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BWW Blog: How Students are Keeping the Arts Alive During the Pandemic

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I spoke with a few of my friends to see how they have stayed connected to their passions during an impossible situation.

September is approaching, which also means that the start of the Fall semester is upon us. But instead of feeling excited for move-in day or returning to normal classes, many students are facing the harsh reality of another virtual semester. This is especially challenging for young people studying theatre, not only because the industry is struggling now more than ever, but also because in-person dance classes, voice lessons, or other hands-on courses feel absolutely necessary in order to graduate and pursue a career in this arena. Without these incredible benefits that come from in-person classes, many students agree that it has truly been a challenge to feel connected to their studies. However, New Yorkers and the theatre community as a whole have proven to be incredibly resilient during these tough times, and art always finds a way to prevail.

I spoke with a few of my friends who are studying theatre or simply love Broadway, and was curious to see how they have stayed connected to their passions during an impossible situation.

BWW Blog: How Students are Keeping the Arts Alive During the PandemicName: Kristin Camacho
School: St. John's University (Queens, NY)
Major: English with a Musical Theatre/Public Relations minor
Favorite Past Role: Natalie in All Shook Up or Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes!

Maura: Do you still feel the same level of connection to theatre at home in California that you do at school in New York? How have you maintained or strengthened your love for the arts during this time?

Kristin: I feel the same level of connection to theatre back home as I do in New York, but it's a very different experience. Before moving to college, I had never been to/seen a show on Broadway. I would always see touring casts at the Pantages in LA and while they are amazing, it's such a different experience from seeing a show on Broadway. The connection is there in either place, but it's hard to compare the two. I am lucky enough to serve on the executive board for my theatre group on campus and so I have been able to keep in touch with theatre in that way. We've been hard at work all summer reviewing musicals and reading plays trying to decide the best options are for the bizarre nature of this upcoming year.

Maura: What was your last experience with theatre before the pandemic?

Kristin: The very last show I saw before the world closed down was the opening week of the touring Frozen cast in LA. It was an awesome show. However my last experience in general with theatre before the pandemic was a show I was in. I was in a production of Miss Nelson is Missing that sadly had to be canceled during our tech week because we had to leave campus. I was actually walking back to my dorm from a rehearsal when I received the email that the school was closing. The set is still residing in our theatre half-finished.

BWW Blog: How Students are Keeping the Arts Alive During the PandemicName: Lauren Koranda
School: Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA)
Major: Directing for Theatre and Business Administration for the Arts
Favorite dance number/choreography in a show: All of Sam Pinkleton's work on The Great Comet, but especially "Balaga"

Maura: What advice do you have for freshmen preparing to also pursue a major in directing, especially during the challenging times students and theatre professionals are facing?

Lauren: My biggest piece of advice would be to pay attention to the innovation that is happening in theatres both nationally and globally right now without viewing those experiences as a replacement for the in-person experiences we are all used to. Even when it is safe to gather for live theatre again, the accessibility that virtual theatre has provided is something that I hope to see continue industry-wide and plan on working to do myself.

Maura: How have you been keeping theatre present in your life during quarantine?

Lauren: I am part of a group of college theatre majors in my hometown that I was hoping to work with on several in-person projects this summer. When those projects were unable to happen, we put our heads together to come up with a way to bring theatre safely and accessibly to our local youth theatre company. To accomplish this, we launched a free daily summer theatre intensive to share our knowledge on anything from theatre history to audition tips and tricks. I personally spent every day planning, editing, and posting our content on Instagram and TikTok, and often was even filming videos on topics I found interesting to share with our young audience such as the history of jukebox musicals and how to format a resume. It was definitely not the summer of theatre that I had been planning on, but it gave me an immense sense of purpose to feel in control of my theatre experiences during this time when nothing is guaranteed.

BWW Blog: How Students are Keeping the Arts Alive During the PandemicName: Kolbi-Rae Edney
School: St. John's University (Queens, NY)
Major: Communication Arts
How long have you danced for?: I have danced for about 14 years!

Maura: Where have you been dancing during quarantine since studios and theaters are shut down?
Kolbi-Rae: I've been dancing in my house and taking virtual classes over Instagram live with some of my favorite choreographers or my old dance teachers.

Maura: How have you stayed creative and passionate about dance these last few months, and what advice do you have for high school or other college students who are struggling to feel like an artist when there is no real place to perform right now?

