High school performing arts programs adapting to COVID-19

Two of the district’s performing arts programs, band and choir, will use a half-and-half split between online and hybrid as the theatre department resumes after school virtual practices due to COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 school year.

Band director Andy Johnson said the band is following the A-La and the Le-Z last name separation as per district regulations, and students join lessons through Zoom if they’re not at school on that day. 

 Choir director Amy Blosser said that the choir is following the same format. Students are also required to wear masks throughout the periods, and that after 30 minutes students move outside for the remainder of the period to limit the possibility of students breathing contaminated air, she added. Blosser stated that the choir has been using staggered periods: periods one and three are held in the choir room while periods two and four are held in the Schottenstein Theater to ensure that the air gets a chance to dissipate. 

“Now that we are in hybrid, I am able to hear them singing and can give immediate feedback in class, while those on Zoom are also still participating,” Blosser said. “It is working, though not as ideal as us being all together to safely sing.”

Johnson explained that the band has been requiring brass players to use bell covers, or coverings that go on the end of a brass instrument to act as a face mask, as their instruments require air to be blown into them. Johnston said that band equipment is sterilized between periods using sanitizing spray. The band has also been using staggered periods and has been moving outside after 30 minutes to reduce the chances of students breathing contaminated air, and they are following the same social distancing guidelines while outside, Johnson said.

For performances, the choir will be doing pre-recorded concerts during the fall, Blosser said.

Johnson explained that the band is hopeful for a performance at the end of October, but if in-person performances aren’t an option, the band will do pre recorded performances as well.

“Band kids are resilient,” Johnson said. “We learn how to set goals and work towards them.” 

Theatre director Rebecca Rhinehart said that theatre shows will be completely online for the fall, though the cast and crew can come in to practice and work on sets after school. The practices require social distancing of six feet, signing a Bexley activity waiver, and face masks, she added.

“Because of the pandemic, we have switched gears to be virtual this fall,” Rhinehart said. “We can have more participation, less worry about social distancing and live shows.” 

Rhinehart said that despite the new complications of the practices, the theatre department is  performing exceptionally well under the new online system. She explained that the department has many ideas lined up to use throughout the year as well, such as monthly student-led variety shows and a gory but funny play blending “Game of Thrones” and traditional Disney movies.

“Online is going pretty well so far. Improv is key,” Rhinehart said.

Theatre board co-president and senior Coco Gonzalez explained that while the theatre program is now restored virtually, it was not that way over the summer. Gonzalez said that because of COVID-19, the school budget was cut by 15%, and the district decided to minimize the theatre program to compensate for the cuts.

“I was really frustrated, as Bexley is known for having a wonderful arts program,” Gonzalez explained.  “It makes me really sad that that’s the first thing to go when we lose money.” 

Gonzalez said that the theatre program being minimized stirred her and other members of the theatre department to look for ways to “unpause” the program. She explained that they wrote to the Board of Education and held events for the program, such as on June 26, when students brought their theatre signs to stake in front of the high school building. She stated the most successful event was the “I am Bexley Theatre Arts” video, where various students and alumni talked about how the theatre program affected their lives. 

Gonzalez said that the theatre program was eventually reinstated.

Rhinehart said that she is pleased with the current state of the program. 

“I am so thankful for everyone who wanted to continue the theatre program and said so many positive things about it,” Rhinehart said. “Thank you for giving so many students this opportunity to create.”