CW Performing Arts students reaching audiences online

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Todd Phillips
The Canal Winchester High School Performing Arts Department presented its annual Madrigal online this year.

Early on in the 2020-21 school year, Canal Winchester students were told despite the pandemic, their education was not going to be a “Ghost Year” and opportunities for growth would continue in different forms.

For the high school’s performing arts department, where audiences are part of the process and experience, that growth—for the most part—took place on a stage defined by the size of a computer screen.

“Performing arts groups around the world have all struggled with the question How to get our art to the people? The Internet has been the best answer,” said Canal Winchester High School instructor Todd Phillips. “While we certainly would accept donations, we decided early on that we’d try to do our performances without a viewing fee to encourage more people to see our work. Our virtual concerts—Steel Band, Handbell Ensemble, Guitar Ensemble, Vocal Ensembles; Creative Arts Expo and Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ can be found at:”

Auditions for the annual dinner Madrigal and a few full-cast rehearsals were held online. The Madrigal production itself was moved to the Oley Speaks Auditorium this year to allow for the use of technology and provide for better social distancing. Once students moved into the stage rehearsal phase, they were called in on particular days to limit contact and were fully masked.

“We filmed the play and the accompanying music over the span of two weeks,” said Phillips, “using multiple cameras at different angles and being very careful to maintain continuity. The editing helped it appear as one single event. In our music performances, the students knew our time together to record would be monitored to follow the guidelines from the school, state and CDC. We had to do our best work the first time. The clock would not allow us opportunities to waste time.”

According to Phillips, all of the school’s online virtual events have received great reviews from the public and, in many cases, the YouTube views meet or even surpass the normal attendance for the in-person version of the event.

“While there’s nothing like attending a live performance or being on stage in front of a live audience, everyone was excited to see our program creating a real experience for our students,” said Phillips, who admitted quite a few modifications were actually helpful. “We rehearsed in full masks. That made the speech muffled and covered the most expressive part of the body. We challenged the students to improve their speaking patterns and find new ways to express what the characters were going through.”

Scenes were shot over multiple days, which forced the cast and directors to be very attentive to small continuity details. In many ways, the production team saw this as a more realistic, professional experience for students.

As the district moves closer to the end of the school year, Phillips and his department continue to focus on creating a quality educational experience for their students, even with modifications. The spring musical (“Working: A Musical”) was presented live to a limited seating audience at the end of April.

The Steel Band is performing at an outdoor concert at the high school on May 11 at 7 p.m. The high school choirs and handbell ensemble will also be presenting an outdoor concert at the Canal Winchester Education Center on May 13 at 7 p.m.

“For me, this year has been a great experience,” said Phillips. “I’m finishing up my 36th year in education. While I try hard not to do the same thing, the same way every year and always look for a new angle on my curriculum, very few of the traditional methods could hold things together this year. I was challenged to rethink the entire process. How do we make this a real year for our students? The old question in education is, when you retire, did you teach 35 years, or one year – 35 times. I can’t say I want to go through this again, but I’m glad I had this year.”

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