With Buffalo COVID cases rising and social distancing measures still in place, UB’s theatre and dance department has had to get creative with how to showcase student and faculty work, while still following university protocol.
While this may seem to be at the detriment of a department that has thrived on physical instruction and performance, the department has instead used this opportunity to come up with new creative ways to produce art.
Even though many students are miles away from each other, productions and projects continue to be planned with no signs of slowing down.
In the theatre side of the department, there are multiple productions still being planned for this fall semester. Lindsay Brandon Hunter, an associate professor and the director of the Undergraduate Theatre Program, will be directing the play “Everybody,” which was supposed to be performed last semester. Most of the cast will be kept the same as last semester except for the roles that were held by students who have since graduated. These roles will be re-auditioned, and the production will be virtual.
Nathan Matthews, the director of Music Theatre, is also working on a production that features his own music, and students will have a chance to work on that.
Maria Horne, the director of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance Program, is making sure that the department continues to move forward in these challenging times. One way this is being done is through a new program called the BFA Theatre Performance Forum. All BFA Theatre Performance students will meet virtually through this forum every week. The forum will host guest artists, workshops, program meetings, brainstorming sessions and town halls.
“Most importantly, [the forum] is going to host our new UB Theatre Performance promising artist showcases,” Horne said. “It’s an opportunity to have all our [students] perform virtually in a format that is not a classroom or a studio but a digital stage.”
Horne has also been working on another performance project titled “Michael Mwenso: Protest, Hope, and Resilience through the Black Arts.”
Michael Mwenso is an interdisciplinary artist originally from Sierra Leone. Along with working at UB as a visiting professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, he is also working with Horne and the Director of UB Arts Collaboratory, Bronwyn Keenan, to create six lectures to showcase during the forum.
“I want [the students] to be exposed to these types of workshops because I think it’s important that we strive to acknowledge artistic and scholarly contributions from marginalized groups and communities,” Horne said. “I think that it’s extremely important for us to inspire our younger generations to seek to eradicate the erasures that have precluded some groups and communities from being properly represented in the arts and in the artistic expressions both at the university and in our country.”
Within the dance-side of the department, there will be one UB dance production at the end of this fall semester. Normally, there would have been multiple productions throughout the semester that would showcase different groups in the department, but this year everyone in the department will contribute to this singular show. This production, titled “Home and Away,” will be a virtual performance or “webinar,” which is planned to be shown on Dec. 11 and 12 to the general public.
One of the directors for this production is Kerry Ring, a clinical associate professor of dance. Ring is also artistic director of Zodiaque Dance Company, which is a student dance group. Normally Ring would direct the Zodiaque production, but there will not be a Zodiaque specific show this semester. Jenna Del Monte, who is a clinical assistant professor, and Jeanne Palmer-Fornarola, who is a clinical associate professor, are also working on this production.
The title “Home and Away” references how there will be students and faculty both on-campus and off that are involved in the production. For the dancers and choreographers off-campus, they will create their performances completely online. Rehearsals will be on Zoom, and they will create dances specifically for film. The performers will be videotaping themselves and then editing their own videos.
On-campus dancers and choreographers will be using both the mainstage and drama theatre as performing spaces for solo dances, duets and quartets. To make sure that these performances are safe, they will also be pre-recorded and the scenery will be made so that there will be solid dividers between the dancers.
“The largest group that we have is a quartet, and there is scenery being built that has either plexiglass or other sorts of hard dividers so that the dancers can be sharing the theatre space without sharing Corona as much as possible,” Ring said. “It’s a very specific, safety driven and creative process for both of those theatre spaces.”
The Director of the Undergraduate Dance Program, Melanie Aceto, said that all the classes for the fall semester are being held remotely. The faculty are “zooming” from studios alone, with one teaching assistant or one accompanist. However the main difference this semester is that the department feels “better prepared.”
“Like the rest of the world last year, everybody was kind of scrambling to make things happen,” Aceto said. “I think what’s different is the preparation in terms of technology. The studios in the Center for the Arts are outfitted with large screen TVs and new cameras and headsets and all the things we need to provide a full technique class experience for our students.”
Ring said that the reason the department is even able to have a production this semester is because of this prior planning. She also mentioned that there is one positive this whole situation has given to the curriculum.
“We have what’s called a Friday Forum with guest artists and the one benefit of being online is that we can get guest artists in who we may not normally be able to afford because they are out of town,” Ring said. “We can look beyond just local dancers and teachers to a wider range of artists.”
With all the projects and work coming from every part of the Theatre and Dance Department, Anne Burnidge, the Department Chair, has plenty of hope for the future of the department.
“It’s our hope that we will continue to be leaders in the field, exploring new ways to learn, create, study and theorize about the fields of theatre and dance in the virtual world,” Burnidge said. “We expect that as always, department scholars, practitioners and educators will continue to research and make theatre and dance in new and interesting ways and will develop new skills, techniques and abilities that will move our fields forward.”
Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AnastasiaWilds
Anastasia Wilds is the senior arts editor. She has been writing for newspapers since her junior year of high school, and she has appreciated all forms of art for even longer. When she’s not writing, she is either reading, listening to music, hanging out with her friends on discord or streaming on Twitch.