Alumni explain challenges and blessings of being an artist during the pandemic
This July, five BYU alumni — Kristian Huff, Jeanelle Huff, Spencer Hunsicker, Courtney Moreland and Jordan Nichols — performed in a production of "Twelfth Night" at the Creekside Theatre Fest.
"It was great to perform with BYU alumni and to make new friends from other universities, too," said Moreland, a BYU acting alumna. "It was also neat to see how much of a community of theatre there is in Utah Valley beyond just students."
Due to COVID-19, the rehearsal and performing conditions were atypical. Not only did cast members have to wear masks during rehearsals, but they also limited their social interactions outside of rehearsals.
"The responsibility is a lot greater on actors right now because if someone gets sick, it would let the whole show down," said BYU acting alumna Jeanelle Huff, who performed in the show with her husband. "We had to be really selfless and make the show our first priority. We said no to a lot of fun activities we could have done during that time."
The company set several other precautions for the show: for example, there were no concessions, they set up seating in painted-out spaces, masks were strongly recommended, and there was a separate entrance for the elderly and those at high risk. These precautions were a priority to the company, although they did present new challenges to the cast.
"Because we were all wearing masks, connecting with the other actors was difficult. We couldn't take facial expression cues until we were performing," said BYU music dance theatre alum Kristian Huff. "It was also a challenge to find the right vision the director wanted without being able to use half of your face."
Despite the setbacks, the professional atmosphere at BYU prepared these actors for unique challenges in any professional setting.
"We knew how to be adaptable and adjust when problems happen in a show," said Kristian Huff. "At BYU, we learned how to roll with challenges that can arise during a show. COVID-19 is just a blown-up example of smaller principles we have been taught our entire college experiences at BYU. "
Since there haven't been opportunities for live theatre lately, the chance to perform "Twelfth Night" was unique. Many artists have had to be creative in finding other work opportunities.
"A couple of BYU alumni started writing plays together and reviewing each other's plays," said Moreland. "There are some brilliant ways to keep the creative juices flowing and keep skills sharp even in a time with fewer opportunities."
With the impacts of COVID-19 damaging the artistic community, the Huffs believe it is important for people to support the arts and for artists to keep creating — especially when art is what people turn to for entertainment while social distancing.
"Right now, giving up on creating art would defeat our calling and purpose as artists," said Jeanelle Huff. "We can still create art while also doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Artists have been proving that. The job of the artist is to connect hearts and minds, and to teach and change. That's needed now more than ever."