Arts programs confront boundaries within COVID-19’s restrictions 

The+cast%2C+crew%2C+and+production+team+of+%22Much+Ado+About+Nothing%2C%22+Miss+Michaela+Gorman+%2705%2C+Miss+Danielle+Gennaro+%2705%2C+Piper+Gilbert+%2721%2C+Isabel+Lehrman+%2722%2C+Emma+Pope+%2721%2C+and+Grace+Hong+%2721%2C+rehearse+outdoors+and+over+Zoom+for+the+upcoming+production.+

Charlotte Burchetta '22

The cast, crew, and production team of “Much Ado About Nothing,” Miss Michaela Gorman ’05, Miss Danielle Gennaro ’05, Piper Gilbert ’21, Isabel Lehrman ’22, Emma Pope ’21, and Grace Hong ’21, rehearse outdoors and over Zoom for the upcoming production.

Despite safety restrictions, the Sacred Heart Greenwich Arts Department is ensuring that the show will go on.  The Theatre, Madrigals, and Bells programs are incorporating creative aspects of their crafts to adapt to this new lifestyle.  Miss Michaela Gorman ‘05, Upper School Drama Teacher and Director of Drama Productions, Miss Annette Etheridge, Middle and Upper School Music Teacher and Upper School Music Director, and Miss Danielle Gennaro ’05, Bell Choir Director, are working to create a sense of normalcy and positivity within their programs.

COVID-19 has made the in-person aspects of the arts difficult to execute.  In particular, the pandemic has effectively closed theatres around the world, leaving many people jobless and struggling without their passion, according to bbc.com.

Miss Gorman chose the comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, written by William Shakespeare as this year’s fall play.  As live performances are not an option at this time, the performance will be pre-recorded.  Miss Gorman is using the elements of the play, such as romance, comedy, and rumors, to convey a modern and technological perspective, as the show will be set in the present day.

Spaced 12 feet apart, the soprano vocal section of the Madrigals rehearse in the Lennie and John de Csepel Theatre.  Charlotte Burchetta ’22

“We are going to set it now, during the pandemic, which allows us to make some interesting creative decisions,” Miss Gorman said.  “I am hoping to take advantage of this and, for example, have characters who really are FaceTiming or having a Zoom meeting.  We are hoping to use elements of social media to emphasize some of the rumors that come up over the course of the show.”

Miss Gennaro, who assists Miss Gorman in the theatrical productions and is also working on Much Ado About Nothing, believes perspective is the best way to help the program thrive.  She credits Miss Gorman with many of the virtual aspects and ideas of the show.

“Miss Gorman is the most creative director I’ve ever seen and she has some really exciting ideas about how to incorporate Zoom into the actual setting of the fall play, where the characters themselves are in the situation we are all in right now,” Miss Gennaro said.  “Instead of thinking ‘how are we going to move a play into a virtual setting?’ we have asked ourselves ‘what really unique opportunities will this offer us?'”

Despite the challenges Sacred Heart’s Arts Department is facing, Miss Gorman is optimistic about the future because of the faith she has in her students.  She recognizes that when people unite to take part in a shared encounter, it creates an almost enchanting and irreplaceable atmosphere.

“It is definitionally a discipline rooted in human connection and that fleeting moment of magic that happens when people are gathered together to share an experience,” Miss Gorman said.  “However, it is also a good time to remember that theatre has existed for so long in so many forms.  Whenever I am anxious about the future of theatre, I remember the passion, enthusiasm, and endless creativity of my students.” 

Miss Gorman trusts that this experience will be beneficial to the students and the Theatre Department as a whole.  She believes that most growth takes place when the unknown pushes one out of their comfort zone.  When reflecting on the fall play, Miss Gorman is confident that, no matter what, the Theatre Department will work together as a family to be creative and grow as people and actors in order to make the show a success.

“In the theatre department, we’re always trying to push toward growth for our program, and what better opportunity than this?” Miss Gorman said.

The Theatre Department is not the only arts program thinking of ways to adjust to COVID-19’s regulations.  Singing is one of the most dangerous activities to participate in during the pandemic.  A singer breathes out particles and liquid from the respiratory tube.  The air moves quickly due to the force and vibrations of the vocal cords.  These motions allow the particles and liquid to spread farther, according to npr.org.  Singers must be masked and twelve feet apart to keep safe, according to emoryhealthcare.org.

Miss Etheridge, aware of these constraints on choirs, is making changes to her music classes and choral groups in the Middle School, as well as for the Madrigals in the Upper School.  These changes include preparing every class and group to be on Zoom for the remote students, spacing every student twelve feet apart when singing, practicing for virtual concerts, eliminating singing in Middle School classes, and meeting with each Madrigals vocal section separately.

Though distanced, Miss Etheridge is determined to persevere and motivate her students.  She plans to do so by setting goals and reminding them of the bigger picture.

“We are back and we’re in this together,” Miss Etheridge said.  “We’re still plugging through, we’re still doing it.  We’re not canceling completely, and we’re still trying to have some goals and accomplishments.”

The Bell Choir rehearses in the DuBois Gym, practicing songs for the Christmas concert with one person at each table.  Courtesy of Lauren Drummey ’23

One of the more evident changes Miss Gennaro is making to the Bell Choir is moving the practices to the Athletic Center to keep one student per table.  With this alteration, there are not enough foam pads for each table so students cannot ring more than two bells and students cannot share sheet music, meaning that Miss Gennaro arranges the music in a different way.  With the masks, counting beats is also a challenge.

“Because we are wearing masks, I won’t be able to silently count out measures and have the students read my lips,” Miss Gennaro said.  “We will work really hard this year to practice keeping their own rhythm without hearing or seeing me counting, which is not something we’ve done before.  So while we may ultimately have to play slightly less complicated music than we have in the past, there will be plenty of additional skills students will have to work on this year in light of our new circumstances.”

Miss Gennaro noticed the students’ positivity from returning back to school.  She feels that everyone is excited to participate in the arts in person.

“I think that students are just happy to be back at school and doing the performing arts activities that they love,” Miss Gennaro said.  “Everyone has been so positive, which has been really comforting for the teachers who have spent the summer planning new types of programs.  At our first bell choir practice, everyone was so thrilled to be back and ringing with their friends.  If it weren’t for the masks and the various physical changes we have had to make, I wouldn’t know anything was different about this year at all.”

Featured Image By Charlotte Burchetta ’22