The various tools and paints from Cornish student Rebeccas top drawer.
The various tools and paints from Cornish student Rebecca's top drawer. Courtesy of Rebecca
This week, we're following students at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts as they figure out how to go to an arts school in the middle of a pandemic. What do theater rehearsals look like? What about dance technique courses? And how can a community of artists work together if they can't quite be together? The answer is complicated and it's only Day 2.

Today we hear from Hannah, Chayil, Rebecca, and Faith:

Junior, Musical Theater Major
Where Hannah will be watching a live stream of one of her classmates getting IRL corrections in studio.
Where Hannah will be watching a live stream of one of her classmates getting IRL corrections in studio. Courtesy of Hannah
Hannah had their first dance class today—which they didn't actually dance in. Instead, class was spent discussing how to create a safer environment for the students and teacher. "My dance teacher is my first teacher that I've had a class with that has shown any sort of hesitancy to have any kind of hybrid class," they told me over the phone.

They said Cornish administration got to deem which classes could be online, hybrid, or in-person. Despite being a part of an at-risk population, Hannah's dance teacher's class was deemed "hybrid"—which gave their teacher some pause.

"Today was her leveling with us about her hesitations about coming in-person. She wants to keep us all safe," Hannah said. "So we decided, at most, there will be three people in the room during class: the teacher, a musician, and one student at a time. So every class we switch who gets live-human corrections while the rest of us watch it live through Zoom in our own spaces."

Though the school has set a limit to how many people can be in one studio—four students plus a teacher—that model must be rethought for dance courses. Hannah says it's "a different world because of how much more energy, sweat, and breath we produce that can put people at risk...We're all trying to be as patient with each other as possible, especially because that's what our teacher was comfortable with."

There are only eight or nine students in the class which makes this particular set-up ideal. Hannah said that dancers learn a lot by watching other dancers get adjusted and receive notes so the in-person experience is still invaluable. But last year around the same time, there were thirty students—many have left because they felt uncomfortable with the prospect of in-person classes.

Despite it all, Hannah says they feel "protected," calling this dance class structure a good compromise. "I don't think anything we could have come up with would be anyone's first choice," they said. "But I appreciate her compromise as much as I appreciate how much my other teachers are making sure the space is safe for us when we do come in small groups."

Senior, Dance Major
Chayil was late to technique class this morning—she was having a hard time finding parking, which she says is "nothing new." Today was the day she actually got to dance and thought the class went well. She said the dancers were split up into 11 groups so that there are four to five dancers in each one. The only difference is that twice a week, she and her group have to train in a common room, which is definitely not ideal.

"[It] means no mirror, no live musician, and an even harder time finding parking because parking is not free, even though I pay thousands of dollars to attend Cornish," she said.

She said there's a whole new dance faculty and that she already knows she's going to like his class as well as the dancers in her group. After class, she met up with a freshman for coffee, as seniors are placed with first-year students to mentor them through their first semester at Cornish. Chayil told me it went well. After, she went home and started choreographing for her BFA.

Senior, Performance Production Major
A close up of Rebeccas shelves.
A close up of Rebecca's shelves. Courtesy of Rebecca
This morning, Rebecca only had one class—Painting a World. She said she didn't really know anyone in the course, but the remote setting made her feel a lot more comfortable with that. "Usually, I would be incredibly nervous the entire morning and evening before," she said. "Today, I just prepped my morning coffee and logged on, ready to go."

This first week has also brought a lot of uncertainty to what her job in performance production would actually look like year. Usually, each student is assigned to work on a show for the semester—she was assigned to be the scenic designer for You on the Moors Now. Rebecca told me that this year would have been her first in a lead designer position after three years of working her way up. Now it's looking like that won't happen.

"Unfortunately, it seems like we will not be building any sort of set for this show—I am not even sure if I will be designing anything," she said. "Our show is transforming into a radio play with film-like visuals. I don't know how my skills will be used."

In addition to that uncertainty, one of her main classes—a three-hour-long practicum lab three days a week—is also likely not happening since there's no show to build.

"I do not know what will transpire after having design meetings and communicating with our technical directors," she said. "But hopefully I will be able to do something creative scenically for the show."

Freshman, Dance Major

Our very first freshman! Faith hails from Las Vegas and is still trying to make her way through a new city, a new school, and a new existence. After taking her very first online course this morning, Faith made her way to Kerry Hall to start her first dance class of the day. She said everyone was wearing masks and spaced out from each other. They got to practice ballet for a good 30 to 40 minutes and she even managed to talk to some of her classmates.

"That’s what I came here to do and that’s what I really wanted to do," she said.

After class, she went back to her dorms to hop on a social studies Google Meets call—with the students who were just in her in-person technique course just minutes ago. She was grateful that she was able to meet her classmates IRL before being in an online course with them. Faith said it made the experience "more personal," but she still thought the situation was strange.

"Going into the first week I kind of expected that I would meet people, talk to people, and have some sort of connection with people. Honestly it's been minimal of that," she said, reflecting on the first couple of days of her first year in college. "It’s difficult to meet people and make friends—we basically have no time to see each other at all."

Check out Day 1 here.