Graham Academy and Theatre Newfoundland Labrador pivot to digital platforms
As a young person heavily involved in theatre, Ewan Jenkins said having everything shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic “really sucked.”
Jenkins, 11, is a student in the Graham Academy’s musical theatre program in Corner Brook.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, both Graham Academy and Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s Sarah McDonald Youth Theatre had to shut down their in-house programs.
But after taking some time to regroup and figure out how to operate in the new world, both groups transitioned their programming online.
Jenkins, who lives in Little Rapids, said going online was a great idea.
“I was missing Graham Academy a lot, but I kept on practicing,” he said.
And now he doesn’t have to do it alone.
“I like that we can still practice when we’re far away.”
He said it can be a little more challenging.
“It’s a lot to do when you’re far away, but I think it’s pretty cool that I can still do it.”
He had been in the midst of preparing for his role as Jack in the spring show of “Into the Woods,” but now he’s working on some singing and dancing numbers for a virtual variety show, “Together in Song,” that Graham Academy will present live on its YouTube channel and Facebook page on June 26.
Ian Locke, Graham Academy’s faculty and production manager, said the first couple of online classes were a trial run to see what students, their families and faculty thought of the process.
“But what stood out more than anything else was the energy. Even though we weren’t in the same room, we were in 20, 30 different rooms, it still provided a boost,” he said.
“It’s been an amazing process to see the dedication of the students. To still be there, to still push to create something.
“Connecting with each other and being able to create and learn the same song in all of our different spaces has been the most special part of this. It’s been wonderful.”
Locke said Graham Academy decided to do the variety show because it allows them to put out the message that people are not alone and to lift them up during what can be trying times.
To prepare the show, the students have been recording themselves singing and dancing, and the faculty will edit it so it’s just like they are performing together.
“It’s a totally different process. It’s totally backwards compared to standard theatre. It really is its own world that the arts in COVID has become.”
“It’s been an amazing process to see the dedication of the students." — Ian Locke
From the start, Adam Brake, artistic associate with TNL, said the wellness of the kids was his objective.
“We need to have something for the kids to keep their minds occupied and keep themselves creative. It’s about finding a way for them to socialize, finding a way for them to have a voice during this time.”
Prior to the pandemic, the youth theatre’s older students, in Level 1-3, had been working on a sketch comedy show based on environmental issues.
“And we scrapped everything that we worked on in that show and we started writing about isolation.”
The result is the online sketch show “The Corona Chronicles.” The first episode premiered in May, live-streamed on YouTube, and the second one is in the works.
Brake also engaged the Grade 6-9 students through working with them on Zoom calls, and for the younger students puts out a Create-a-Sketch challenge every week through Facebook and Instagram to get them to create something with their cellphones.
“This is continuing arts education for our students,” said Brake.
And he’s happy to see others, like Graham Academy and Dance Studio West, do the same.
“It’s great that everybody is doing stuff. It’s only strengthening the arts community here in Corner Brook.”
Seonaid Stark, 16, is happy to see the online programs.
She travels from Pasadena to Corner Brook to participate in both the TNL and Graham Academy programs, so having them end because of the COVID-19 pandemic was hard.
“It was a big change just to go from being so busy and seeing everybody all the time to nothing almost. All of a sudden you didn’t see anybody. You’re at home all the time with nothing to do.”
And even though the platform is different, it’s really nice to see people and connect with her peers, she said.
She was part of the first “Corona Chronicles,” and is working on sketches for the second one.
She said the format for classes involves meeting to pitch their ideas.
“And then we go off and write sketches and review them together.”
The students then record their parts and, through the magic of technology, Brake combines them.
The rehearsal part is “weird,” she said, because you don’t have a scene partner to feed off.
“It becomes more independent.”
Besides not having to travel, there are advantages to the online program, she said.
“It’s strengthened some things. If you’re doing a singing lesson online you have to be able to use your ear more, so it strengthens you as a musician.
“You almost have to trust yourself more because you can’t be getting notes from people.”