The Arts: Surviving a Pandemic

I know I am no longer an active member of our local school system. I retired five years ago this past July. I have not taught a workshop for the local Board of Education in over a year. I have no input into what decisions the Board or Superintendent make
for the upcoming academic year. I am just a citizen-taxpayer who advocates for public schools wherever they are and whenever I can in whatever way I am able.
 I think about schools a good deal, especially “my” school, Stephen Decatur High School. And what I think about most is what will happen to the program I started more than forty years ago at SDHS. How do you teach theatre from a distance? For that matter, how do you teach band or chorus or orchestra, from a distance?
More than forty years ago, we began to offer yearly productions designed for an audience of children. These annual children’s theatre productions began as a single traveling show to Buckingham Elementary in Berlin and eventually grew to two-week performance runs for forty schools from three counties. We offered the performances free-of-charge and by the end of my tenure were performing for 9,000 to 10,000 kids and adults. With music written and directed by Rick Chapman from Ocean City Elementary School, we were bringing consistently excellent musical theatre productions based on old fairy tales and fables to kids from Worcester, Wicomico, and Somerset counties. On occasion, Accomack County would join us, as well as Head Start Centers from around the Eastern Shore. Is that now all to stop?
There is no way that I can see any reasonable and informed administrative team allowing 10,000 people from a tri-county area to enter SDHS, proceed to the auditorium, and sit shoulder-to-shoulder in seats their little bodies can barely hold down to watch a  45-minute performance. It is not something for which I could even or would even advocate myself. There is no way I could ever view that as viable under the current state of crisis in which we live. And yet, that these productions can not continue makes me very sorry.
I spend way too much time now in nostalgic reflection of the good old days when my friends, colleagues, and supporters Lana Williams and Betty Lynch, both now gone, set me on the path that led to the almost inconceivable position of offering free children’s theatre to generations of children on the Delmarva Peninsula over nearly forty years. It was not something intentional – the growth of the SDHS Annual Children’s Theatre. It was something that happened. And it happened because I had the support of my principal, Gladys C. Burbage, and subsequent principals under whom I worked. It happened because I had the support of my supervisors at the Board of Education. It happened because Lana and Betty thought it was a good idea and believed in me more than I believed in myself. It happened because Rick Chapman signed on and wrote the absolute best songs. It happened because schools wanted to come and the word spread. And above all, it happened because I had talented students who were willing to give of their time, their energy, and themselves to make it happen.
I don’t want to give the impression that I live in the past. I don’t. But I do find, in regards to the children’s theatre at SDHS, it is pleasant to visit my past at SDHS. I hope when this pandemic is finally over, that the current SDHS theatre program will again  bring wonderful children’s theatre productions to the kids of the Lower Shore and that this tradition will resume in exciting new ways.