With COVID-19 changing all aspects of society, people have been forced to find new ways to entertain themselves. In the past few weeks, closures have affected stores and restaurants, as well as musical and theatrical venues. However, this has not impeded the ability to remain culturally connected because those effected have not stopped doing what they love. Opportunities exist to learn a language, visit a museum virtually and watch livestreamed musical and theater performances. Yes, the government has ordered people to practice social distancing and isolation, but it is possible to stay connected, entertained and cultured.
Many industries have answered the call with food donations and using their time and supplies to aid efforts, like Jo-Ann Fabric using its stores to sew respirator masks for medical personnel. While event venues are unable to help in these ways, they are contributing to easing the existential angst that many people find themselves.
NAU Department of Theatre Chair Kathleen McGeever said the theater community is trying to find positivity during the pandemic.
“As artists, we are trying to find opportunities to continue making art because art is needed now more than ever," McGeever said. "I think you can see it all over the world.”
Videos of people in Italy quarantined in their homes, singing and playing musical instruments from their balconies fill internet forums. These videos are touching because they get to the root of what it means to be human: community collaboration through the arts.
Many artists have announced moving their upcoming concerts to a livestream platform. Music websites like Billboard help track these opportunities by hosting a dedicated, up-to-date page of announcements. Queen guitarist Brian May felt the need to help and delivered a priceless guitar lesson about how to play the guitar solo of "Bohemian Rhapsody" in an Instagram post.
Listening to music can soothe the soul, but musicians take it a step further and note there is nothing like learning to play music. To that end, the company Fender is also offering a three month free trial of lessons for guitar and ukulele.
Learning a language can also be a fun and challenging way to burn extra time. Jessica Wood, a lecturer for the Department of Global Languages and Cultures at NAU, has been teaching German for almost 20 years. Wood discussed the developments and challenges facing language learners.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, we're working to provide many of the Global Engagement and Language Learning Center’s resources online as a response to the need for social distancing and off-campus access,” Wood said. “Anyone can learn a language, but it does require patience and motivation. So, find a reason to learn the language that you're passionate about, such as wanting to communicate with a loved one in their native tongue, read amazing texts in the original language … then the hard work is infinitely easier.”
Another free service is Duolingo, which launched in 2011. Duolingo has become a world-wide tool for learning a language. Available as a phone app as well as online, Duolingo offers lessons, interactive story-telling, quizzes and many other fun activities to learn languages. Other virtual language learning tools to compliment Duolingo include Memrise, podcasts and YouTube videos.
“Quizlet is also a good tool. In terms of finding native speakers to practice with, many students have had good experiences with HelloTalk and Linguar,” Wood said.
The online and remote landscape for learning a language is ever-changing, but academics in the field can keep the best tool on the forefront.
Many notable museums have also risen to the remote challenge and are striving for the most interactive experience given the circumstances. With the help of technology, it is possible to walk the gardens of Versailles, browse the collection of the British Museum in London, and pop right back over to Paris to walk through the sculpture hallway and Van Gogh’s wing in the Musée d’Orsay. Claude Monet painted his water lilies series on panels as large as a house wall. To provide this experience at home, the Google Arts & Culture project has launched Show Me the Monet through Art Projector with step-by-step instructions to install this app and cast the water lilies series on empty walls in one’s own home.
McGeever is more than aware of virtual developments and spoke to the challenges this presents for the artistic community.
“The biggest drawback is the human connection with the audience is essential," McGeever said. "Theater is communal. We must find ways to make the tools do that, and then we invite everyone to return to the actual live space where theater is created to experience the story and connect with humanity as a shared experience.”
Theaters are also adapting, with the Met Opera offering a nightly, free-to-stream opera. Listen and watch classics like Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”
The Schaubühne, a renowned theatre in Berlin, is streaming a play each evening. Broadway is also offering a free seven-day trial on their streaming service BroadwayHD to view their musicals, plays and ballets.
The Show Must Go Online is an online theater group created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which performs Shakespeare readings. They recently uploaded “The Two Gentlemen Of Verona” to YouTube and plan on uploading “The Taming Of The Shrew" next.
“We are working in a virtual rehearsal hall. We are being creative problem solvers, which theater teaches at its core,” McGreever said. “Theater creates empathy in humanity, and we need the connection to make that happen. It is evolving for sure but exciting. The NAU Department of Theatre will be trying this. Stay tuned.”
COVID-19 is not something to take lightly. Similarly, the strong advisories from the government and health organizations to maintain social distance and self-isolation should not be taken lightly. Thankfully, many intelligent and talented individuals are working diligently to provide people with digital enrichment. Their strength, positivity and lightness are needed now more than ever.