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'Hamlet' On Instagram Live: Getting Creative To Learn The Arts During Coronavirus

Northern Illinois University
Boutell Memorial Concert Hall

Universities across the state have canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester. But how do you learn acting, music or dance from home?

There’s no replacing the immediacy of live theatre. And there’s no replacing a live concert or recital.

But Alexander Gelman says it’s worth remembering that art’s greatest enemy can be a lack of limitations. He’s the head of Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre & Dance.

“We're just dealing with a whole new set of strictures, but we teach how to deal with strictures and how to employ them in art-making," he said. "And now we get to lead by example."

That’s forcing acting students, in the spirit of improv, to say “Yes, and” to their circumstances and adjust the performance accordingly -- even with Shakespeare.

“They reached the conclusion that the ‘To be or not to be’ is being done on Instagram Live," said Gelman. "And it is towards the end of the scene that Hamlet realizes that Ophelia has been eavesdropping by seeing her on the screen.”

Actors and musicians are performing with each other from miles apart -- with no audience present. Musicians are recording themselves or trying small Zoom ensembles.

Andrew Glendening is the director of the School of Music. He says they’re trying to work through challenges with students, instruments and locations.

“In some cases, landlords are being really good about, you know, 'Let's keep it during the business hours and talk to your neighbors.' And in other cases, we're trying to get students equipped with practice mutes," he said.

Some find themselves locked out of concert halls where they’d been working a year on competition recordings. Others don’t even have their instruments, and the school is racing to ship the equipment.

Students may have to practice the trombone outside. The school is shipping keyboards to others. But it hasn’t stopped students and faculty from making music. Just listen to NIU Jazz professor Reggie Thomas and his new coronavirus-inspired song.

Overall, Glendening says they’re proud of the innovation students and faculty have shown to make creative classes work. He says they're also thinking about younger musicians, and they’ll be working on projects helping students in the community boost their skills while they’re stuck at home.