When the closure of Arizona schools moved traditional classes online, all extracurricular activities ground to a halt. Much attention was given to the cancellation of athletics. Little public attention was paid to cancellation of many other programs, including the arts, which exist at all eight schools in the Bullhead City Elementary and Colorado River Union High School Districts.
The most visible is the cancellation of the stage adaptation of Disney’s Mary Poppins, Mohave High School’s annual spring “Broadway Comes to Bullhead” musical. Slated for this month, students had been working much of the school year on musical numbers, dialogue and blocking. Not only were students unable to continue rehearsing during the closure, which prohibited them from accessing the Mohave High auditorium, Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order barred all stage performances in every theatre across Arizona as part of the state’s social distancing guidelines.
“I am so sorry for everyone involved but I am extremely sad for the seniors of this group,” said Mohave High theatre director Casey Amann in posts to cast members. “You all have been the best leaders and mentors I could ask for. I know that all of you amazing cast and crew would have blown the doors off this town and made Mohave Drama proud.”
But the curtain didn’t fall completely on arts education and extracurricular opportunities for students, as faculty members in both districts joined their colleagues across the country thinking outside the box. Amann, for example, has drama classes using online communication and video blogs, or “vlogs.”
It can be a little more challenging for musicians, both students and teachers. Adam Schultheis, the orchestra teacher at Bullhead City Middle and Fox Creek Junior High Schools, has daily class assignments involving instrumental YouTube videos followed by questions.
“The students are exposed to viewing the greatest string instrument performers in the world,” he said. “Therefore, they will be better overall musicians in the process.”
At the high school level, the music department’s big question is how to teach choir or band during the shutdown. Like Amann, long-time band director Michelle Ribelin is using video blogs with her students.
“They play their favorite song we’ve done this year and post it in [an online classroom],” Ribelin said. “I’ve been doing theory worksheets and lessons, with YouTube tutorials for extra help.”
On the vocal side, choir director Cameron Pruett’s students study with video singing journals, building a virtual choir.
“The students either pick a song or I have assigned one,” Pruett added. “They record it and send it to me. I comment back. We’ve done it every week.”
But what about teaching more interpretive or tactile art, such as painting, drawing or sculpture, during the shutdown?
“Since many of the students may not have computers or internet access, they have been given a bingo-style choice board to pick and choose two art activities to accomplish per week,” said Holly Hamilton, the Pre K-5 art teacher at Desert Valley Elementary. “If they have the internet, they can watch YouTube videos about color theory or draw along with famous illustrators. Students can also use materials in their house to make architectural structures or choose some rocks from their yard and do rock painting with their family.”
Activities are tracked and discussed.
Additionally, Desert Valley’s annual student art show was one of the events cancelled by the statewide school closure. Hamilton photographed more than 600 pieces of art, created a slideshow, and posted it in an online classroom for students and their families to view and enjoy.
Despite school shows, concerts and exhibits being cancelled in both districts, all is not lost for local students to show off their musical and dramatic talents. Pruett is determined to continue the tradition of “Under the Lights of Broadway,” which started several years ago as a fundraiser for Mohave’s performing arts featuring MHS students and alumni. This year, individually recorded videos will be edited into a virtual concert with an online watch party. Submissions are due no later than May 9. Performers may contact Pruett at email@example.com for more information.
Local students even have the chance to perform on the national stage, as well. Tony-award winning actress Laura Benanti has invited student performers from across the country to send her videos of what otherwise would have been in front of a local audience this semester, using the Twitter hashtag #SunshineSongs. Details are available at www.playbill.com/article/laura-benanti-launches-twitter-campaign-to-support-high-school-musical-performers , including a video explanation from Benanti.