Going Off Book

How COVID-19 has affected the fine arts at Ole Miss.

By: Ellie Greenberger & Corinne Taylor

Friday, May 1, 2020 marks 56 days since students at the University of Mississippi have taken classes in person.

For students in all areas of education, but especially for those in the fine arts, adjusting to at-home-study has many different implications.

Seniors, whose last semesters often include working on final projects, campaigns and theses, had to modify their last semester in order to safely continue to progress to get their degree.

“Since many senior showcases and auditions have been cancelled,” Virginia Brown, a senior majoring in theatre arts, said, “national platforms like Playbill and BroadwayWorld have invited theatre college students to submit videos of their songs or monologues to be appreciated and maybe considered for a career in the future.”

Many programs such as the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College have changed thesis defenses to occur over zoom. For theatre and art programs at the University of Mississippi that rely on interaction and visuals heavily, students find themselves having to adapt. The art department has posted some senior theses on flickr.com.

“My only performance theatre class this semester is my Musical Theatre studio class, where we have a weekly voice meeting and meet on Fridays to sing for the class,” Brown said. “It has definitely been affected because I’m having to do my voice classes and Friday class via Zoom, so instead of singing to live accompaniment, we sing to a track. Which works great, but I miss being able to work on certain things during my individual voice lessons.”

Brown also spoke about her concerns regarding future opportunities as many internships and summer jobs have been cancelled.

BFA in graphic design student Ashley Biggs is yet another example of a student whose last months of college were drastically changed.

Students in the Ole Miss Art Department apply to the BFA program during their junior year. Once they are accepted, the rest of their time in school is dedicated to honing their craft and preparing a thesis show to be presented and defended to faculty members of the art department.

These thesis shows have catapulted students into full-time careers and brands so there is a lot of opportunity that comes with the pressure and the work put in.

Biggs was originally set to have her show from April 6 – 10, back before COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans.

Biggs, like all graduating BFA students, was hit with the news that her thesis show would not be shown in person. Biggs said it was hard because the shows are so different for each artist, so her and her fellow classmates couldn’t work together to find solutions that fit their project.

Luckily the faculty in the art department took the time to work with every BFA student to make sure their work could be shown and defended in the best way possible with the cards dealt.

Biggs said she has really leaned on her mentors and teachers during this unprecedented time, and she credits the ultimate success in her online show to the support she has received. She said it is a bittersweet feeling for her to see her hard work come to fruition even though it’s not in the way she originally intended.

 While seniors struggle with a conclusion to their college careers that they didn’t expect, the pandemic has also affected all students. For all art students, the logistics of schooling in the future are still up in the air.

“The way the BFA major works is that you’re working on your thesis for the entire year plus from when you are accepted into the program,” Maggie Bollinger, a junior BFA graphic design student said. “To plan an art show, it is important to know if you’re planning a live, interactive show or one that will be utilized only online because those are two very different things.”

Not only will the way students show their art probably change, professional art shows are likely to be altered as well.

“It kind of makes you think about the future for career stuff and whatnot,” Bollinger said. “Not only am I planning for a possibly new type of thesis but also now thinking beyond college and what it will look like to have a career in the art and design industries.”

For theatre majors, many students gain experience from being a part of different shows.

“I think the most difficult aspect of this was two of our shows being canceled,” Catherine Long, a junior pursuing a BFA Acting for Stage and Screen said.

“The Nether” was scheduled for March 27 – 29, March 31 and April 4 – 5. “A New Brain” was scheduled for April 17 – 19. According to Long, there is talk of doing “A New Brain” in the Spring of 2021, but nothing has officially been announced.

“The first show, “The Nether”, directed by Dr. Justice-Malloy, has been in the works for quite some time,” Long said. “Dr. Malloy has been trying to do this show for almost four years now, just for it to get canceled.”

While the day to day experiences that the virus has altered are important, it is imperative to remember that these decisions to conduct school online are made with people’s health in mind.

According to a message from Provost Wilkin, Dr. Justice-Malloy’s husband, also a faculty member at the university, passed away from COVID-19. She too has tested positive.

Long went on to explain the issues with online learning in theater classes.

“I think the main difference is that so much of our work got cut out of the class,” Long said. “For example, group scenes or numbers.”

While COVID-19 has affected every person on an individual level, people wonder about how it will affect the future on a larger scale. Broadway is still closed though they have been sharing performances online.

“Rumors have been floating around that theatres will only be allowed to fill up half the house which will then make tickets even more expensive than before,” Long said. “However, I know our student run theatre, Ghostlight Repertory, has talked about some of our shows becoming free to audiences because of the lack of art around them at this time, but only time can tell.”

To view all of the graduating BFA students’ thesis shows visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/umartdept/collections/72157714011799566/

Ashley Biggs beaming in front of Meek Hall (home of the Ole Miss Art Department). Photo courtesy of GRID Ole Miss via Instagram.
Maggie Bollinger moments after being accepted into the BFA program. Photo courtesy of Maggie Bollinger.

Ole Miss Theatre and Film list of shows for the 2019-2020 season. Courtesy of Ole Miss Theatre and Film via Facebook. 

Virginia Brown (Ginnie) played Meg in Ole Miss’s production of Little Women this past fall. She is joined in the photo with Lydia Meyers, Gabriela Sofia, Elizabeth Burrow and Cali Michell.  Photo courtesy of Ginnie Brown via Facebook. 

Catherine Long in Boeing Boeing with Jacob Heuer. Photo by Yi-Tai Chung via Facebook.

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