By Cassie LaJeunesse, Campus Carrier Editor-in-Chief
For students pursuing the fine arts, the last month of spring semester is an important one. Dancers premiere the choreography they’ve worked on for months. Theatre students see the culmination of rehearsals in set building, tech week and a final production. Musicians perform their solo recitals and the ensemble concerts that they’ve worked so hard to perfect. Audiences fill halls and theaters, performers bow to standing ovations, families and friends gather to celebrate incredible accomplishments.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Berry’s senior arts majors have missed out on this opportunity to showcase and celebrate their weeks, months and years of hard work and dedication to their art. They have different perspectives on how this has affected them and where they’ll go next, but they all share one thing: a love for their art and for the community they have found through it.
For senior Morgan Smith, the past few months have been a time of change in many aspects of life. Like the dance company, the Berry College Theatre Company was preparing for a spring production when concerns about the pandemic lead to state and national closures. Smith worked in the costume shop and was supposed to be a dresser for BCTC’s production of “Tartuffe.”
“We were about halfway in the process of building the show,” Smith said. “Everything is still as it is in the theatre, there are still costumes all over the costume shop, the set is still built.”
Because all of Smith’s spring classes are theatre classes, she has had to adjust significantly to finish the semester. She said that most classes transferred easily, but a few have proved challenging. For her costuming class, Smith has to make do with the small sewing machine she has at home. She is also sharing pictures of every step of her process with Alice Bristow, associate professor of theatre, who teaches the course. Smith is also taking a directing class, which she said has had the biggest transition.
“My final project was to direct a scene with two actors in it, but that’s obviously not happening,” Smith said. “Every single week, we’ve watched a different movie and done little critiques on the directors of those movies.”
Smith has been involved in theatre since she started at Berry, and above all she is thankful for the community that she found there.
“We’re kind of like a family,” she said. “Sometimes families have their disagreements, but in the end, they’re the people that you run to whenever you’re having an issue in life, they’re the people that always have your back no matter what. I’ve literally made best friends for life through this program and I’m really thankful for that.”
Smith is trying to stay optimistic and look to the future, which is an outlook that she shares with fellow theatre student senior Hannah Avery. Avery has also been involved in almost every show since she came to Berry as a theatre minor. She switched to a theatre major because she loved the program.
“I came in under theatre scholarship and I was trying really hard not to like it because they always say that it’s really hard to get a job, but I found that’s not true,” she said.
Avery has worked several internships and jobs over the summers during her time at Berry, including a prestigious arts administration internship at Jacob’s Pillow, a renowned dance organization that hosts a summer festival each year.
Though Avery was not planning to be involved in “Tartuffe,” school closures affected her senior project, a dance play about women in the workplace. The project fulfilled a requirement for Avery’s dance minor and her long-standing desire to direct a show at Berry. Avery said that she and the cast members had a lot of fun working on it before school closed.
“I think that it meant just as much to them as it did to me,” Avery said.
Senior Amanda Tomlinson, a dance minor, has been dancing since she was two years old, so the decision to continue dance in college was an easy one for her.
“The dance minor at Berry allowed me to continue doing what I loved and what I had grown up doing, but it allowed me to do it on a scale that allowed me to continue focusing on being a student,” Tomlinson said.
Since the day she set foot on campus as a freshman, Tomlinson has been involved in every show that the Berry College Dance Troupe (now Dance Company) has put on. She has danced in multiple pieces in each show and even choreographed some pieces of her own. She also served in several leadership roles with dance in her time at Berry.
Tomlinson vividly remembers the moment she found out that her final dance concert at Berry would not be able to happen due to COVID-19.
“I read the email and walked out of my room… my parents were sitting in the living room and I just had tears streaming down my face,” Tomlinson said. “I said, ‘They cancelled it’ and just sobbed.”
This dance concert had been in the works since the first week of the semester, with everyone involved putting in long nights of choreography and rehearsal. For Tomlinson, one of the hardest parts is that some of this work will never be seen.
