Bring it On! – Providing Access and Retaining Students in the Arts Amid the COVID Pandemic

By: Dr. Mike Godard, Ms. Rhonda Weller-Stilson & Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson

The proposed project examines the challenges faculty and staff overcame to create experiential learning in the Holland College of Arts and Media during the height of the pandemic. The committee will share the experience from conception to performance, and successes and lessons learned. As Southeast Missouri State University planned to reopen and offer face to face opportunities for our students, the Holland College of Arts and Media and the Division of Academic Affairs began August 2020 producing Bring it On! By incorporating campus guidelines entitled Protect the Nest and utilizing our partnership with a local health care system, protocols were developed to allow for an on campus live theatrical production to occur while in themidst of the pandemic. As other universities were ceasing all stage performances, art gallery exhibitions, and other experiential learning opportunities for their students, the Holland College of Arts and Media developed strategies and protocols to provide safe access to the arts for both students and patrons. Bring it On! was the first live performance event held on campus since the university moved to remote learning in March 2020. 

The musical, Bring it On!, was selected not only because of the age appropriate roles and high-energy show, but also because it allowed our Hispanic and African-American students an outstanding vehicle to showcase their talents. This musical addresses topics of jealousy, betrayals, misunderstandings, discrimination, and friendships with people that are different from yourself. Underrepresented groups in our production included Hispanic, African-American and LGBTQ students. The students cast ranged from being seniors such as Yul Carrion to incoming freshman, Genevieve Cortez. Several area high school students were also cast. Originally a movie, Bring it On! was turned into a musical for the stage. Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the composers and writers of the music and lyrics.

Because this production was the first live performance during the pandemic, this show helped guide the Holland College ofArts and Media in developing practices utilized for all other arts events. For example, all performers and crew wore masks throughout the rehearsal and build process. Once we opened, performers wore a combination mask/shield in clear vinyl to protect each other. Crew always wore solid masks. Dressing rooms were spaced to provide adequate social distancing, and blocking onstage was created to also provide actors adequate social distance. All properties were assigned to individual actors, and none were shared in the production. Microphones were checked out to the performers for the run, and never handled by crew members. Any touch points, such as door handles, or scenery were disinfected after each use. The university installed water bottle fillers backstage, so that water fountains could be taken offline. All production members health was monitored daily by our performing arts clinic. If any questions arose about exposure to Covid, medical doctors were consulted. The audience was required to wear masks at all times, were seated six feet apart, and provided hand sanitizer when walking into the theatre. A multi-page handbook was created to use for performances that followed this musical.