How the Mississippi School of the Arts is Adapting to the World of COVID-19

Being a student in America as of right now seems to be more stressful and dangerous than ever before in today’s time. Without a doubt, the biggest reason for this is because of COVID-19 and how it has affected our country and its citizens. Even though schools have been open, there seems to be this general cognizance that students today feel they are not learning as much. While there are many factors at play here, by far the biggest reason why is because almost every school in the country simply does not know what to do or how to deal with this pandemic. While there was no way of knowing about this deadly virus affecting the country the way it has, it still shows that most schools simply were not prepared for something like this. That is, besides Mississippi School of the Arts (MSA). MSA seems to have taken very direct precaution when handling this crisis that we are living in. There currently has not been a spread of COVID amongst the students living here and we have yet been forced to go fully virtual.

All of this had me thinking, how has the precautions and new rules us students now must follow to be safe affected how we work within our discipline? Each disciple here works very hard to bring out the true artistry within the school and, most importantly, themselves; so how has this affected them? Does it make the work in their discipline harder? Does it give them insight on how to work under the conditions that we face? To answer these questions, I decided to interview a couple of people, one for every discipline, to get a better understanding on what it is like to be a student at MSA.

To start, let’s look at someone who is now a senior and knows what it was like to be an MSA student before this outbreak. Paige Davis, a senior vocal, had some very insightful things to enlighten me on with how the Vocal department is handling this situation.

“How would you say that, with COVID-19 affecting this nation and our school, has affected the way the Vocals worked?”

Davis states, “Well, it’s definitely affected how we perform with crowds and groups of people, so we can’t go out and perform. I know this is for our program, so I can’t speak for everybody, but we haven’t been able to go and invited anybody on campus to perform with them or go out and perform. Instead, we are making videos. For choir, we are socially distancing and have sheet music and do our sections with soprano, tenor, alto, and bass, but we’ll be socially distancing, as well as practicing with masks. We actually have these special masks that we put on that allows us to output our sound better, instead of being muffled with a regular mask. It definitely has changed the way we work a lot, but it hasn’t affected us as a family and has made us more driven as a company.”

On the flip side, I wanted to ask a junior with their experiences at MSA with these new guidelines; especially since this is there very first year here. Lillian Denney is a junior literary who helped give me some insight on what it’s like being a junior here with these new rules.

“As a new junior literary, how would you say COVID-19 has affected your experience here overall?”

Denney states, “Well, I’ve had a pretty good experience here so far, but it’s definitely difficult with the masks and no touching, as well as not being able to do the Coffee House like we usually do, since we’re trying to be socially distant. It also was difficult with starting school later than usual, with all of that fun stuff. But yeah, it’s still been good, overall.”

One thing that I have been wondering is how have these new guidelines affected disciplines that we haven’t taken into consideration with how they work. Senior visual, Tyler Smith, gave me a clear insight on how this has affected their discipline.

“How would you say that, with the Coronavirus and everything going on, has affected you as a visual? Has it affected the way you do your artwork and classroom work?”

Tyler states, “It really hasn’t affected me that much, other than willpower. When I was doing virtual classes the motivation really wasn’t there, because I wasn’t with the teacher and I didn’t really feel like doing the work. But now that were back on campus, it still hasn’t really affected me that much.’

“So COVID, itself, hasn’t affected how you work, its really just being a virtual student?”

He responds with, “Exactly.”

One thing that I feel people do not take into consideration that much is just how much of a group effort it takes being a Media. It’s not just a person filming and editing; it takes a whole group of people just to film one shot, let alone a scene or short film. Therefore I was really interested in learning about how the Medias work now. Matthew Cox is a senior media that gave me a clearer picture on just what it’s like being a media with these new conditions.

“Being a Media student at MSA, how would you say that has affected you and your work with the new rules and guidelines?”