Kolbi-Rae: Honestly, yoga helps me stay creative. Usually after I do yoga I feel limber and inspired so I'll just choreograph something to a song that moves me and I'll record it for myself so I can critique and alter my movements. And my advice to other artists is to keep moving and working your craft and incorporate it into your daily life. Whether it's dancing around while cleaning or singing in the shower, I found that doing simple things like that can inspire you to create and fulfill that creative itch all artists have.

BWW Blog: How Students are Keeping the Arts Alive During the PandemicName: Ellen Frantz
School: Marywood University (Scranton, PA)
Major: Multimedia Journalism
What is the first theatre-related thing you are looking forward to doing following the pandemic?: I can't wait to return to New York! I really want to see Diana or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Maura: As a theatre minor, how have you been able to keep your mind and body ready to return to school? Do you have any go-to cast recordings? Favorite vocal warm-ups?

Ellen: I just added the theatre minor for this upcoming semester, so I have been preparing myself by memorizing a sonnet for an upcoming outdoor devised Shakespeare production we're doing at school. My favorite cast recordings are the 2018 revival of Miss. Saigon, The Addams Family, and Waitress! And when I played Miss. Hannigan in Annie, it was my first time belting so I warmed up by singing "Somebody to Love" by Queen, which probably wasn't good but it was fun!

Maura: What do you think makes the theatre community, from Broadway performers to college students like you, such a special and resilient group of people during a time like this?

Ellen: I think it's because of how passionate theatre fans and theatre performers are. Theatre has stopped and no one knows when it will continue whereas films and sports are allowed to resume working and I feel like this has united theatre fans and performers together. Theatre is such a unique form of art as well since it can be performed by all kinds of groups whether it be a community, a high school, a middle school, or in a professional setting. That's what makes theatre different from movies. I know five other people who have been in productions of Beauty and the Beast such as myself and even though they were all different productions, we are all united by our experience. I think that these mutual experiences and love for theatre is what reaches out to so many people and is keeping us all united during this time.

BWW Blog: How Students are Keeping the Arts Alive During the PandemicName: Jake LaChapelle
School: St. John's University (Queens, NY)
Major: TV/Film
The best part about living in NYC is: From my first visit I have been head over heels in love with the city. I struggle to sleep without the hum of cars and trucks moving along the road stories below paired with a siren crying out in the distance and echoing between skyscrapers. It's hard to describe but when I am in NYC I have this overwhelming feeling that I belong there and that was something that was missing before I started college. But if you need an absolutely concrete answer: Junior's Cheesecake.

Maura: Have you discovered any new shows or cast recordings during quarantine?

Jake: Right before the shutdown in March I was incredibly fortunate to spend a week in London seeing shows (Dear Evan Hansen, Be More Chill, Les Mis, Prince of Egypt and Hamilton) on the West End. I have been replaying these productions in my head for months now and have particularly had Les Mis stuck in my head. I had loved the show for years but it was my first time seeing it live on stage and it blew my mind. I've been trying to expand my knowledge of musical theatre and the shows I listen to. Up until March I had been a TERRIBLE theatre kid and had only listened to an incredibly small portion of Sondheim's works. I can happily announce that since then I have listened to many more Sondheim shows and my love for them has grown tremendously (Especially Sunday in the Park with George and Sweeney Todd).

Maura: What has been the biggest challenge of being away from friends, school and Broadway these last few months? How are you taking care of your mental health?

Jake: The last few months have absolutely been a struggle. Anyone that knows me knows the love I hold in my heart for New York City and how hard it is for me to leave when school ends. I miss going to shows and being blown away by the people on stage. I miss bonding with fellow audience members at the stage door. I miss having that escape from reality that sitting in a theatre and seeing a show provides. I miss being a part of a cast and coming together with artists to create. I miss my friends even more. I am someone who sometimes struggles to communicate and reach out and the current situation has made that a bit more difficult because it is so easy to feel alone and isolated when you are separated for so long. I have struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my life, and those two have certainly been present during quarantine. It's especially tough to deal with now just because usually if I wasn't feeling great I would go and sit with friends or walk around the city so I've had to adapt. Now if I feel down I put on a cast recording and take a break from whatever I'm doing to collect my thoughts. Usually my cat, Nala, will join me (her favorite show is Beetlejuice). If that doesn't do the trick, I write. The Hamilfilm has been very helpful as well.

I hope that these responses are inspiring to anyone else struggling with their separation from theatre as we know it, or are feeling lost creatively. I am grateful to have such talented friends who understand my immense love for Broadway, and motivate me to be the best person and performer that I can be. Also, it has been so fascinating to hear about what their respective schools are doing to keep the arts present on campus or online when there is still so much uncertainty in the world, and hear about the efforts they've made in their daily lives to still feel like a theatre kid.

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