Making art in the age of COVID-19

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Pam Sanza as Christmas Present in "A Christmas Carol" at SCP this month.

William Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage," and perhaps that is true. But it is hard to think what that wise old playwright would think about the arts world in the age of COVID-19. Theaters are dark and concerts are cancelled the world over. 

But in Grayson County, some of those involved in the arts have picked up their instruments, scripts and dancing shoes to prove another thing that Shakespeare said, "the show must go on." 

Kristi Beeler at Kristina's Studio of Dance in Sherman said it has been rough and half of her students didn't return when she was allowed to re open her studio reopened in the summer. But the one's who came back are just as passionate about it as they ever were, if not more, she said.

"Kids that are home and can't see their friends other than Face timing or on Zoom, literally get depressed. They need interaction with each other just like we all do," she said of the students. 

So when they come to class, she has them follow all of the safety rules they can. Gone is the in-door waiting room where parents once starred at their phones or did other things to occupy their time while their children danced away an hour or two. Now the parents drop the dancers at Beeler's door and then leave.

Rocky Massey, left, and Samantha Stegman,  rehearse "A Christmas Carol" at SCP this month.

"As soon as the kids get here, we take their temperature. We wash their hands with soap and water and in the classes we try to social distance as much as we can," she said.

She does not require that children wear face mask when dancing, she said, but anyone else who comes into the space must. 

"I leave it up to the parents (to decide about the mask)," she said noting some of her teachers wear masks and some clear face shields. She said it is hard to teach dance to little ones with something covering the teacher's face because look to that face to see approval and encouragement for what they are doing. 

In addition, she said, she had cut back the number of students in each class to allow room for social distancing and she cut some classes out all together.  

It is a little hard, she said, to keep the dancers separated because they want to visit with their friends but they work hard at it. She also works hard at communication with the parents. 

"I just ask my parents to watch for the signs (of the illness) and to not bring sick kids to dance class."

She said so far it is working. Though some of her students have been exposed at school and other places, no one has traced the illness back to her studio, which has been offering dance classes for 45 years this spring. The studio held its Christmas recital this year at Kidd-Key Auditorium and it was open only to family members of the dancers to allow for social distancing. 

She said this year has been a really sad one for the art of dance because many studios have had to close permanently.

"The kids couldn't' come to class so they couldn't pay their rent or pay their teachers," she said. 

And she knows it hasn't only been hard on the dancers, but artist of all kinds including actors and musicians. 

At Sherman Community Players. Artistic Director Josh Harris said the virus has required them to cut the in person seating in the theater down to 40 percent of their capacity which is about 70 people per performance. 

Left to right, Faith Horsley, Jadon Petty, Scot Horsley, Amber Harrington, Rocky Massey and Samantha Stegman rehearse "A Christmas Carol" at Sherman Community Players.

"We do require face masks or face shields," he said for the audience. 

In addition, "we have sanitizing stations all over the theater as well as in the bathrooms."

And to keep the risk down for those involved in the productions, Harris said, he has taken to using family units for the various jobs needed to put on a show. One member of the family might be on stage while others have worked on lighting or sound or any other aspect of bringing the show to life. This seasons' production of "A Christmas Carol" he said involves four different family groups and nine actors. 

To make sure the show is seen by the widest audience possible despite the need for social distancing, SCP started streaming their productions in June. 

"I really believe its the reason that we are able to continue on," he said of the online ticket purchases that allow people to pay to see the show, get their ticket emailed to them and then watch the show from the safety and convenience of their own home. The in-person shows started on Dec. 3 and continue on the weekends, Thursday through Sunday,  through Dec. 20th for the normal ticket price of $18 for adults and $12 for students. Streaming tickets can be purchased beginning on Dec. 11 and continuing through the 24th. Just call the box office to get that online ticket. 

Beeler said she also put some content up on Youtube for her dancers to use to practice but she found that Zoom and other online sources weren't great for teaching dance, especially for the little ones who literally need to be physically put into positions by teachers to learn their lessons. Because she felt the children couldn't learn as much, she said, she felt she couldn't charge parents for such classes. 

But online performances have also turned out to be a saving grace for the Sherman Symphony which will feature its Christmas Pops in that format this year. The performance will be on December 12. 

Music Director Daniel Dominick said Christmas Pops will go this year despite the pandemic. 

"We will have Sleigh Ride, this year. We just won't have have it in person," he said of the classic performed each year.

That Pops presentation will take place on Facebook and Youtube on the Sherman Symphony pages. And the presentation will be free to those who wish to view it.

"It is made possible by the donations of our individual donors and by business sponsors."

In addition, there will be performances on television on Dec. 25  at 6 a.m. and Jan. 1 at 5 a.m. on KXII-12 CBS and KXII-12 FOX respectively.

The orchestra has also been posting and will continue to post smaller performances on its social media pages that they are calling "recitals" which feature smaller groups of musicians doing what the love to do, hanging out and playing together. 

in that way, Dominick said, they feel like they are able to give people an even more complete season than ever before because there is more for them to see and they have choices about where and how to view it and can do so from the safety and comfort of their own homes. 

While all of the local performers said they are happy to be able to deliver their art to the public in as many creative ways as possible during this pandemic, everyone said they are looking forward to the time when they can look out and see their audience's smiling faces during every performance and hope that that happens soon.