Guilford, Elon arts students adjust while learning during quarantine


Tori Santos

Guilford students Sarah Elston and Garrett Bunn on the set of “John,” a play by Annie Baker, in November 2019.

For most Guilford students, the COVID-19 quarantine is disappointing for several reasons. Not only does it mean being isolated from friends and professors, but it has also led to the cancellation of highly anticipated campus events, such as Serendipity and the Guilford Undergraduate Symposium. Unfortunately, the unexpected shutdown is especially crushing for seniors, who will have to miss out on their final weeks at Guilford

While all Guilford students have had some issues adjusting to life in virtual classrooms, the transition to distance learning proves particularly difficult for arts majors. Showcases and performances — chances for students to share their craft with the Guilford community — are canceled. Teachers can no longer be as “hands-on” when helping art majors create the perfect sculpture or demonstrating the correct delivery of a line to a theatre student. When it comes to remote learning, then, what are these students doing in class?

For sophomore theatre major Emily Roberts, learning in the midst of COVID-19 has been a test of patience and independence. “We can’t really do much online and I thinkHamlet” was postponed until the fall…Basically, we have to do our own thing.” Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Elizabeth Ritson-Lavender says the virus has disrupted the theatre program’s plans, particularly their productions of “Hamlet” and “Horse Girls.”

“We had rehearsed for 120 hours, the set was half-done, costumes were designed and ready to go, and we were two weeks away from opening.  Our senior performance major Sarah Elston was all ready to play Hamlet as her thesis role,” Ritson said.

The theatre program had also planned to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where students would have performed “Horse Girls,” that event has been canceled. On the bright side, “Hamlet” will be performed in the fall with some recasting.

Guilford is one of many local colleges and universities struggling to keep the arts alive during this unprecedented time. Elon senior and musical theatre major Noelle Cornelius landed the title role in the spring musical, “Violet,” but because of the virus, she won’t get to perform the part. Seniors at Elon usually have the opportunity to audition in front of casting agents in New York, but like everything else, that opportunity has gone virtual.

“…Live theatre is not meant to have video auditions,” Cornelius said. “I’m not getting as much out of my classes as I would in person, and it’s unfortunate to be missing my last few months of college…very devastating.”

Despite the difficulties posed to students by COVID-19, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the arts from home. Local dance companies, such as Greensboro Ballet, are offering virtual dance classes. Tony-award winning actress Laura Benanti encourages students to film and send in videos of themselves singing their favorite Broadway tunes. She calls this project “Sunshine Songs.”  Sirius XM Radio’s Seth Rudetsky and his husband have started a Youtube show called “Stars in the House”, an online concert series where Broadway stars sing to Rudetsky’s piano accompaniments and share their experiences in quarantine.

Ritson-Lavender said her students have enjoyed a free database in Guilford’s Hege Library called Theatre Digital Plus. “I can’t say enough great things about it. It has live theatre productions recorded by the Royal Shakespeare Company and many other theatres from around the world.”

Cornelius also encourages students to dive deeper into the arts at home. “I think arts students can enjoy the arts at home by reading plays, listening to music, watching movies, and creating things themselves! Now is the time to create!” she said.

Although everything else in the world seems uncertain, the many virtual performances and opportunities available for students and everyone else to enjoy are evidence that the arts aren’t going anywhere.