Local high schools are struggling to keep theater arts programs intact during the pandemic

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – The pandemic has upended most public schools this year, disrupting not only classes and athletics, but also drama programs. Kayla Martin reports on efforts to keep the theater arts alive.

“Think outside the box – how can we give our students who have passions in these areas other than sports the opportunity to get involved,” said Dan Shepardson, director of student activities at Champlain Valley High School. Union at Hinesburg.

This has been the big question surrounding performing arts programs in Vermont high schools during the pandemic. “Right now the theater department is training outdoors, masking, doing little cohorts,” Shepardson said.

“We started designing weekly workshops,” said Colby Skoglund, professor of design and technology at Burlington High School.

Both high schools are doing what they can to provide some sense of normalcy, and students agree with the priority. “The connections we make with our classmates on stage is something you can’t get anywhere else,” said Burlington High School student Lucy Kraus-Cuddy.

“A different kind of camaraderie when you do something for school or in an activity and then put on a play. There’s a whole other connection that goes into that. So I think it’s really important that they organize little things like this,” said Anessa Conner, a senior student at Burlington High School.

But as the cold weather arrives, it could send schools back to the drawing board to figure out how to adapt safely. “At the end of October, in the next few days or even the next week or two, these tents will disappear,” Shepardson said.

The rented tents that CVU relied on are due to return soon. And at Burlington High School, where PCB contamination shut down the building, there will be no indoor space until at least early next year.

“We don’t have a theater to accommodate our theater group at this time, so we are looking for spaces that will allow us to come in and play safely so that we can still be together and maintain that community connection,” said said Tammie Ledoux-Moody, the school’s theater director.

Officials at both schools say they are committed to working with any new guidelines that may be released in the future to continue giving that slice of normality to their students, as they believe it is an integral part of their education.

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