Arts theses depart from the norm in the face of Covid-19

By SOPHIE HILAND

With less than a week left in their college careers, seniors are looking for ways to demonstrate the culmination of their studies. For arts majors, the complications introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic are more challenging than in other disciplines. Lacking the equipment, space and actors, seniors majoring in the arts are thinking creatively to adapt their theses before the curtain falls. 

“I never pictured spending my senior spring sitting in my mom’s basement carving a tiny piano out of cardboard,” said Jackie Atkins ’20, an independent scholar in narrative studies. Atkins is pursuing a thesis in the film department, and she was supposed to make a mockumentary about two graduate students working on stop motion films. 

The film was supposed to include improvisations from other actors that would be formed through workshops and meetings with the department’s students and faculty. 

Instead, she has spent the second half of her senior spring working alone on creating a new mockumentary centered around a person making a biopic about Carole King. This project is written, directed, acted and filmed all by herself. This new film shifts from live-action to stop-motion during the last couple of minutes of the film, paying homage to the main characters in her original thesis. 

Atkins is one of many seniors studying arts whose original thesis plan was interrupted by this pandemic as the college shifts to remote learning. Like her, many others are also actively adapting to the evolving situation. 

Gabby Valdivieso ’20 is a theatre and film joint major, with concentrations in acting and production, respectively. When the school announced the cancellation of in-person classes, she was just two weeks away from performing her final project, which consisted of four 10-minute plays accompanied by films she created. 

Instead of acting on the stage for one last time, Valdivieso is now working on writing a process paper about her experience planning and preparing for her thesis. Like many college students across the country, Valdivieso has been having trouble getting schoolwork done from home, where she lives with four siblings, pets and parents, all of which fuel procrastination. 

Similarly, Coralie Tyler ’20, a theatre and film joint major, also spoke to the challenges that accompany working at home. On campus, Tyler could fit a lot of writing into a short period of time, motivated by internal and external pressure. When she writes from home, like Valdivieso, she notices herself procrastinating more often. 

“I think writing on campus brings out a really imaginative side of myself,” she said. However, she noted that being at home also allowed her to be more reflective, as she has been able to find more clarity in solitude. 

Her original thesis was to write a screenplay for a television pilot as well as a one-act play. Instead of a live reading of the pilot like she had planned, Tyler explained that she will most likely record herself presenting it. 

Instead of trying to adapt a play into a virtual format, some have decided to cancel their performances completely. Steph Miller ’20, a theatre and neuroscience double major, was disappointed that she lost an opportunity to develop and showcase her directing skills in her rendition of Alice Birch’s “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” 

Miller decided against adapting the play as a virtual performance because it would be difficult to ask actors to juggle the added pressure from the play, and it would be nearly impossible to readapt the intensely physical play. 

This play, according to Miller, is a collage of short scenes that truly examines how language and power dynamics intertwine. It has no named characters — instead, dashes are used to indicate a change in speaker. The play was a complex work to prepare for the stage and challenged Miller.

Instead of spending hours in Hepburn Zoo, where the show was supposed to take place, Miller now writes a process paper to include the standard reflection on the experience of planning and rehearsing as well as a literature review style discussion of academic theories on directing, specifically feminist directing. 

This new focus has presented a welcome challenge as well as a new set of standards. Since the format of her work has changed, she is no longer able to experience the magical chemistry between the audience and those on the stage. “Everyone who does theatre will tell you that one of their favorite parts about it is that you see what happens when you take a bunch of people and put them in a room.” 

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