Equity for performing arts

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Pictured here is me and the largest group I am currently allowed to lead in my show choir.

As COVID-19 restrictions are loosening all over the state, there is one group that has felt incredible disparity in regards to restrictions. That group is performing arts, specifically chorus and theater classes in schools. 

One of the biggest changes in the past couple of months have been the loosened restrictions in school sports. For example, in the state of Virginia, indoor school sporting events can have up to 250 spectators at any given sporting event which does not even include the number of players. Teenagers participating in school school sports are not required to wear masks or social distance at games or at practices, and there is no limit to how many people can practice at a time. 

These regulations make sense, especially taking into consideration how many people are now getting vaccinated and how stringent self health assessments and temperature taking is in most schools. However, many students do not have these same opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. 

Let's compare these regulations with those of performing arts. According to Ralph Northam, performing arts are included with the same regulations as regular group gatherings, such as parties. This means that groups such as theater cannot have rehearsals with more than 10 people at a time indoors, or 25 outdoors. These restrictions are even more stringent for chorus classes, the reasoning being that singing spreads the COVID virus more effectively. According to updated information from the CDC however, singing does not spread the virus any more effectively than breathing heavily, shouting, or simply not wearing a mask, which are all things that the state of Virginia allows those involved in sports to do. 

To give you a glimpse into what these restrictions actually look like, I will tell you some of my experiences as a show choir dance captain. My show choir has 46 people, and we currently offer in person and virtual ways to attend our weekly dance rehearsals. (I will note many people who choose to join virtual would come in person if the current restrictions were less frustrating.) Our group is certainly too large to abide by the 10 person rule, so we have had to split our group into 4 smaller groups. When we first started in person rehearsals, we only had two dance captains, which meant we had to ask two other members of the group to step up and lead rehearsals, which undoubtedly caused a lot of stress for them and their small group. As a dance captain, I now only get to lead and coach roughly 1/5th of my choir, which is not only frustrating, but incredibly discouraging. We are also required to maintain a physical distance of 10 feet at all times, which is based on outdated guidance from the CDC, which means that the band, orchestra, and theater teacher all have to give up their rooms in order for us to be able to have big enough rooms to rehearse. (We cannot use our school's gym as they are usually having games or practices at the same time as our rehearsals.) Let me remind you that we are not even singing at these rehearsals, only dancing. We are doing far less than those who get far looser restrictions. Quite literally, I have to drive past a football stadium of 100+ maskless individuals close together in order to attend a rehearsal where I can only lead 8 non-singing members of my group at a distance of 10 feet.

Now, I want to make it clear that although it is incredibly unfair, I am not asking for no masks, no social distancing, and no COVID regulations. I am simply asking for a LITTLE leniency from what we are currently experiencing. For example, the cheer squad is able to rehearse and shout with their entire group with only 6 feet of social distance (as long as they wear masks). I cannot even describe to you how happy I would be if my group were given this same opportunity. They do the exact same thing as show choir or any sort of musical theater, and they even get to shout, which as stated before, has the same COVID spreading potential as singing with a mask. 

I am asking anyone in the state of Virginia who has experienced this inequality to sign this petition, demanding more equitable requirements for those in the performing arts. Please leave in the comments any disparities you have seen in regards to band, theater, and orchestra requirements, as I am advocating for them as well. 

-Elizabeth Wilson

Class of 2022