Photo courtesy of Millikin University.
Photo courtesy of Millikin University.

Packing Houses and Stadiums

Arts and Athletics Face Different Pandemic Challenges

May 1, 2021

Despite being part of the same school, Millikin University’s arts and athletic departments have responded differently as the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown has passed.

Arts and athletics have had drastically different goals and barriers both prior to and following the pandemic. Those in the performing arts are mission-driven, and because of the pandemic, their extracurriculars, academics, and future careers are mostly suspended or altered. Athletics programs operate almost entirely as extracurriculars, with the intent of making a profit. Beyond Millikin, professional athletics are already on the rise to making their comeback into society, while the performing arts are mostly on hold until further notice.

“I think the defensive budget size is a big part of it,” Sara Theis, a School of Theatre and Dance faculty member, said. “An event like the Super Bowl is commercial. They’re doing that to make a lot of money.”

A defensive budget, while not formally defined, entails an organization working to have as few expenses and as large of a profit as possible, while a standard budget works to break even between income and expenses.

Because of this and other differences, students within the School of Theatre and Dance (SOTAD) and School of Music feel like they have had more difficulty finding normalcy than those in the athletics department.

For years, audiences have had the luxury of sitting at home in front of televisions to watch sporting events. The performing arts almost demand the need for a live audience. Although any sporting event would be different with no fans in the stands, the performing arts bring a sense of reality to the people creating entertainment. 

“[Moments of flaw show] me that they’re human, and sometimes you can find beauty in the human race,” Jamie Azcona Gamonez, junior BFA Acting major, said.

Because COVID-19 safety restriction have limited in-person gatherings, the fine arts have a long way to go before things can return to normal. 

“Theatre isn’t a faucet you can turn on and off,” Sam Laro, junior BA Theatre major, said. “You can’t just not do ‘Wicked’ for a year and then magically come back ready to go.”

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, performing art venues quickly halted and canceled all projects that they were working on, pushing the performing arts into experimenting with new ways to produce their work. This shift has led to making virtual performances, which are usually presented as livestreamed events or downloadable programs for at-home audiences. 

Actors can sometimes be in the same space for these virtual performances, but that comes with barriers. These new formats present more challenges than expected. For example, Millikin’s fall productions of “The Race: 2020” and “Songs for a New World” were nearly destroyed by one positive COVID-19 test.

Two days prior to the opening performance of “The Race: 2020,” one cast member tested positive for COVID-19. The production, which was set for a socially distanced and fully masked livestream event in the Center for Theatre and Dance, was completely flipped on its head. With short notice, the entire cast and crew were immediately thrown into isolation, leaving the cast to perform a highly-altered version of the show via Zoom. Most of the completed technical elements were never used.

Similarly, the same positive COVID-19 case affected the cast and crew of “Songs for a New World” slated to open only three weeks later. The production quickly left behind all of the intended technical elements and reduced the initial cast of 34 students down to 12.

Although Millikin’s School of Theatre and Dance faced great adversity during the fall semester, things are looking better as they successfully produced the fully virtual performance of “She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms” at the beginning of March.

While SOTAD has been working to adapt their work one year into the pandemic, the athletics department has also been hit hard. They are facing the challenges of finding normalcy.

“The biggest challenge with that has just been, you know, the very strict COVID protocols that we have to follow as far as masking and practicing and testing, and that kind of varies by sport,” Bryan Marshall, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information and Athletic Communication, said. “Everything is kind of coming to a head and we’ve got the most sports going on right now.”
With the Millikin lifestyle slowly returning to a sense of normalcy, the athletics department has been trying to compensate for some sports who had rougher seasons than others. Winter sports, such as basketball and swimming, started a shortened season in late January. Spring sports, such as baseball and tennis, are mostly back in session, and fall sports that didn’t have any games this season have moved to spring practices and training. 

This shake-up in the athletic season shows how hard the athletics department is fighting to return to a pre-pandemic life.

“Maybe it’s because athletes are held accountable by coaches and teammates. Maybe it is because we view teams as a family and want to keep each other safe. Maybe it is because we don’t want to lose another season of competition,” Alex Covington, director of tennis, said. “Whatever the reasons or motivations, they seem to be working for athletics.” 

Despite the hopefulness beaming through the athletic department, other unique challenges still pop up on a daily basis. Millikin’s cheerleading team has had to start thinking outside of the box to keep themselves going. 

We are mainly a stunting squad, so we focus mainly on different stunts and pyramids,” Sarah Rapp, coach of Millikin cheerleading, said. “We have started focusing more on the game day aspect of tumbling, sideline cheers, and dances so we can maintain social distancing guidelines and keep the team safe.”

The pandemic has changed how athletics and fine arts operate around the world, and Millikin students are also working to adapt. With vaccines quickly being distributed, Millikin’s athletics department and fine arts programs are quick on their feet to sign up for their vaccination appointments to help their organizations return to normalcy, however that may look in the future.

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