Amid COVID-19, performing arts clubs plan for an uncertain future

Aug. 18, 2020, 10:00 p.m.

Last spring quarter, many performing arts clubs faced the challenge of adapting to the new COVID-19 restrictions. They were unable to continue in-person performances, shows and competitions. Club leaders had to improvise with how they would proceed: Some clubs shifted to virtual performances, while others could only have rehearsals. 

When planning for this upcoming school year, club leaders have more knowledge about adapting their performances to COVID-19 restrictions from their experiences during spring quarter. Performing arts clubs had been preparing based on the since altered plan wherein on-campus housing would be provided for half of undergraduate students each quarter and large social gatherings would not be permitted. Especially since the most recent announcement that the University will not invite first-year, sophomore and transfer undergraduate students to reside on campus in the fall, many clubs plan to make their performances and shows digital. Here are some plans from a few performing arts clubs for fall quarter.

The Stanford Mendicants

The Mendicants are Stanford’s first a cappella group, consisting of all-male members. The group has existed for 57 years, so it is no surprise that they managed to continue with the limitations of COVID-19 during the spring and will also continue performing during the fall. 

Ryland Pampush ’21, president of the Mendicants, told The Daily, “We wouldn’t be able to sing live — we would have to be pre-recorded and edited together. We hope to do two to three virtual shows — maybe that’s a fall, winter and spring show — and a few virtual gigs for individual clients.”

Because all of the shows will be virtual, he is hoping that “any member who is able and willing to participate, whether they are on campus at a given time or not, should be able to be part of performances.”

However, the experience of a virtual a cappella performance is not the same as one in person, making it more difficult to attract an audience. Pampush said, “People are just less likely to attend something virtually, and especially with a cappella, I think there’s something special about experiencing it in person.”

The Mendicants have a few different ideas to garner an audience, such as “putting together a show for just family and friends of the Mendicants, partnering with Stanford to publicize the Mendicants to the undergraduate student body as a whole or working with the Stanford Alumni Association to engage with alumni since Stanford Homecoming Reunion is canceled.”

The Mendicants typically participate in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), but it is unclear whether the competition will continue this year.

Stanford Counterpoint

Counterpoint is Stanford’s first all-female a cappella group, and like the Mendicants, the club plans to have a limited number of performances, most likely not in person. Hannah Prausnitz-Weinbaum ’22, last year’s music director of Counterpoint, said, “From what I’ve heard, a lot of the performance venues don’t have enough airflow or space for social distancing to really make outdoor performances possible.”

The group does not have plans that are set in stone for this year, as the University’s guidelines for student groups will play a large role in determining how performances will continue. Prausnitz-Weinbaum added, “I definitely hope that the University comes out with more specific guidelines soon.”

She mentioned that a lot of performing arts club leaders are not focused on performances yet, as they are still trying to come up with a plan for auditions and recruitment.

Despite this uncertainty, the leaders of Counterpoint have ruled out live performances on Zoom as an alternative to in-person performances, as it is hard for members of the group to sing in unison due to lagging audio. “I would guess that most performances will be in the form of releasing recordings and people watching them on their own,” said Prausnitz-Weinbaum.

Unlike the Mendicants, Counterpoint does not participate in the ICCA, so competitions are not an area of concern for them.

Common Origins

Common Origins is a non-audition urban dance group that participates in a show at the end of each quarter. The group typically hosts the first quarterly show, “Breaking Ground,” and invites other dance groups to perform as well.

Common Origins will be unable to host “Breaking Ground” this fall due to COVID-19 restrictions, and does not anticipate performing in-person any time soon. Michelle Xu ’22, next year’s co-president and choreographer for the group, said, “The school sent out an email about how large social gatherings are not going to be allowed, and since a lot of dance members won’t be on campus, there’s a slim chance that we are actually going to have shows in the near future.”

The group leaders are discussing possible alternatives to shows, such as putting together videos of their team members dancing, but they have not finalized any alternatives yet. The group will base their decisions off of the University’s continued updates since everything is still in flux.

Spoken Word Collective

Spoken Word Collective is, as the name suggests, a club where students deliver spoken word poetry at open mics, performances and quarterly shows. 

To address the issue of students living off campus and in different timezones, Darnell Carson ’21, co-director of the club, usually holds open mics at 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Fridays.  

He is “accounting mostly for people in the States because they were most of the attendees of open mics in the first place.”

The group has been able to successfully continue open mics virtually, although they will not be in person until it is safe to do so. Carson said, “We don’t feel the impetus to rush doing in-person events at the cost of other people’s health.”

For this reason, future quarterly shows will be digital. Since last quarter’s show was cancelled, the club “didn’t really have a chance to figure out … [shows] logistically,” so the exact format has not been decided yet. 

He explained that they could be held as a Zoom webinar so that members can speak as viewers use the chat feature to react. They could also be streamed on Youtube or Facebook.

Although students prefer in-person performing arts events over digital versions, Carson offers hope that after the pandemic ends, “people will be very excited to go to performing arts events … [because the] arts have been really giving people the escape they need” during this time.

Contact Mira Ravi at mira.ravi6 ‘at’ 

Mira Ravi is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.

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