The arts grapple for a role in the pandemic era

Chris Sims ’21, left, in a 79-73 win over Malvern on February 3; Ryan Ngo ’21 in The Three Musketeers, November 2019 – Dr. Mike Nance; Communications – digital art by Jeffrey Yang ’22

On the north side of campus, sneakers screech in the gymnasium as the basketball team gears up for the season. Yet, on the south side, the only things screeching in Centennial Hall are the cobwebs which have slowly taken over in the absence of a live theater program. 

     In an attempt to avoid transmission of COVID, the school has cancelled the long held tradition of the annual spring musical, while the athletics (that is, most of them) press on, and try to create some semblance of a regular season. 

     Head of School Dr. John Nagl said, “The research on COVID transmission says that singing is about the worst thing you can do. Singing and Ice Hockey.” Dr. Nagl also said that he was “absolutely terrified of the new variants, really afraid we are going to lose the chance to have in person school.” 

     It seems that, to the administration, the musical is just not worth the risk. 

     However, our Head of School is not the only one wary of a theater production in the time of COVID. Performing Arts Department Chair Mr. Darren Hengst said the decision to not have a spring musical “is a decision from the Performing Arts Department. We were also told by the COVID Task Force that we can’t, but it is also a decision the Performing Arts Department is completely behind.”

     “I know it’s not safe for me, I know it’s not safe for the students, and I know it’s not safe for our teachers to do anything inside,” Mr Hengst said. 

COVID protocols affect all areas of school life, including arts and sports – Gabe Gowen ’21

     While safety is the Haverford School’s official number one goal this semester, some comparison to the athletics department’s activity could not be avoided. “I’m not happy we’re having athletics,” Mr. Hengst said. “Not at all, I think we put everything in place to keep everybody safe during the day and distanced, and they’re swimming next to each other or they are wrestling or they are playing basketball indoors which doesn’t make sense to me.”

     The real point of contention, then, is the difference in the school’s calculation of COVID safety between sports and arts. Swim Coach and History Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish said that if she knew Haverford was preparing for a Musical indoors she “wouldn’t feel any less safe than [she] already feels. I have been on the pool deck, and there is nothing that can be riskier than that so not it would not impact my decision.”

“It’s a little unfair to the musical people.”

Michael King ’21

     While the science states that singing is more dangerous than playing sports, what is the risk of one musical compared to multiple sports? Why is the risk calculator so different with sports? “Families are gonna want sports,” said Ms. Turlish. “And they are just not pushing for theater.”

A quiet Centennial Hall – Gabe Gowen ’21

     Sixth Former Mike King, an athlete and musical participant, would also feel confident coming to school with a musical in progress. “I feel like it could be done because we all go to school, and there are areas with a bunch of people inside and it’s allowed. It’s a little unfair to the musical people,” said King. 

     Our community has established our first priority as one thing above all else: safety. Mr. Hengst said, “We just gotta get through it, you know?”

Author: Gabe Gowen '21

Gabe Gowen ‘21 is a student in the journalism seminar. He participated in the English IV* program in the fall, and particularly enjoys trying to act as the voice of the common man at Haverford: something he finds often overlooked. Gowen plays on the Water Polo Team, is the Chairman of the Honor Council, and a member of the Notables.