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In COVID era, the arts are looking for alternatives

August 18th, 2020

Caleb Abbott and Joel Boettger, saxophones

As Bethel resumes classes in a pandemic, fine arts is an area in which instructors are having to be especially creative.

Bethel’s fall 2020 semester begins Aug. 19 with the traditional opening convocation taking place virtually, only the first of many such events (convocation will be all-online this fall).

The first and likely the second of the films in the KIPCOR Film Series will be screened online (KIPCOR is the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution). The annual Menno Simons Lectures, with speaker César Garcia, general secretary of Mennonite World Conference, will be virtual, Oct. 25-26.

In the realm of music, Bethel’s steel drum players might have the closest to the usual in terms of rehearsals.

Said instructor Brad Shores, “In the steel drum class, we will meet as normal except that we will be [physically] distanced and masked.”

He is still determining whether the concerts (a holiday concert in early December and a spring concert) will be livestreamed or pre-recorded.

William Eash, D.M.A., is Bethel’s director of choral activities. “The college requested that singing be present on campus [this year],” he said. “Our programs will happen in limited ways.”

Private voice lessons will take place via virtual platforms, he said. How concerts for either small or large vocal ensembles might happen is still unclear, though Eash said, “Presently, there are no plans to livestream performances.”

Joel Boettger, director of bands, echoed Eash. “Programs will happen but in a limited capacity with the utmost regard for the safety of all participants. 

“Instrumental private lessons will be [physically] distanced in a large room,” he continued. “If the situation necessitates a move to online learning, Zoom, Google Duo and other platforms for virtual instruction will be used.”

For performances, Boettger said, “I am currently planning to have students individually submit recordings of what we are working on, and then to mix them into an online performance that can be released via the internet.” 

Bethel always stages a fall theater production in conjunction with Fall Festival, although musicals happen every other year, and 2020 is not a year for one.

Nevertheless, Karen Robu, who is beginning at Bethel as instructor of theater, is having to work on a pandemic alternative.

“What we have decided to do for the fall production at Bethel is an original play that I wrote about Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first female ordained minister in the United States, and her involvement in the [women’s] suffrage movement,” Robu said.

“This a timely piece, [not only because] we are celebrating the 100-year anniversary of women getting the right to vote and it is an election year, but because we do not need to worry about copyright [to] film the play.

“We plan to rehearse and stage it pretty much like we would if it were to be performed in front of an audience, but we will film it, so people can watch the show digitally from their own homes.

“Actors will do the entire rehearsal process in masks, but we plan to record with masks off. Different camera angles will be shot so we can keep actors at least six feet apart when they are being filmed.

“There is some singing that is used as underscoring for the play and that will be recorded ahead of time, most likely in ‘virtual choir’ style.”

These educators recognize they are in a logistical hard time for artists, but hope some good might come out of it.

“There has already been a lamentation of the loss of music [that is] created in community,” Eash said. “Perhaps there will be a revitalization in seeking performances in community [when the pandemic is over].”

Boettger added, “I hope that people will recognize how important music is to humanity, and that support for the arts increases once we are beyond the pandemic.”

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.