Local nonprofit adapts performing arts workshops

BERRIEN COUNTY — Even amidst COVID-19 precautions and mandates, the show must go on.

Performing Arts Workshops, or PAW, adapted its summer offerings to be transitioned to an all online format. The executive directors, August Garritano and Lena Miles-LoRusso, and their team have made the best of the limitations the novel coronavirus has changed the landscape of performing arts since March. The limitations have not stopped them from producing a musical with students and hosting workshops.

“When we decided to go virtual, we looked at how our programs would work best in the format,” Miles-LoRusso said. “We didn’t necessarily try to recreate them exactly. We tried to create something more authentic to the platform.”

Last week, PAW hosted its PAW Jr. and PAW Sr. exploratory workshops online. According to Miles-LoRusso, these workshops included emotional connections and more focus on solo projects, like the students’ individual monologues, singing and dance solos.

Those workshops built into the next challenge, a musical performance on Zoom. Zoom is a video chatting platform being used by many educators and professionals during social distancing precautions and mandates. Getting students from the third to sixth grade for PAW Jr., and students from seventh grade to 12th grade for PAW Sr. workshops acquainted with the software was important because of the performances some of the students would go on to be involved in: the “Zoomsical.”

The musical, “The Big One-Oh,” will be performed on the Zoom platform, debuting July 24. More information for viewing will be posted to PAW’s Facebook page.

Associate director Danny Ferenczi is working this week on the production with students.

“Putting on a Zoom musical definitely has its technical challenges,” Ferenczi said. “What is really interesting, in a way, we’ve had to adapt with Zoom for the musical, is that we are rehearsing all week, Monday through Thursday, and then on Friday we are recording some of the scenes to be edited together into the final production.”

Students will be submitting their recorded productions, so the musical can be assembled into its final form.

The students are working with the audio and stop video functions in the program to assist with ensuring characters are entering and exiting “scenes” smoothly.

“When we first realized we would have to go virtual for the summer, Musical Theatre International published this show [“The Big One-Oh”] on their website and sent organizations a lot of information about it,” Ferenczi said. “The musical itself was created to be on Zoom and be performed over a video call, which has been really great.”

The Zoom musical option helped to show the other members of PAW more options for virtual opportunities.

“We definitely considered canceling our workshops for the summer,” Miles-LoRusso said. “After getting a glimpse into what we could do virtually, a lot of our staff were teaching virtually in one form or another. We spent a lot of time figuring out how we could adapt our workshops so that we could still give our students something in a way. That was safe.”

Another instructor within PAW has been posting early childhood music lesson videos on PAW’s website. The first series, PAW Prints, was created for infants and toddlers from zero to three years old. The next series, PAW Cubs, will be for the next age group up in pre-kindergarten to second grade.

“I had a blast filming the PAW Prints videos and planning Cubs Virtual lessons for this season,” said Carly Tyran, associate director and director of the Prints and Cubs program at PAW. “It allows for young learners to be creative in the convenience and safety of their own homes.”

The videos include music, movement and art activities important for development.

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