Arts Center

What is Happening at the Arts Center?

Advanced Musical Theatre Dance on Callahan

While we are unable to welcome guest artists and audiences to the Arts Center just yet, the Callahan stage hasn’t gone dark. Over the summer, we made some modifications to the stage setup, and it is used every weekday, and often nights and weekends, for Theatre & Dance classes.

Given the precautions the college is taking to be able to hold classes on campus, many faculty have had to rethink the ways they deliver instruction, including how to accommodate social distancing and maintain healthy and open communication, which is especially vital for the performing arts. Among the great challenges facing the Theatre & Dance department was determining appropriate spaces and accommodations for dance classes.

Of course, the first logical option was to temporarily convert the stage of the Callahan Theater (where we've welcomed companies like Martha Graham Dance, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, our beloved home companies Garth Fagan Dance and Rochester City Ballet, as well as world-class artists in nearly every performance medium) into a dance studio.

Considering the courses offered in the Fall 2020 semester, we endeavored to prepare the space for primarily Musical Theatre dance classes, as well as jazz, tap, and open ballet. The upstage wall is now lined with rolling mirrors, barres typically used in the Sands Performance Studio backstage (which is currently used as private and small group instruction space) and new lightweight barres for ballet, and the stage has been taped ("spiked") with distanced marks for both dancing and barre placement. Our students now use the stage every weekday for these classes as well as lighting instruction/lab, and even academic production experiences, which are planned to accommodate the classes while still giving students opportunities to work on and/or perform in a production in our beautiful theater.

With just a few weeks left of the semester, it’s safe to say this has been working out fairly well for the department. All activity in our facilities is led within the college’s COVID precautions and guidelines, so the dancers are distanced at 6ft or more and masked, which can make dance quite difficult, but students, faculty, and staff are taking it in stride. Dereck Atwater ‘22, a musical theatre major and dance minor, when asked about the greatest challenge in dance classes right now, notes, “Not being able to be close to each other and not being able to see each other’s faces since we are always wearing masks. We are unable to do partner work, but we’re all finding ways to feed off of each other’s energy.” 

“One of the main challenges is maintaining daily motivation for the students knowing they are not preparing for a live audience or in-person auditions for work outside of Nazareth. Theatre will return and our students will be prepared when it does,” reflects Assistant Professor, Paige Cummings, who leads the dance study for musical theatre. “The benefit of class onstage in Callahan is the amount of space we have. We can safely space apart with the distance necessary to follow COVID safety protocols. Also, since we are already on a stage, we can work at a performance level, increasing the speed of growth for dancers. I am always proud of how hard the B.F.A. Musical Theatre students work in dance. They know it is an integral part of their training for their professional performance career. They have been growing and progressing in dance, getting the attention of industry professionals.This semester, however, their drive and resilience is beyond extraordinary.” 

In a recent Advanced Musical Theatre Dance class, the students maintained high energy and focus throughout the hour and fifteen minute class, all maintaining safe distance and only nudging their masks aside for a quick sip of water between repetitions of the unit’s choreography.

This has been a tough semester for everyone on campus, but our students are lucky to have faculty like Cummings in their corner. “I have incorporated a ‘Health and Wellness’ component to my musical theatre dance syllabus. Now more than ever it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in mind, body, and spirit. This is a stressful time for these students. They are encouraged to find positive ways of coping during this unprecedented transitional period.” 

Atwater and his classmates seem to be maintaining that positivity, and he said class on the Callahan stage has been great. “We have the mirrors to look at, but we can turn around at any moment and simulate performing for an audience. My favorite part about having class in Callahan is being able to use the space and spread out as if we are actually performing while feeling safe.”

As this semester wraps up, many Spring 2021 courses have been scheduled for Callahan. Atwater is looking forward to it, and the eventual return to “normal” performance conditions. “Going into next semester, we are more comfortable with this environment so we can challenge ourselves more in the spring, and take what we are doing further. When this is all over, we are all looking forward to taking our masks off and being able to engage with each other more.”

Cummings is also looking to the future, when we can welcome audiences back to our performance spaces. “We are looking forward to showing work to an audience and being able to provide a full performance experience for our students without the added stressors and safety measures.”