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How the Performing Arts at Adelphi Have Changed and Adapted to the Pandemic Shutdown

By: Justin Kresse

When the pandemic shutdown began more than a year ago, one industry hit especially hard was the performing arts. At Adelphi, the Dance, Music and Theatre Departments were given no choice other than to stop all live performances for the safety and wellbeing of the community. However, this abrupt change did not necessarily mean that the performing arts at Adelphi had to stop altogether. In fact, all three of these departments worked swiftly and carefully to ensure students would at least have modified opportunities to express their creativity and enjoy the performing arts while staying safe.

One of the places hit especially hard by the pandemic was music. Music Department chair Sidney Boquiren said that singing is considered to be a “superspreader” event, as is playing instruments such as woodwinds and brass that require the musician to blow into it. Because of the potential danger associated with these activities, the Music Department acted quickly and was able to adapt most of their performances to a virtual setting.

SO Percussion playing a work of student composer Kevin Lubin. Photo credit of Adelphi University/Peter Frutkoff

Boquiren noted that the virtual rehearsals were especially difficult, as being able to hear everyone’s parts at once is not feasible through Zoom. However, through the use of technology such as Soundtrap, students have been able to individually record their parts while listening to other students’ performances and then adding their performances to the overall show.

Currently, there are a limited number of musical performances. For the junior and senior recitals, these performances are recorded as if it were a performance, Boquiren said.

“The junior recitals are only a half hour, which is great because we made the decision that recording sessions and rehearsals can only be a half hour in duration. Then you have to clear the space for air exchange,” Boquiren noted. “The senior recitals are a full hour in duration so they do two sessions of recording.”

Boquiren was upfront about the downsides to making music during the pandemic. “How we join ensembles so that we can make music with other classmates is challenging. But we just try to stick to the course objectives in terms of helping students grow as musicians and performers.”

From dance performance "White Stars Tell Your Praise" directed by Adelheid B/ Strelick with video of Yu-Chieh Kao in Taipei projected in the background. Photo credit of Adelphi University/Peter Frutkoff.

The Dance Department has also had to adapt to the pandemic by wearing masks – even during their performances – as well as limiting close contact. Orion Duckstein, the department chair, said, “When the pandemic began, students and faculty tried to look on the bright side, saying that `at least we were able to perform for each other last spring.’”

He is referring to the virtual, video-recorded dances that students had to make during the spring semester of 2020.

In the fall and during this current semester, most students were able to perform live with cameras recording the dances to be live-streamed. However, Duckstein said, “Dance and the camera have never been that friendly. There is something about it that delays and softens something.”

To look at the situation more optimistically, the pandemic has forced the dancers to find new ways to be artistic and even utilize the digital medium. Duckstein spoke about a performance choreographed by Adelheid B. Strelick, one of the dance professors, which involved a student who was joining in virtually from Taiwan. The student was assigned to take videos of themself around Taipei in different settings and then the edited videos were projected behind a dance performance for the piece, with the dancers interacting with the video.

Duckstein noted, “It presented us the opportunity to finally try some of those things like integrating film.” He saw it as students and faculty making the best of pandemic limitations.

The Theatre Department is yet another area that had to undergo changes because of the effects of the pandemic, but these have also served as a catalyst for new technology and new ideas. Megan Lohne ‘04 is an Adelphi alum, adjunct theatre professor, and has been at the forefront of some of the recent virtual Adelphi theatre productions. She wrote Adelphi’s first official virtual show, “This Odd Geometry of Time,” working with the company that she and Shoshanah Tarkow ‘06 started, Like Fresh Skin, to create virtual theatre shows that talk about untold feminist stories.

Scene from "Almost, Maine" with actors, Nicholas Amodio '23 and Gabriela Villeda '22. Photo credit of Adelphi University/Peter Frutkoff.

Lohne has also recently started the Adelphi Alumni Playwrights group, which has an upcoming show titled “Spring Fever” from April 16 to May 2. Visit their website to learn more.

Nicholas Petron, her former professor and the Theatre Department chair, emphasized his appreciation for everyone involved in these modified productions. “Everyone who has been involved in the productions since we got back has risen to the occasion under incredibly difficult circumstances,” he said. “It's been quite a journey. I’m really proud of everyone in the department. Each performance has been adjusting to the one before it.”

Brian Donoghue is an Adelphi junior and was the production stage manager for the department’s second virtual performance in March of “Almost, Maine,” as well as the assistant stage manager for “This Odd Geometry of Time.” Donoghue said that “Almost, Maine” was approached like a normal theatre production, except for the fact that everything needed to be adapted for television.

“Once we got into the last few dress rehearsals where we used audio and visual technology, then we started adapting things for the camera. It was a lot of trial and error,” Donoghue said, adding he had a positive outlook on the changes necessitated by Covid-19. He saw screen tests and working with new technology as experience that could help his career.

The next Adelphi Theatre performance, “Talking With…” by Jane Martin, will take place May 6-8, so watch the Theatre website to learn more when it is available.

As a result of the pandemic, the performing arts at Adelphi have been forced to undergo abrupt changes, but they seem to have adapted to this new normal quite well. The performing arts departments have crafted a great balance between maintaining safety and allowing individuals to create and express themselves freely. While we all long for the day when we can take off our masks and hug our friends, the hard truth is that we may be waiting a while. In the meantime, it’s a good thing that we can still create meaningful art.

As Lohne put it, “The pandemic has made us have to reevaluate how we’re creating art, how we’re communicating, how we want to interact with each other past this moment in history.”

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