The arts, particularly the performance arts at Fordham, present special challenges because of the collaborative nature of musical and theatrical performances. Health guidelines will mean that many group activities will have to be scaled back, or moved online. Publics will no longer be live and in person. And among different artistic practices, the modifications needed for one (a brass ensemble) may be entirely different from that of another (easel painting). In safety precautions, we take our lead from other professional organizations and performance-based schools, like our neighbor, Juilliard, in order to meet New York State requirements. Our recommendations are meant to offer possible models for course design, acknowledging that practitioners know the best pedagogical practices for their field.
The overall goal, however, is to continue to develop student capacities as performers, which has long been a principle of pedagogy in the performing arts. To this end, our recommendations follow three general principles: Community, Creativity, and Compassion.
The first objective is for students to feel that they are part of a meaningful artistic community and that they belong.
The aspect of education most at risk in remote or hybrid learning is the experience of community. Developing and fostering community should be intentionally built into courses and projects in the arts. Students, faculty, and support staff, long accustomed to being together in collaborative ventures, are feeling isolated and disconnected. Adjusting courses and offering multiple performance and project opportunities to emphasize community building may take many forms, and some models are laid out below under Theater.
Community can be understood at multiple levels, and each offers new questions for pedagogy:
- The student-to-student and student-to-teacher community of the studio, classroom, rehearsal space, and workshop;
- The student-to-Fordham community;
- The student-to-NYC community;
- The student-to-the-greater-field community.
Questions to consider:
- What can be built into the lesson planning that reinforces that the student is taking class at Fordham and not somewhere else?
- What reinforces the Fordham community for the student?
- Are there new opportunities for interdepartmental collaborations on projects or enrollment in courses in other departments? For example, are there opportunities for dancers to collaborate with student musical ensembles, or with student composers?
- What can be built into the lesson planning that reinforces the location of Fordham in NYC?
- Can syllabi be redesigned to include virtual NYC museum trips? Projects that incorporate virtual materials at the New York Public Library? Projects with concert halls? With NYC industries? Virtual conversations with NYC artists?
- Are there opportunities to foster collaborations with other departments at other universities?
- One model: Theatre has a project that they are doing in communally with departments at other different institutions, and they are selecting certain design classes, acting classes, rehearsals, etc., where students from different institutions will be zoomed in to observe and/or take part, with preparation and discussions afterward in their home classes.
The second objective is to inspire, foster, challenge, and guide students to new capacities for creativity.
The arts are in themselves “creative” disciplines: artists are “makers” of paintings, sculpture, photography, film, musical performance and composition, dance performance and choreography, theatre performance, direction, writing, design, and production. These discipline-specific creativities are internal to the development of artistic craft, skill, and artistry. Training in these creative disciplines must continue in these new circumstances, with flexibility and adaptability to new constraints but also creativity and resilience in recognizing and embracing new opportunities.
Artists’ modes of problem solving are simultaneously gestalt (big picture of the design concept, the concert performance, the finished canvas) and specific (the smallest detail of this foot position, that cut-off, that shade of scarf, that angle of the light, that tempo, that speech utterance, that blink of the eye). This holding in tension of the big and the small means that artists are uniquely poised to creatively meet the challenges and opportunities in remote/hybrid education, and that this mode of problem solving is to be recognized as a value and encouraged throughout this remote/hybrid academic year.
The third objective is to awaken, comprehend, nurture, and express the human capacity for compassion.
We can never lose sight of extraordinary conditions of our time––that we are living and working and creating in the midst of a global pandemic and a national reckoning around the legacies of colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow, and other oppressive systems. The awakenings from the events and circumstances of this past spring and summer cannot be undone. We are all changed from these experiences.
This change calls us to intentionally engage the creative resources of the arts to recognize, nurture, and expand our human capacity for compassion, and to bring this capacity for compassion to expression in our different art forms. The arts present infinite possibilities in developing (and challenging) trust, understanding, empathy, resilience, and forgiveness in oneself and with others. The arts also demand that these dimensions of our individual and corporate humanity be expressed and shared.
The arts also present critical opportunities for reflecting on our past, our present moment, and for imagining just and compassionate visions of a new future.
Models from the Field
Reconfiguring the curriculum to create community: The example of Theater.
The theater program has reoriented many of its classes to adopt a shared curriculum (called New Production Paradigm) that is closely linked to the students’ practice. This has been possible because theater students are a close cohort, with defined courses that all theater majors take. All the theater courses for majors will be directed to the production of a play at the end of the semester. This model entails high levels of collaboration among the different practices (set design, costume, dramaturgy, etc.) that come together in a theater piece.
Communities of students and professional practitioners: The example of Music.
This spring, student composers working with Prof. Daniel Ott were able to work on compositions and have them professionally performed and recorded, all remotely. They collaborated with a professional ensemble. The musicians recorded each instrument separately, and then brought them together digitally. Instead of a live performance, the end result was a YouTube video.