Local high schools struggle to keep theater arts programs intact during pandemic

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 4:49 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The pandemic has turned most parts of public school on its head this year by not only disrupting classes and athletics, but also drama programs. Kayla Martin reports efforts to keep the theater arts alive.

“Think outside the box -- how can we give our students that have passions in these areas other than sports an opportunity to participate in that,” said Dan Shepardson, the student activities director at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg.

It’s been the big question surrounding performing arts programs in Vermont high schools during the pandemic. “Right now, the theater department is practicing outside, masking, doing small cohorts,” Shepardson said.

“We’ve started to design weekly workshops,” said Colby Skoglund, a design and technology teacher at Burlington High School.

The two high schools are doing what they can to provide some sense of normalcy, and students agree with the priority. “The connections we make with our classmates on stage is something that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Lucy Kraus-Cuddy, a student at Burlington High School.

“A different kind of camaraderie when you’re doing something for school or in an activity and then putting on a play. There’s a whole different connection that goes into that. So, I think it’s really important they organize little things like this,” said Anessa Conner, a senior at Burlington High School.

But as the cold weather arrives, it could be sending schools back to the drawing board to figure out how to adapt safely. “Come the end of October, in the next few days or even the next week or two, those tents will disappear,” Shepardson said

The rented tents that CVU has been relying on need to go back soon. And at Burlington High School, where PCB contamination has shuttered the building, there won’t be an indoor space until at least early next year.

“We don’t have a theatre to hold our theatre group right now, so we are looking for spaces that will allow us to come in and perform safely so we can still be together and still have that community connection,” said Tammie Ledoux-Moody, the school’s director of drama.

Officials with both schools say that they’re dedicated to working with whatever new guidelines may come out in the future to continue giving that slice of normalcy to their students because they believe it’s integral to their education.

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