“Performing, for me, has always been the highlight of dance,” Tomlinson said. “To lose the opportunity to showcase these pieces that we’d been working so hard on was devastating.”
Beyond the disappointment of losing this final performance opportunity, Tomlinson feels like a huge part of her life ended too abruptly.
“This was the finale of my career as a performer and as a dancer,” she said. “Devastating is a word I keep using, but it doesn’t encompass just how sad I was. Being a dancer of 19 years, it’s been my identity. To lose my farewell to that chapter was very sad.”
However, she also appreciates the community she has found through dance. She said that she was reminded recently that dancers are not defined by the stage – it’s so much more than that. Though the arts community is facing difficulties due to COVD-19, Tomlinson says she is confident that artists will pull through.
“I know that it is a very hard time in the world of art, but I do believe in my heart that we will come back and we will come back stronger,” Tomlinson said.
Senior Kenny Morgan, a vocal performance major, agrees with Tomlinson about the resilience and importance of the arts during this difficult time.
“If I could make a request to anyone who’s gone through this crisis: remember the things that got you through this,” Morgan said. “When this is over, the world is going to be a different place, but please be sure to support the artists that helped you get through this time. Support us like we’ve supported you, and I promise you, you won’t regret it.”
Morgan did not begin his journey as a musician until he got to Berry, so he credits the music department with much of his personal and professional success.
“When I came to Berry, I was scared of my own potential, I was scared of what would happen if I took a jump into things that I loved,” Morgan said. “Because Berry believes in letting students pursue the things they want to pursue, I got a chance to do that.”
He is especially thankful to Berry’s music faculty for the support that they gave him throughout his time at Berry.
“They recognized that I didn’t know what I was doing but I loved what I was doing,” he said. “They believed in me when I didn’t believe in me. More than anything, I want to work hard and I want to do everything that I can to become the best that I can because I want to repay the faculty and the department for believing in me. I owe them everything, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here.”
Due to closures, Morgan was one of many seniors who did not get to perform his senior recital as planned. However, it was important to him to share the pieces he had been working on for two years, so he recorded his recital in a local church and shared it on YouTube.
“The first time I sang really in front of an audience was on the stage of the Ford Auditorium,” he said. “My showcase was like my love letter to Berry.”
Senior music majors Carrie Sturniolo and Bella Robbins share Morgan’s love and appreciation for Berry’s music department. Both started at Berry with the intention of majoring in science but were drawn to the community of the department and the experiences they had there. Sturniolo, a vocal performance major, said that participating in Berry Singers her freshman year led her to change her major.
“I felt like I belonged in that type of environment,” she said. “I couldn’t stay away anymore. Being in choir and being around people who loved it just totally changed my mind.”
Sturniolo deeply misses the community of the department now that she is finishing her senior year from home.
“Music is such a community-oriented field, it’s really hard to just sit in your room and sing by yourself to nobody and make plans for a recital that’s not going to happen,” she said. “I know all of us bitterly miss our faculty, being able to sit and chat in their offices. All of those memories…that we take for granted, like little moments of passing each other in the hall, are just gone, and that’s been really hard.”
Robbins shared this sentiment, saying she misses the faculty and the everyday things associated with being a music major at Berry.
“Being in the music department is so much of being in a family,” she said. “It’s sad that we went through that for the last time without knowing that it was our last time.”
According to Fine Arts Department Chair Adam Hayes, the department’s goal is to work with seniors who would still like to perform in the newly renovated Bell Recital Hall. Both Robbins and Sturniolo hope to take him up on this offer and reschedule their senior recitals for a later date.
Though Morgan, Sturniolo and Robbins agree that finishing a music degree online is not ideal, they are thankful for the support that the faculty has given them. No matter what happens with their classes and recitals, they all agree that they were changed by their participation in music at Berry.
“Every time I looked at the Ford buildings, I felt like I was home,” Robbins said. “I don’t think that I could’ve been more loved and had a better environment to learn than in the music department.”