Anyone familiar with the “Yes, and…” principle of improv knows it’s important to be able to switch course at a moment’s notice and build on what’s being said. So when schools began shutting down because of the spread of COVID-19, SPARC administrators and teachers took a “Yes, and…” action.
“Students have worked so hard and teachers have prepared classes. We don’t want to stop because all of this is going on,” says Sara Marsden, director of communications and engagement. “For a lot of our students, SPARC is their second home. They feel connected with the teachers and their classmates. This is another thing that will be temporarily missing from their life. We thought we could do something about that.”
The school quickly put together a plan, starting with posting videos. The first had one of the teachers encouraging people to keep singing and be positive.
“A lot of the content is what teachers were doing anyway, but delivery will be in a different way,” Marsden says.
The school is starting with five to 10-minute mini-master classes/tutorial videos, but the length of the videos may change as time goes on. “One of the things we were recording today is a dance warm-up that can be used in advance of any of these classes,” Marsden says. “We have another teacher working on a vocal warm-up now.”
The production crew is creating backstage videos, a resource that can be used now and in the future. “Everyone is going to be doing what they normally do, but differently,” Marsden says.
Production videos are being planned as well with the casts of two shows that were scheduled to open during this time – Robber Bridegroom and Wardrobia: Into the Closet and Back Again, written by Spectrum students. Septrum is a program for LGBTQ+ students. Students in the shows are recording themselves doing their parts in their own home. Their videos will then be edited and posted.
“Some of the cast of Robber Bridegroom wrote a song about coronavirus and how that is affecting their show,” Marsden says.
SPARC will also feature question-and-answer style community conversations that will cover a variety of topics. “We look to the public to tell us what types of things they want to know more about,” says Marsden.
The school plans to get faculty and local professional theater artists involved through live Q&A sessions and/or lessons. “What we have planned is a video on learning about stage management so students can ask questions about how that works,” Marsden says.
Maura Sinnenberg, program director for Live Art, a year–long program for students with and without disabilities, is focusing on creating videos featuring the program’s C.A.R.E. curriculum – compassion, acceptance, respect, and empathy. She is currently writing some lessons about caring for community members.
“The videos are not Live Art classes. Our classes are usually an hour long and these won’t be that long. These are 5-minute snippets of lessons, making it easy for families to see them together,” she says. “My hope is that they are a bright spot of sunshine.”
As the online program component grows, the school will post schedules of videos such as Mr. Paul (Major) will be doing storytime for younger students at 9 a.m.
“We will put out a schedule each day,” Marsden says. “All of our content will live on the website so people can refer to it.”
Visit SPARCRichmond.org for details about new programming.
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