BBA takes its performing arts spring showcase online

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MANCHESTER — When it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to close the campus of Burr and Burton Academy, its dance and theater faculty were faced with a challenge: How to replace in-person performing arts instruction with remote and self-guided learning, and reward the effort with a performance that allowed the students to demonstrate what they had learned?

Next Friday, the students' annual spring showcase will be streamed online, with live performances and edited footage both available for the larger BBA and Northshire community to enjoy. It can be viewed at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 29 at unleashedmedia.org, a website featuring the work of current BBA visual and perfomring arts students and alumni.

"We thought it was important to have this showcase of their work," said Jim Raposa, the school's director of theater and dance. In addition to giving students a focus for the remainder of the school year, the showcase offers the students' peers and families and the wider community a chance to see students perform, Raposa said.

The performances include a made-for-Zoom comedy, "10 Ways to Survive Life In a Quarantine" by Don Zolidis and dance performances directed by Raposa's partner, BBA Dance Company Artistic Director Claudia Shell-Raposa.

When BBA had to close its physical campus and migrate to online learning, the transitions were easy at first, Jim Raposa said. But things changed when it was announced that campus would not reopen for the school year, "we had some kids really depressed and really upset. And it was because of missing this group dynamic these teenagers need so badly."

"[Claudia and I] spent a lot of time talking with kids and connecting with them," Raposa said. "We used dance and drama and all of our arts and everything we teach to try give these students a way to connect with each other even though they're not in the same room. Once we got through that they latched on to it."

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"Rehearsing and performing in this manner is extremely different from working on stage and in person," said Caitlin Parker, a junior from Manchester. "The biggest difference I noticed is the lack of feedback which is also what made switching to this platform challenging.

When rehearsing in person I've always relied on feedback from my peers and director because they are able to show me what they want or they can have me try many different ways of doing the same scene.

With it being online it was difficult to do that because there are only so many backgrounds, props, and camera angles, so we had to work with what we had."

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"Never mind all the tech issues like bad wifi, losing power, and a laggy screen, it's very hard to connect with your scene partner," added Mylee Downey, a sophomore from Dorset. "Getting a genuine emotion to portray over Google Hangout is very difficult when you are still trying to memorize and create your character.

When it comes time to commit the performance to video, "filming is a whole different beast," Downey said. "Not only are you pretending to be a different person, but you are pretending to have a conversations with two or three people that aren't there. It makes you feel a little crazy sometimes!"

Preparing at home has required a different kind of discipline, the students said.

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"I have always worked hard and did my best, but this experience has made me become a lot more independent with what needs to be done," Parker said. "I've realized that I can take on a lot more responsibility than I thought and I will always carry that with me in the future."

"When nobody is around keeping you on track you need to police yourself. It definitely helps when your teachers are going above and beyond to become available for you if need be, but they can't be with you all the time," Downey said.

For the dance pieces, the students were given instructions on confines of their moves, and specific colors to wear. They filmed themselves dancing and sent in their videos, which were then edited together to make a short digital video of the entire troupe.

Combined there are between 40 and 50 students participating, Raposa said.

Parker said she is happy to have an audience for her performance, even if it's online. "Even if I won't get to see and hear the audience, I love to know that someone is seeing the piece of art we have all crafted together," she said.

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com.


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