Resilience and Creation in Isolation

Will the Arts Survive the Coronavirus?

April 29, 2020

Covid-19 has turned the arts on its head.

Millikin’s School of Music switched to online learning, concerts and gigs were canceled, and artists canceled or postponed their tours.

These musicians and performers have no choice but to hunker down at home, and in some cases, these same people have to earn income in some other ways.

At Millikin, students studying the arts exercise performance-learning. They take courses that reflect what they might be doing in the real world. But circumstances being what they are, how can students gain experience when they are mandated by their state governments to stay home?

School of Music professor Dr. Dave Burdick got straight to work adapting the situation to close the semester off on a high note.

He sent a survey to his students and modified his projects to accommodate his students as best as he could. He got it set up where, at least for his Tuesday-Thursday classes, he can lecture one class time and allow students to share what they work on the next.

Through this method, Burdick hoped to keep student’s morale up and their engagement high.

Burdick has even brought guests from the music industry, like Jared Johnson, in to talk. Guests that would have talked to students at Kaeuper Hall must now share what they’ve learned over Zoom.

These guests would share their experience in the industry and hear what the students have been working on.

It’s finding moments like those to make class still feel special even if they don’t physically get together. Burdick found that he and his students still had fun in their Zoom courses.

Plus, Burdick still has the chance to give his students performance learning. In the ‘real world,’ not all artists work in the same room.

For instance, if a project needed Morgan Freeman’s voice, the artists would send files of work over to a recording studio near Freeman’s house. Freeman would record what he needs to before sending those same files back.

Burdick’s students have been sharing their work in this way. And while it works well for them, others haven’t been as lucky.

These days artists make their most of their money through touring.

Losing tour dates not only means these artists lose their main source of income, but it also means every person set to work on setting the stages up for these artists, such as concessions, lighting and sound crews, and merchandising staff, are out of work.

Many of these people are young independent contractors. As such, these tours provided seasonal income and would take most of their time. Thus, they faced the issue of not getting unemployment benefits or even missing deadlines for filling out such forms.

“If you crash, you’re back to Uber driving for a living,” Burdick said.

The best these artists can do right now is to watch and play the next few months by ear.

Some musicians have shared their craft via live-streams. Whether that would replace live performances in arenas, cafes, etc, remains to be seen. However, with sharing music via social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, artists could reconnect to their audience.

Burdick hopes indie artists can slowly start rebuilding what they had before the pandemic hit the world hard.

As difficult as rebuilding is for some artists, it isn’t impossible.

“History of humanity has shown us over and over again that artists will find a way to bring forth their art,” Burdick said.

The School of Theatre and Dance has also been hit hard. SOTAD’s spring productions of Seussical, Some Enchanted Evening, and Marisol all had to be canceled.

Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre, Millikin’s student-run theatre company, had to cancel their performances of Cruel Intentions: the 90s Musical and We Have Apples.

One of the hardest things about the pandemic for theatre students has been the cancellation of jobs. Not only were many students booked in performance opportunities through Millikin, but many also had spring or summer jobs designing, performing, directing, or stage managing.

Hannah Ottenfeld, a junior theatre major from Chicago, applied for a professional job as soon as Millikin moved to online classes.

“As soon as I found out that Millikin had canceled in-person classes for the semester, I took advantage of the opportunity to work. Usually, undergrad students can only get jobs during the summer in the industry, so I thought it would be a good time to get a job,” Ottenfeld said.

Ottenfeld had applied for multiple different jobs but wasn’t having luck hearing back from anyone as stay-at-home orders started being put into place.

Eventually, she heard back from the Redtwist Theatre, where she had been hired as an Assistant Stage Manager for their production of The Country Girl. Rehearsals were pushed back until mid-April in hopes that things would be better by then.

But, on April 13, Ottenfeld received notice that the show would have to be canceled.

“I was really upset because it was going to be my first ever professional theatre job, and it was going to be cool because I’m still in my undergrad, so I was really bummed out that I couldn’t have this opportunity,” Ottenfeld said.

Unfortunately, like many other students, this wasn’t the only job Ottenfeld lost due to coronavirus.

Ottenfeld was working as an Assistant Director to Al Joritz, who was producing an independent production of Sam Shepard’s play True West. Not only did they lose the opportunity to do the show, but they also lost the opportunity to collaborate one last time with the seniors.

“Four of the seven people working on this show were seniors, so it was going to be the last thing most of them did at Millikin. For the rest of us, it was our last time getting to work with the seniors in college. We were supposed to open this past Saturday,” Ottenfeld said.

Ottenfeld, like many other students, has had a hard time with the online structure.

“I feel like there’s more to be done for performers and I wish I had that opportunity,” Ottenfeld said. “They can be looking for audition material, filming tapes, working on voice. I can’t do that. I can’t work with actors right now, and that’s a major part of directing.”

“It sucks to not have that opportunity to actually ‘do-the-thing,’” Ottenfeld said. “I’m missing a serious chunk of my education, especially since this is the semester I’m taking the one class Millikin offers for my desired career path.

“I’m just hoping I can go back to school so I can work with actors and material. Right now I’m struggling to come up with things to do to improve my craft.”

Though the theatre community has been hit extremely hard by this pandemic, Ottenfeld has hope that it will survive.

“Theatre is one of the oldest forms of art, and it’s gone through a lot,” Ottenfeld said. “The plague, thousands of years of war and suffering, and even recent things like the AIDS crisis.

“The theatre community has taken many huge hits, yet we’re still here. Just keeping in mind that this art form is so strong, even though a lot of things are uncertain right now, knowing that eventually things will be okay has been helpful.”

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