It’s been a challenging year for teachers and students, but performing arts at Salida High School have had the extra obstacle of teaching a craft that requires working and performing with others.

As a result, the music program, under the direction of André Wilkins and the Drama Club under the direction of Devon Kasper, have had to get more than usually creative to keep their students engaged and performing.

Music carries on

Wilkins said last spring, when COVID-19 forced the shut down of in-person education across the district for the last couple of months of school was a struggle.

“A lot of plans were cancelled. It was a real blow to motivation for me and for the students,” Wilkins said. 

He gave the example of Maddie Porter, who had made All-state Band, an honor for a high school musician, which was then cancelled due to COVID-19.

“It was frustrating and demoralizing,” he said.

As the summer progressed Chaffee County Public Health, Salida Superintendent David Blackburn and SHS Principal Tami Thompson looked at realistic measures for safely returning to school.

Wilkins said he has 25 singers and 35 instrumental students.

As much as possible during the warm fall weather rehearsals were held outside.

Choir members met in front of the school and were divided into groups of 10-15 students and maintained social distancing and masking.

Jazz and concert bands rehearsed in the stands in the football stadium sitting a safe distance apart from each other.

An outdoor fall concert was planned at the stadium for the fall, but a two week quarantine period quashed that opportunity in October.

Wilkins said it was disappointing especially since it was the second year in a row the fall concert had to be cancelled. The 2019 fall concert had to be cancelled due to the Decker fire.

Instead of a live performance for audience, both high school bands perform a virtual concert which was recorded and made available online for students and parents to watch.

As the weather has gotten colder, instruction has moved indoors with choir spaced out in the auditorium with custodian Brad Pagni sanitizing the space afterward and bands split into three groups studying music composition when not rehearsing in the gym on a rotating schedule.

“We’ve been pretty creative,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said this year gives a whole different perspective on how to keep students safe.

He said he hopes his students will become better musicians and better people through this experience and dealing with things they can’t control, being tough and “showing some grit.”

Drama team rethinks performances

The drama team at SHS worked hard on the spring production of “Clue” which was canceled in March when in-person learning was put on hold due to COVID-19.

While unable to perform the play for an audience, the actors were able to perform the piece as a radio play at the end of May.

“We never got back to doing it in front of an audience,” she said.

“It taught me a lot bout the process. The show is vitally important as part of that process,” she said.

After so much growth and confidence building, not being able to perform for an audience was extraordinarily hard, she said.

The rest of the spring was spent working on a Zoom show, “10 ways to Survive life in a Quarantine,” which students were able to rehearse on Zoom as well.

Kasper said she has as many as 27 students, as performers and doing stage craft. 

This fall the club was divided into three groups and while the warm weather lasted they could met outside nearly every day.

Alumni Ryan O’Connor and Sawyer Cliff, home from New York where they were pursuing their own performance educations until COVID-19 hit, have been helping  coach the team along with fellow coach Cat Schleicher.

Fall semester this year has included a dive into film production. 

Students were tasked with writing and performing their own short films including storyboards.

“They learned a lot,” Kasper said.

Each group worked at a different pace; however, by the end of the semester, one group had completed filming and others were in various stages. 

One group was able to do a stage reading of their script.

However, substituting staged theater for film is not as satisfying, she said.

Kasper said the biggest thing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been providing students with a reason to meet socially and keep learning.

The plan for the spring is to rehearse a collection of short plays by John Cariani, “Love/Sick.”

There are nine scenes, each with two characters, making it easier to socially distance actors on stage and the crew will be masked.

(1) comment

Joe Reed

Great piece and I appreciate the creativity and determination of local HS teachers and leaders.

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