Arts & Entertainment

‘It Really Was Like Saying Goodbye to Family’: Loyola Performing Arts Students On Their Senior Year Cut Short

Courtesy of Emma PetersenLoyola senior Shannon Shaninian performs in Palm Court in Mundelein.

Theater students had prepared all semester to perform “Scenes from the Odyssey” until the show was abruptly postponed just a week before its intended March 27 debut. Rather than wallow, the cast decided to make the most of their last days on campus.

The same day students found out of the university’s decision to transition to online classes amid the coronavirus pandemic, the cast reworked their routine rehearsal into an “emergency performance” and invited the entire Department of Fine and Performing Arts (DFPA), as well as family and friends, to attend.

Senior theater major Madisyn Fairchild, who also works for Loyola’s DFPA’s marketing team, said she was upset the performance was delayed but amazed at this last-minute show of support as the auditorium filled with bustling viewers.

“It was one of the most supportive and exciting experiences of my life … whenever any of us walked out on stage there was just a roar of cheering,” 22-year-old Fairchild said. “It was really cathartic for both the cast and the audience, I think. It was something we all needed after that long day.”

Earlier this month, students all across the globe got notice they’d be finishing their academic year remotely due to the spread of COVID-19. The entire department had to cut performances and end-of-year plans. 

Senior theater major Madisyn Fairchild performs. Courtesy of Emma Petersen

Vocal performance major Sam Mason was disappointed to miss out on his senior recital as his family had planned to come up to watch. He said he’ll miss the “one-on-one direction” and relationships he formed as a student and a student employee in the DFPA.

With that aspect lost, dance major Shannon Shahinian said her focus has been maintaining her relationships with fellow dance majors. Without access to a studio or stage, dance classes have transitioned to Zoom, an online video-conferencing site, to keep learning intact.

“It’s definitely not the same,” 22-year-old Shahinian said. “Other majors have strong community and strong cohorts but they don’t spend seven days a week, three-plus hours together, which is what the dance major is.”

Theater student Jordan McDonnell said her theater classes have remained more tight-knit in the aftermath than some of her core education classes. They even decided to hold a “happy hour Zoom meeting” after hearing that the department staff had hosted a similar event, according to McDonnell.

“We work so closely with each other, not only in classes but in rehearsals,” McDonnell said. “It wasn’t like saying goodbye to classmates — it really was like saying goodbye to family.”

Loyola senior Jordan McDonnell performs. Courtesy of Jordan McDonnell

While students may not be in the same physical presence, their bond has remained. Shahinian has found her peers rallying around each other since the transition online.

“It has strengthened the way we support each other,” Shahinian said. “But I think we are all really missing that physical connection that we usually have.”

Online classes not only come with a loss in communication with peers, but with professors too. Jazz major Finn Erickson, who uses they/them pronouns, had developed mentor-like relationships with combos and composition professor Matt Ulery and guitar instructor Kyle Asche.

“I was in tears,” 21-year-old Erickson said. “I was cherishing those last days [with the professors].”

Despite the cancelation of end-of-year performances, Mason lauded the choir’s professionalism in rolling with the punches. The group plans to have each member record their individual vocals, which will be edited to create one big final performance.

“I think that it’s gonna be something that we can be proud of, instead of just letting [ourselves] get kicked,” 26-year-old Mason said. “I think that this will be a nice flag in the ground and something to look at fondly later as a pretty major success.”

With some of their friends, Erickson intends to host a mini-concert in their house with some other DFPA seniors once the pandemic slows down. They said it’ll help them to find some solace for the moments lost.

“I still want some symbol of accomplishment,” Erickson said. “Finding the little things and just finding creative ways to have fun and just play music is the goal.”

McDonnell shared what she got out of her time at the DFPA and what she hopes future students will do.

“Our work is so special because it is so reliant on human connection [so] not taking that for granted and really relishing the time that we have with each other … makes everything so special,” McDonnell said.

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