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A Reflection from Linda Cherniavsky

From Fear to Optimism: Reflections on Performing Arts in COVID Times

by Linda Cherniavsky, Director of Performing Arts

I admit I was in denial regarding the COVID-19 pandemic as a traumatic event. Since the lockdown began in March, I was isolated in the comfort of my home, rarely venturing out except for walks in Morningside.

I was unprepared for the opening of school despite working through the summer to reassign instructional spaces, research safety protocols, and rethink curriculum and production designs. Returning to campus in August made me nervous and anxious. I was fearful. Yet each and every day I returned to campus, I felt a growing sense of security knowing the School had protocols in place to keep students, faculty, and staff safe.

The work in the opening days of Forum (pre-planning time for faculty and staff) was overwhelming; I felt as though I was digging out of an avalanche. The faculty returned to school to open 2020-21 without having ever closed 2019-20. Instructional spaces were reset for social distancing, signage in public spaces was placed, large community spaces were reconfigured for new uses, student traffic patterns were planned, and tents were erected and furnished.

The challenge was not only the volume of the work, but not knowing what the future would bring. I, and all my colleagues, had to solve numerous problems we had never thought about before COVID. Living in constant reactive mode was stressful and exhausting; each day seemed like a week. At the end of the week, I felt as though I had worked for a month without a weekend.

The effort was rewarded when students returned to campus. I witnessed the joy in their eyes when they entered McCain Chapel. They were excited to see their friends and resume in-person school. It has been a struggle for both the students and the teachers as life behind masks has had an impact on the pace, rigor, and breadth of instruction. Curriculum was redesigned to accommodate these factors. Band and choral music classes are held outside in tents. Performances have been presented in Stembler Amphitheatre and the new parking deck or filmed for virtual performance.

I am grateful for our COVID Support Team for keeping our school safe; the Office for Institutional Advancement for their support in event production and keeping our community informed through the performing arts webpages; the Facilities Services team for support
in events setup, HVAC, and housekeeping; Athletics for flexibility in coordinating schedules and sharing spaces; and WCAT for production and streaming support. The Performing Arts faculty is highly commended for the innovative design and creative delivery of the curriculum and extracurricular programming. BRAVO to all!

I have been comforted and inspired by the following quote from Julian of Norwich (1342–1416): “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I remain hopeful for the Performing Arts program post-pandemic. I do not believe we can go back to our old “normal,” but we will continue to strive for excellence for our students and the Westminster community.