Story by Blake Blackmon
Images by DB Woolbright
There is so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and what the future looks like for local businesses and arts organizations that were essentially put on halt. Restaurants closed, people began working and teaching from home and the arts have had to find new ways to adapt. When it comes to the arts, theaters have no choice but to ease back in at a slower pace than most organizations. The Springer Opera House has been a Columbus staple, teaching “life skills through stage skills” since 1996.
Due to the uncertainties presented by the virus, the Springer has had to make the difficult decision to cancel its annual Summer Academy that sees over 700 students over the course of one summer. In the wake of such a crisis, and with so much uncertainty of the future, the Springer persists finding new and unique ways to connect and serve students. For the first time ever the Springer will be launching digital classes that can be streamed from the comfort of home. I had the opportunity to speak with Associate Director of Education, DB Woolbright, to learn about these classes and how the Springer is adapting.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What has it been like to work for a theater during this crisis?
Theaters rely on people gathering in large quantities, as well as our Academy classes. There’s something special about live theatre, which is why it's been around for many years, and due to this crisis it’s something that is unable to happen traditionally. This time where the safest thing for us is to not gather in large groups has in many ways put what we do in theater on pause. It has completely flipped our whole business on its head and that’s the case with any arts organization right now.
Why did the Springer choose to close the Academy this summer?
At the Springer Academy we teach “life skills through stage skills.” We want our students to not only leave with more knowledge about theatre, but leave as better humans. Our top priority when doing that is of course our students’ safety. It’s hard to guarantee the safety of our students and teaching staff at this time so we feel it’s best to cancel completely.
The Academy is a treasured summer staple for so many people, what have reactions been like to it being canceled?
Our families’ general reaction has been overwhelmingly understanding. Summer Academy is a big part of so many families’ lives here in Columbus and has been for the past 24 years. It is certainly upsetting, but our families have definitely been understanding in all of this.
How is the Springer adapting to Academy being canceled?
This past month we’ve been working on a series of online classes that we’re going to release starting today. There’s been a natural shift for many businesses moving products and classes online, and this seems like a timely movement for us as well.
Tell me about these classes.
Our classes are for a variety of ages. They are taught by veteran Academy teachers that our students trust and love and are all incredible teaching artists in their own right. The classes are designed to allow students to work through at their own pace. Because they’re online classes, students have the ability to pause or rewind. Each episode is relatively short, ranging between 7 to 20 minutes per lesson, and there are about 7 to 10 lessons per class. It’s a lot of content that is very interactive; students are up and moving even while they’re watching sometimes. Many classes involve students creating something after the video, some sort of creative homework, and every class has a unique warm-up as well.
What kinds of classes can we expect?
Well, we’re releasing one today called “Monster Madness” taught by Megan Cascone. It’s geared towards our younger students. The class is all about creative play and imagination. Megan did a really great job of “tricking” our students into learning about the different parts of theater: design, the body, the voice, and the imagination, all through the world of monsters.
Currently, we have two other classes. One is a “Musical Theater” class taught by Austin Sargent and Jen Weisphal which teaches a specific song and choreography. Austin has done an awesome job teaching the vocal side of the song, and it’s taught at a piano just like a vocal coach would normally teach it. Jen has done a wonderful job teaching the movement side of the class which is based on a dance practitioner named Bob Fosse so all the movements are super iconic. It’s a class that a student of any age, even adults, could take and find really useful.
We also have a class called “What’s Your Story” taught by a master storyteller, Beth Reeves. This class is geared for our “middles” age which is 3rd and 4th grade, but I could see students of all ages finding something useful in the class. It talks about what it takes to be a storyteller and how you can change your body, voice, and imagination to become a more effective storyteller.
Do you think digital classes will become a new staple in the Springer’s future?
It’s hard to say. I think like any good business that adapts and changes by listening to their audience, we’re going to see if our students enjoy these types of class and if so we’ll continue to make them.
The nice thing about creating online content is that you have the ability to reach people that couldn’t normally attend a class here in Columbus, Georgia. I’m encouraged to think that people could purchase this class for their grandchild or a young person in their life that doesn’t live here in Georgia but maybe lives on the other side of the country or even on the other side of the world. It really expands our market outside of just locally here in Columbus.
How is the Springer fostering a sense of community during this necessary time of separation?
The Springer was really quick to act and provide something of value to our community. Early on, Sandy Dawson, our costumer, and Elizabeth Verslues, with the help of volunteers created over 1700 face masks that were donated to local health care organizations. With the Academy, we’ve tried to keep in contact with our students and we are currently developing ways in which we can connect to our students over the summer along with these online classes.
How can we support the Springer at this time?
We’re a nonprofit organization so any donation to the Springer is tax-deductible. Donations can be made on our website. You can also support the Springer simply by sharing our posts on social media. Even if you’re not interested in purchasing our classes, just sharing a post about our classes extends our reach by so much.
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