Imagine holding a baseball practice when you only have the pitcher and the second baseman. The next day you have the outfield and the catcher, but the shortstop is on Zoom.
This is how Director of Arts Programs Steve Dziekonski describes the obstacles faced by the performing arts program in 2020-2021. COVID restrictions presented daunting challenges to classroom teaching, not to mention maintaining the community aspect of a thriving arts program.
Instrumental music teacher Drew Burges set up shop in the open-air lobby of the athletics center, with wind players perched at the edge of the parking lot. Choir director Justine Hansen held classes and rehearsals under a tent on the athletic field, with singers spaced 12 feet apart. Extra equipment and problem-solving were employed at every turn to simulate full-group rehearsals, such as incorporating pre-recorded music, videos, and special software so students could collaborate.
“Justine and Drew were able to uphold the sense of ensemble better than anyone could have expected,” said Dr. Dziekonski.
Anyone familiar with Pacific Ridge knows how first-rate arts performances can bring a community together. Dr. Dziekonski and his team were not willing to give up on performances, especially during a year when the school community sorely needed opportunities to gather, whether in person or remote.
“Given the constantly shifting circumstances, we had to have at least three plans for every performance: completely live outdoors with masks, partly live, or completely prerecorded. We ended up utilizing all of them,” he said.
As an example, Monty Python’s Spamalot was originally planned as an outdoor performance live streamed for audiences. Two weeks before the show, the plan had to change to an entirely pre-recorded performance. Director Claire Tam dissected the show into tiny pieces, such as a dialogue between two actors from the same grade level who could be filmed together. These snippets had to be painstakingly stitched together with other interactions performed by students in their homes or local parks to create a coherent, smooth performance.
“Claire was a hero. She and the students worked 24/7 to pull off that show,” said Dr. Dziekonski.
Every performance required similar creative problem-solving. By the time May’s Showcase of the Arts rolled around, students had experienced all kinds of technological schemes to make performances work. Two on-campus stages hosted dance, instrumental, theater, and vocal performances, while pre-recorded videos were woven into the live streamed show. Visual arts pieces were displayed in a realistic online gallery that gave viewers the sense of walking through a museum.
“It was really a showcase of ingenuity as well as art,” noted Dr. Dziekonski.
He added that, through creativity, technology, and sheer will, the arts program produced some form of nearly every event originally on the 2020-2021 school calendar.
“This whole year demonstrated to students that even in the worst circumstances you can find ways to keep the arts an important part of your life. Challenge is what helps you create something that is completely new.”