Shows resume live, in person

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The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has made plans for live theater and music performances on its campuses beginning this fall and into next year.

Following more than 18 months of physical distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with just a few online presentations held during that time, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has announced a full slew of live, in-person performances from their collective dance, music and theater departments.

Upcoming Grossmont College shows include Grossmont Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Grossmont Symphony Orchestra concerts, as well as the dance department’s fall Breaking Boundaries show and the Stagehouse Theatre production of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.

For its part, Cuyamaca College launched a full season at their Samuel M. Ciccati Performing Arts Center— next up is their Rock, Pop and Soul ensemble with their Nov. 11 presentation of U2’s The Joshua Tree.

Grossmont College Interim Dean of Arts, Languages and Communications at Grossmont College Joel Castellaw said the quad nearest music, dance and visuals arts is typically a lively place with students rehearsing outside and the sound of music coming out of dance studios and after seeing that interaction all but disappear with a shift to online courses, watching the return to life has been exciting.

“When I see students with a spring in their step, they’re so engaged with each other and so happy to be there— it helps the campus to feel alive.

It was disheartening, he said, for arts students to shift to online instruction in the early days of the pandemic.

“It was so sudden and crushing, dance students were looking forward to giving concerts; the theater production department did one distanced, audience performance and students really struggled. Students in the arts community are used to collaboration and they thrive on that. We did our best,” Castellaw said.

There were some especially challenging situations, he said, such as attempting to stitch together a music performance on Zoom where sound is not entirely synchronized and “the number of hours in editing for an eight minute performance” was unbelievable.

Another challenge: building sets for a virtual play.

“Our theater tech normally builds physical sets and he had to build virtual sets instead. He did some amazing work with different sets of software programs to build virtual sets in order to give each actor their own distinctive look, to make it more possible for each to look more engaging than just a bunch of actors in boxes and he succeeded. He put in a lot of hours to make it all happen,” Castellaw said.

Having young actors perform against a green screen was another challenge, he said, especially when they didn’t know what the sets would look like and had no other actors to play off of, nobody to feed off.

“Dance was another challenge. The department ended up filming dance concerts last year, largely outdoors for safety reasons. Even with the outdoor protocols, they still had to maintain distance so the choreographers really had to think through how to have ensemble dance pieces without having people come close to each other. That close interplay is so much of the storytelling in dance. To a significant degree, the choreographers decided ‘okay, this is going to become a thematic element’ and explored isolation,” Castellaw said.

While the world battled a pandemic, an ongoing conversation about equity and diversity was also taking place, one which Castellaw said the “theater department in particular” joined in. The department has since made a concerted effort “to recruit artists of color, have female artisans of color directing shows for fall” and have deliberately chosen plays with more opportunities for artists of color who are center to performances which he said is evident in their season choices.

“Arts are so important to the larger community, a space for members of the community to come together that has its origins in ritual and celebration, to have these stimulating experiences with each other, whatever conversation is stimulated into their lives,” Castellaw said.

To that end, so many people turned up for the first Grossmont Symphony concert that some patrons were turned away when the space reached capacity but “nobody made a fuss or anything like that” Castellaw said, despite being disappointed. It was like people know ‘we’re back’ he said, live.

“We’re just delighted to have live performances back on campus. I think it’s a great opportunity for our patrons in East County to come back together,” Castellaw said.

The Grossmont Symphony Orchestra has an extra measure of excitement in its season as it performs for the first season at the newly built Performing and Visual Arts Center on campus. The new facility’s 390-seat venue, complete with an orchestra pit and balcony was funded as far back as 2012, broke ground in 2017 and is finally open for performances. The new building is also home for the Hyde Art Gallery.

Grossmont Music Director Randall Tweed said he is looking forward to the final completion of the PVAC with an anticipated spring arrival of concert acoustical shells, which will improve sound clarity for performers and audiences by projecting concert acoustics.

“Each shell is about six feet wide and 24 feet tall and they are placed to create an arc behind the musicians,” Tweed said.

“By fall of next year, we will be a beacon for East County arts,” he said, with plans in place to make San Diego Ballet Nutcracker performances in partnership with the symphony orchestra a new annual winter tradition to begin in 2022.

The Grossmont Symphony concert season for the rest of the year includes performances on Oct. 28, Dec. 2, and Dec. 10. Currently, event patrons are required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of performances, mask and remain physically distanced.

“Being able to be back in person is really a privilege,” Castellaw said.

Shows resume live, in person