Mitch studying on a roof with their friend.
Mitch studying on a roof with their friend. Courtesy of Mitch
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. We're coming up on the last day of the first week back at Cornish and things are still as murky as ever.

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

Junior, Musical Theater Major
Zoom callbacks sound terrifying.
Zoom callbacks sound terrifying. Courtesy of Hannah
I spoke to Hannah as they were gearing up to head into a callback—a Zoom callback. It's their second one of the week, the first being for a musical, Theory of Relativity. Hannah described auditioning for a musical role over the computer as "singing into the void."

The part they were going up for today was for a radio play version of You on the Moors Now. Hannah is excited by the prospect of a radio play as "Zoom theater" doesn't really attract people. "Doing a show through Zoom or a prerecorded [show] feels like a back-up to a show," they said. "A radio play feels like a new type of art that we get to make that we’ve never done before."

The director of You on the Moors Now has asked actors to turn off their front-facing camera and audition based on voice alone, looking for bold vocal choices by the students. Hannah says that everyone at Cornish is always pushing students to make bold choices and with this radio play version of the show "you kind of have to."

Because so many students have either left the program or decided not to audition, it's changed some expectations around getting parts. "It’s definitely a different casting process than anybody’s used to because of how much smaller the theater department is," said Hannah. "It feels a lot more likely that you’ll be cast in a show because there aren’t very many people."

Either way, they are excited to perform and trying to stay positive about the road ahead.

Senior, Performance Production Major

When we spoke today, Rebecca had just come out of her Painting Worlds course, which she said was fun. But a series of work-from-home disturbances really threw off her concentration: the construction noises from her apartment complex, the sound of lawnmowers, the Wifi strain caused by two students trying to Zoom into their classes. Despite it all, Rebecca says she thinks she was able to absorb all the information. "I didn't space out too hard at any point," she told me.

Later today she will have a "design" meeting with her production team for You on the Moors Now. Rebecca is hoping to feel excited and inspired by the project despite not having a set to design for the show. "At the moment, I have no idea what my role is and how I can contribute," she said. "Hopefully I'll get some questions answered during this meeting."

Senior, Dance Major
Chayil shares a one-bedroom with her mom, which isnt enough space to practice dance.
Chayil shares a one-bedroom with her mom, which isn't enough space to practice dance. Courtesy of Chayil
One of the hardest parts for Chayil about Cornish is the lack of parking available to students. Chayil commutes to school from Federal Way, where she shares a one-bedroom with her mother, driving one hour through traffic to go to a truncated technique course that only lasts 50 minutes. She says the shootings that go on in her neighborhood coupled with the lack of space in her apartment make it difficult for her to practice dance. And because of the pandemic, she doesn't get as much time in the studio as she needs. They used to have dance class four to five times a day. Now it's once a week.

"It's weird that we have to pay full tuition because we lost hours in the studio," Chayil said, noting that her group only works with one instructor now as well. A lot of faculty left last year—some for better opportunities, others for retirement. A few quit because they weren't feeling inspired. "Some gave good excuses and others didn't," she laughed.

Even though she spends more time in Zoom than in the studio and still hasn't gotten a chance to see all her classmates, Chayil is trying to make the best of it. And she plans on talking to the school about parking, too.

Senior, Interior Architecture Major
Mitch has been relying on their cohort for support.
Mitch has been relying on their cohort for support. Courtesy of Mitch
"This whole week has been weird," Mitch told me over the phone this morning. It's been tough trying to navigate their senior year with so much uncertainty about the future. Mitch said that the support from their architecture peers has been vital.

"I rely on my cohort to get me through these tough times because I know if one of us is having a tough day another one of us is having a good day. We can keep each other accountable and excited about our work," said Mitch. "They’re able to see things in my work that I'm not able to see and vice versa."

The cohort has especially come in handy during this first week back while they've been sorting out some issues within their department. One of their semester-long classes this year involves a project about development in the Central District, but the students wanted to have a conversation about the role the predominantly white art institution had in gentrification. The students say this was something the instructors hadn't considered but were willing to have a discussion about.

They are planning on having a meeting about how to move forward on the project next week. Though Zoom opens up the conversation to everyone, Mitch notes that it's a conversation that takes place outside of class and doesn't leave them enough time to unpack their thinking. But the pandemic has pushed Mitch to figure out how to ask for what they want out of their projects, their schooling, and their artistic practice.

"Over the past year, I've learned that I need to have the capacity to be my only advocate," they said. "I can’t rely on the school system to support me."

Check out Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.