Polk State The Arts students thrive on the opportunity to practice, perform, and exhibit their work to audiences large and small – all things that are challenging in a time when social distancing is critical to preserving health and safety.
Polk State Arts faculty have met this challenge and are offering a creative combination of hybrid and online courses this fall.
“The theatre program has found ways to move forward,” Director of Theatre Mark Hartfield said.
Performance and technical classes will be held in hybrid formats where students meet in person once a week and follow procedures designed to keep everyone safe, including limiting the size classes, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing.
“These processes provide the opportunity to teach performance techniques and conduct practical exercises and scene work,” Hartfield said. “In addition, the tech students will be able to work in the theatre and learn new techniques for theatre production that we will have to put into place for safety.”
The challenge for theatre performances is two-fold: How to rehearse and perform while protecting actors and crew members, and how to keep the audience safe and allow them to have a good theatre experience.
Hartfield has selected performance material including Shakespeare Rising and Love Letters for the fall that allows faculty to work with a limited number of actors in rehearsal and that does not require elaborate staging. To allow more students to participate, Hartfield plans to double- or triple-cast each role.
The audience, which will be limited at each performance, will sit at a safe distance from performers and maintain social distance throughout.
Music students, of course, face similar challenges. Because they thrive on face-to-face interaction, Don West, Professor of Music and Director of Bands, has planned hybrid courses to help students perform and learn.
“Fortunately, we have large ensemble rooms for choir and band,” he said. “We can have about half of our students on one day and the other half on another day. Those at home can take part in real time and hear feedback. We will keep social distance in our rehearsal space and follow all Polk State guidelines.”
West has followed a study at Colorado State that aims to develop solutions to aerosol spread during artistic performances.
“The study is in the intermediate stage, and we need stronger data over time,” West explained,
“but early data helps a lot when we consider which students can perform with or without a mask.”
To decrease the number of students on stage, West plans chamber-music performances this semester.
“With smaller groups we can rehearse brass, then woodwinds, and then percussion,” he said. “It’s sort of like football, for example, where the offense and defense practice separately.”
“Because it’s common for musicians to practice in sections, our students already have a framework for their role in the big scheme of things,” he added. “We’ll work in smaller units and then put it all together onstage.”
Visual Arts students will also take part in a mixture of hybrid and online courses. Professor of Visual Arts Holly Scoggins, Professor of Photography David Woods, and Professor of Ceramic Andrew Coombs will all teach hybrid courses.
“Most of our studio art courses like drawing and design will be taught online,” Scoggins said. “However, select courses such as design and drawing will be taught in a hybrid format.”
In the Spring 2020 Semester, Scoggins worked quickly to convert student art exhibits to a video format to ensure students had the opportunity to showcase their art and for members of the community to enjoy the exhibits virtually. As the College enters Phase II of its Return to Campus Plan, the fine art galleries on each campus will reopen following the plan and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We have a faculty show for the fall planned for the Lakeland Campus Fine Arts Gallery and in Winter Haven we will have a modified gallery schedule featuring a Hispanic Heritage Month exhibit, solo artist exhibition, and the annual Capturing Cultures exhibition,” Scoggins said. “Of course the galleries will follow all safety and social distancing rules.”
“Polk State is prepared,” West said emphatically. “We have a wonderful guidance plan for the safest possible experience.
“We thrive on hands-on learning. We believe students will adhere to our policy in a face-face-environment,” he added. “We have great, smart, respectful, and responsible students. We need to make sure we educate them in ways to make learning safer.“