How Delaware Arts Organizations Have Adapted to the New Normal

Courtesy of Music School of Delaware and Choir School of Delaware

From virtual rehearsals to socially distanced concerts, Delaware arts organizations aren’t letting the curtain close.

Kristina Kambalov thought the First State Ballet Theatre emergency fund might be used to salvage a snowed-out Nutcracker performance. She never considered it would be needed to cover earnings lost due to a pandemic.

“We had no idea something like this would happen,” says Kambalov, executive director of the Wilmington-based ballet theater.

The ballet was preparing for its opening of Romeo & Juliet when the coronavirus shut down life as Delawareans knew it. Like many of the state’s arts organizations, First State Ballet found a way to continue celebrating its art form with virtual rehearsals. Students received summer intensives via Zoom, says dance school director Joan Beatson.

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Courtesy of Music School of Delaware and Choir School of Delaware

While company dancers couldn’t perform through the end of the season, their contracts were paid out and they still receive classes through Zoom with artistic director Pasha Kambalov. Beatson says while the classes are unconventional, they forced the dancers to become creative with at-home studio setups and helped teach the younger students space management and focus.

At the Choir School of Delaware, Arreon A. Harley-Emerson, director of music and operations, saw day-to-day life change swiftly in early March. With student input, the school quickly transitioned to a virtual setup that included online choir rehearsals.

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He says while a virtual platform for singing had its challenges at first, the school corrected technical hiccups and even moved forward with a gala concert in June, which attracted a livestream audience equal to what they would have had in person.

With singing being deemed a “superspreader” activity for COVID-19, Harley-Emerson says the school is working on how everyone could return to singing in person. As for performances, the school has launched its fall season, and Harley-Emerson will be addressing learning loss as students sing the works of Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, among others.

Courtesy of Music School of Delaware and Choir School of Delaware

The Music School of Delaware also pivoted to virtual learning and performances, even offering the opportunity for new students to sign up for a six-pack of classes, says Kate Ransom, its president and CEO.

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But for some performers, this new normal still doesn’t provide all the comforts of the past. Gina Perregrino is a mezzo-soprano who regularly performs with OperaDelaware. The company began Al Fresco Arias this summer, with opera singers performing solo. While it allowed Perregrino and others to continue performing, she says it didn’t offer the same kind of practice and experimentation she enjoyed with colleagues.

While Perregrino misses the rehearsal process the most, she says the uncertainty about when she’ll be onstage again is something all artists experience, even prior to the pandemic. “We’re so used to not knowing when our next gig is,” she says.

Published as “The Show Must Go On” in the September 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.

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