Performing arts remain open at Western thanks to months of hard work and safety precautions
By Ryan Morris
When was the last time you saw a show on campus? The majority of Western Washington University performing arts may be online now, but that isn’t stopping the artists behind the scenes.
Western’s Music Department Chair, Patrick Roulet, said the plans for this fall began back in spring. Roulet said they began by asking faculty for input.
About 10% of all Western classes are in person, and about 85% of those classes are in the College of Fine and Performing Arts, said Theater and Dance Chair Rich Brown.
Western uses the term “experiential learning” to define which classes should be taught in person. Theatre and Dance Program Coordinator Ashley VanCurler defined “experiential” as a class where being in person is necessary.
VanCurler explained that, once the faculty made a plan for in-person classes, they submitted it to the administration, including the Incident Command Structure that is managing the university’s COVID-19 response.
“As a department chair, I make the decisions I feel qualified to make. If I am unsure about something, I go to the ICS,” Roulet said.
The dance faculty decided to go online for fall. Dance instructor Deepa Liegel said this quarter has been about adapting her choreography to fit everyone’s respective space constraints.
“The inspiring thing for me is how receptive and resilient everyone has been so far,” Liegel said.
After months of planning, the performing arts programs have new COVID-19 safety measures. One major change, Roulet said, is facilities management updating the air circulation.
Brown said every room’s air quality was tested. The air quality is now 10 times better than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, he said.
Roulet and Brown said when attending class, students have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past two weeks, along with other precautions. Brown said he bought a forehead thermometer to take students’ temperatures as well.
Washington State Health Services Consultant Kristen Haley, a Western alumna, stressed the importance of safety outside of the classroom as well.
“In order for precautions to give you protection, you need to be doing them all of the time, with anyone you don’t live with,” Haley said. “If you are following guidance in your class, but not [outside], then you might be bringing the virus into the classroom setting.”
Brown said students sanitize rehearsal spaces before they leave. There are also fans left on when they leave the room, and nobody can enter during this ventilation period.
Western music student Addisen Critchlow said she feels lucky to take music classes in person.
“I would say I probably am getting the same [quality of education as pre-COVID students],” Critchlow said.
The plans that set the performing arts apart from other in-person classes surround their performances. Associate professor Evan Mueller directed the fall performance of “how to clean your room (and remember all your trauma),” a pre-COVID play written by an alum for a limited cast and crew. Mueller said they began with rehearsals over Zoom.
“I will never forget the first day of in-person rehearsals when we were all sitting so far apart,” Mueller said.
He said during performances, all actors had their own space backstage, maintained distance, wore masks and had their own props. The stage crew and Mueller sanitized the entire theater before leaving, he said.
Although most performing arts are online, Mueller doesn’t want students to abandon their craft.
“This period of time will not hold anyone back,” Mueller said. “Identify your dreams, identify your goals, put your nose down and pursue them.”