Coming Together: Performing in the Zoom Age
By: Apple Diamond and Chloe Vincent
Above image: Students in last year’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher. (Credit: Packer Communications Department)
The bustling basement halls of Packer, once bursting with eager students ready to rehearse, are now eerily silent as we all Zoom in from home. The performing arts have taken a real hit due to COVID, but students and teachers are finding new ways to pursue what they love online.
“The exciting thing that is happening at this moment is that everything has changed, and it is presenting new opportunities that we are trying to capitalize on,” shared Head of the Arts Department, Ali Boag. “Because of social distancing and we can’t have people in school to rehearse or watch a show, there will be no fall play or middle school musical, the question arises is what do we do?”
Over the summer, Mr. Boag was hard at work, brainstorming innovative ways to bring theater back to Packer in the fall. His project, titled “Do It for Dr. Fauci,” will be a collection of student performed monologues that use theater to support science. The speeches will be pre-recorded and distributed to the student body for everyone to enjoy in the near future.
Mr. Boag also hopes these odd circumstances will give students the opportunity to branch out and explore other facets of theater. He is encouraging students to experiment with writing and anticipates that Packer’s student led drama club, Packer Second Stage, will work on its own performances!
Much like the major school-wide productions, smaller student-run performance clubs have also been forced to find creative solutions while being remote. Street Performance, a club at Packer where musicians can produce and perform music for the public, is now creating music virtually with Garageband.
“We had to adjust because a big part of Street Performance was fostering an environment where people were not stressed about a crowd or messing up because on the street, people are just passing by. We couldn’t replicate that environment from home because we weren’t with other people and couldn’t play music real-time,” said club leader Alex Smith (’21). “Even though the club couldn’t continue the way it had in the past, we still wanted to make music together informally and pursue the songs we liked.”
The Packer chorus class has also been using online platforms to create music, having students individually record their parts separately and then joining them together electronically.
“It was bizarre singing a piece that is an ensemble song, one that has so many different voices, alone,” shared Sofia Leaf (’22). “Singing that by myself and then recording it was just a really weird experience. I did not like it at all.” Once students finish recording themselves, Choral Director Dr. Harris has to digitally compile all the recordings to recreate the choir effect.
Although the process feels unnatural, singing during distance learning has allowed students to improve and work on their technique. “I think we all have gained a deeper understanding of our voices and ourselves as artists, and we can just work on the things that make us individuals,” Sofia explained. “In the long run, it will probably be beneficial when we go back to the group ensembles. We’ll all have a deeper sense of what we know we can succeed in and what we know we can’t do.”
Although making music at home does not feel the same, that has not stopped Dr. Harris from getting creative and starting a virtual choir project that spans across the Pacific Ocean! She has established a partnership with a high school in Singapore, bridging the physical gap between our community and other musicians hundreds of miles away online.
“We’re on a computer! A flat-screen! So in a way, that is almost like we are all moving forward together. We have to reach out and be more collaborative,” Dr. Harris shared.
In spite of all the creative ways Packer performers have connected online, nothing compares to being part of this community in person.
“When I’m in the chorus surrounded by so many other voices, I just feel really supported and comfortable, but when you do it yourself, it just feels very vulnerable and almost lonely,” Sofia explained.
Not only students are struggling with the absence of live performance. Teachers are also facing the difficulties of being at home. “I miss the camaraderie of the rehearsal room and the banter. If there’s one thing you need to know, it is that Packer actors are really good at banter. Zoom banter is just not the same” Mr. Boag shared. “I just miss it like I miss England, I know it is still there, and I know I will get back to it someday, but for the minute, it is not around.”