“I would say that Media’s one of the least affected classes, cause really you can still make movies made as long as you’re six feet apart and socially distance. It’s like separate classes, because you have the sound people in one area that totally separate from the camera guy, so really it hasn’t affected us that much. The only thing it’s really affected is the people on screen, but it’s still fairly minimal contact, unless they’re in a close scene together, they’re usually spaced out,” says Matthew Cox.

“You also directed the Artoberfest movie, ‘Slasher’, so I was wondering if the regulations made it a more difficult process than usual, or just standard?”

He states, “I would say it was standard, because all of the scenes involved groups with only three or less people in them. There was only one scene that involved more people than three. It was a very small cast, so working under COVID-19 it was fairly standard.”

One program I thought would be affected the most was the dance program, since dancing is a very physical and contact heavy artform. To give me more information on just how much the dance program was affected due to the regulations of COVID-19, I decided to get the opinion and knowledge of Allison Dobson, a senior dancer.

“How would you say, with COVID affecting our school so much, it is like being a Dancer with the new rules and regulations?”

“It has mostly limited the contact that we can have with each other in class, which is really hard to choregraph around considering that we do a lot of contact usually,” said Allison.

“Would say that this has made it more difficult compared to last year?”

She states, “I think that it’s been more challenging, but it’s also been more fun trying to work on our own challenges.”

“What advice would you give to the Junior Dancer, since this is they’re first year here and having to follow these new rules?”

She states, “Manage your time wisely and take your art seriously. It gets harder, but you always have your family (in reference to the dance department as a whole).”

Now we come down to the Theatres. Since I am a senior theatre, I was really interested on how 18th Company, the junior theatres, view the new guidelines and how they are adapting to it. Anton Jackson is a junior theatre who gave me an insight on how the junior theatres see these new regulations.

“How would you say, with everything going on with COVID-19 and MSA’s new rules has affected you being a student, especially since you’re a junior? Has it made it more difficult being a Theatre, or would you say that it has given you a lot more leeway in what to expect for the future as a student?”

He says, “I have heard from a lot of students that it’s very different from last year, with quarantining and six feet apart. Since being a Junior Theatre, your parents want to be there and experience your plays and stuff like that, so now, since we cant have any visitors, it has affected us mentally because some of our parents probably don’t have access to the internet to view our shows. I would say it could’ve been better.”

“Would you say that it has made being an MSA Theatre student more difficult?”

“Yes, because with some scenes it requires contact so that you can get that feeling getting close enough, but now we can’t since we have to be six feet apart and socially distance. It hurts because we work so hard for the moments to where now we can’t normally do them,” he replied.

As a senior theatre student myself, I would be lying if I said that it was not an inconvenience. As an actor, you are given many jobs, but one of the biggest jobs is that you need to convey the emotion of a character with your face, voice, and body. Wearing a mask really does take away some of the emotions that an audience feels when seeing a performance. It also makes it harder to project your voice with a mask. However, I feel that it has made me work harder as an actor. It has taught me I need to project more and put more emphasis on the emotions I show in my face during a scene. Thankfully, we are about to use face shield while performing, so that helps all of us out a lot. It has also taught me with how to work with people when the closest we can get is six feet apart. Yes, it may be an inconvenience, but it is also a tool that has showed me how to better my craft as an actor and be able to work around problems like this.

Overall, when you take a look at other schools and see how they are failing to work around COVID-19, I can easily say that MSA has done the best job that it possibly can with adapting to this pandemic. It is thanks to heads of the school, the staff, and most importantly the students. The fact that we have been able to better ourselves as artists during these struggling times, learning how to work around a pandemic, growing closer together, and better ourselves, all on top of keeping up with our regular school work just goes to show how great of a school MSA is. If there is one piece of advice I can give to everyone, no matter the discipline, it is to keep wearing a mask and keep socially distancing. We have overcome a lot in this school, but this pandemic is still alive and well, sadly. If we want to stay on campus this year and continue to have a traditional school year, we must not only do what’s best for ourselves, but also for our fellow students and the country as a large.

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