Middlebury performance groups adapt auditions for the pandemic

By Yardena Carmi

Sarah Fagan

Limitations on gatherings and indoor space capacities have not only put a damper on the performance arts at the college but have also altered the audition process for student organizations. Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, performance groups are finding creative ways to meet these goals and engage with the campus community.

After brainstorming, the Paradiddles, an a capella group for women and non-binary people, decided to proceed with a first round of virtual auditions. Prospective members were asked to submit videos of themselves singing. 

Although listening to recordings does not offer the same insight as hearing a student’s singing voice in person and getting to know them by speaking face to face, Paradiddles Co-Musical Director Abby Wilner ’23 isn’t worried. 

“Everyone has become really used to expecting Covid-19-safe variations of normal college things,” Wilner told The Campus. The Paradiddles are conducting Covid-safe in-person callbacks in the Peterson Family Athletics Center this week, which Wilner noted require some “creative variations from the usual setup.” As the weather gets warmer, she is hopeful for the group’s prospects of performing, something the Paradiddles haven’t been able to do in over a year.

Sketch comedy group Middlebury Discount Comedy (MDC) held its first round of auditions over Zoom, according to Head Director Gibson Grimm ’22. “Performing is harder over technology, especially for comedy, and it is more difficult to pick up on things like stage presence in this medium,” Grimm said. “It does mean I don’t have to wear pants, though.” 

For callbacks, the group reserved an Axinn classroom so that auditioning students could write a sketch with the group while maintaining social distance. Because of the pandemic, MDC pivoted to video sketches to substitute their live shows last semester. While Grimm doesn’t think the group will completely abandon virtual performances this semester, he says they do not come close to the energy of an in-person performance. He is eager to begin planning shows again this spring, campus guidelines permitting.

RIDDIM Co-Director Anna Loewald ’21 told The Campus that the dance group is conducting a semi-virtual audition process. Students were given time slots to dance alone in Wilson Hall, where they were filmed by either Loewald or her co-director Max Lucas ’21. The videos were then sent out to the rest of the troupe’s board so that everyone could weigh in on the decision. In a normal semester, auditioners would perform several different styles of dance from across the world while the whole board watches. 

Loewald said this semester’s modified audition process was difficult without the ability to gather for decision making.

The Middlebury College Orchestra has also adapted to the pandemic. In-person auditions are being held with special social distancing protocols — the normal six feet of distance is increased to 16 or more for wind instrument players — in Robison Hall. Orchestra president Ashley Wang ’21 said this year’s auditions are also taking a bit longer than usual given the orchestra’s transition from normal rehearsals to smaller chamber music groups. These groups will have opportunities to play for each other, but the orchestra will not be having any official concerts this semester. 

“I am especially sympathetic toward the underclassmen since I want them to be able to create and foster friendships through orchestra, but it’s just a very tough semester.” Wang said. She also noted that, unlike other clubs, the Orchestra cannot gather outside for rehearsals or performances due to the fragility of the instruments. 

In spite of Covid restrictions, the college’s performing arts groups are working hard to come up with a variety of creative solutions that will enable them to welcome new members and insure future generations of their groups. 

Editor’s Note: Yardena Carmi is a member of the Paradiddles.