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‘The band played on’: How Performing Arts societies are shifting online

With no in-person events taking place until further notice, many of the uni’s performance-based societies have adopted new methods of engaging with their members.

For lovers of the performing arts at USyd, there’s been a lot of cause for despair over the last month. With 2020’s identity and faculty revue seasons cancelled, as well as all gatherings, events and performances, students have been robbed of much of the fulfilling cultural engagement and enrichment that is usually on offer throughout the university year. But, despite the performance aspect of these societies having seen a drastic change, many of them are continuing to provide their members with online events, classes and activities.

A cappella Society (BarberSoc):
BarberSoc are currently hosting social events every Monday through to Thursday nights at 8pm. These have included a movie night, a scavenger hunt, a talent show and trivia. While the current focus of the society seems to be, quite understandably, aimed at maintaining its social life, musical projects are starting to be implemented as well, such as feedback sessions for arrangements and collaborative songwriting through notation programs and Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). 

Chinese Dance and Musical Instrument Society:
The Chinese Dance and Musical Instrument Society have been in the process of shifting their multiple weekly classes to an online setting. This has predominantly been for members who want to continue learning choreography that was taught in the first few weeks of semester.

DJ Society:
The shutdown’s effect on the DJ Society is particularly unfortunate, given the fact it had recently been rebooted after a year of inactivity, and its new exec was aiming to provide more gig opportunities for its membership and reinvigorate the campus’ nightlife over the coming year. The society’s Facebook group is, however, still being used to maintain engagement, and several members have been using the space to share mixes and original compositions.

Dramatic Society (SUDS):
The activities hosted by SUDS over Zoom throughout the next few month include group script readings, movie nights, and the well-loved variety shows dubbed ‘Rough Cuts’. The society has set up Facebook groups for writing tasks and feedback and assistance with auditioning. They have also initiated a callout for works to be placed in an art gallery which will be displayed in the Cellar Theatre when possible. The society is set to move ahead with shows later this year, should circumstances allow it, including those that were in development before the shutdown, such as Nick Payne’s Constellations, Keith Robinson and Tony Taylor’s Popular Mechanicals, and SUDS’ major production for 2020, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is eyeing performance dates at the end of the year.

Jamming Society (Unijam)
When the namesake of this society became no longer viable, Unijam’s first move was to set up a Discord server where members could socialise and listen to music together. Earlier this month, the society’s page polled its followers on idea of creating a cover of Maroon 5’s ‘Sunday Morning’ by “mashing together” clips of members singing/playing the song. I will commend Unijam for choosing ‘Sunday Morning’ over one of Maroon 5’s more excruciating songs. 

Jazz Society (JazzSoc)
With the majority of its usual in-person events consisting of rehearsals, performances and jam sessions in an ensemble setting, JazzSoc are one of the societies for which the task of moving online has been especially difficult. Rough plans have been made to hold Zoom sessions to stream music or to teach improvisational skills to less experienced players, but this has yet to be confirmed. 

Marching Band Association (SUMBA)
SUMBA’s current predicament has been similar to the Jazz Society, given the cancellation of rehearsals and gigs for the remainder of the semester. Added onto this is the fact that the storage facility in the Holme Building where much of the society’s equipment (such as percussion and sheet music) is being kept, is, as President April Guest stated, inaccessible until the “USU is open for business like normal” (#GiveSUMBATheirDrums). Weekly Zoom sessions are currently being held for socialising between members.

Movement and Dance Society (MADSOC)
Like the Chinese Dance and Musical Instrument Society, MADSOC were quick to begin holding their regular weekly classes online. Short dance phrases have been taught over Zoom by the classes’ usual teachers, or posted through the newly-created MADSOC Classes Facebook group as pre-recorded tutorial videos. Despite the ongoing uncertainty regarding the viability of public gatherings at any point for much of the remaining year, the society’s Annual Major Production is slated to go ahead at the end of September – a time frame which had been set since the beginning of the year. Rehearsals have, obviously, been moved online, and are taking place both through Zoom and with the use of pre-recorded videos. 

Musical Society (SUMS)
SUMS has ensured not to limit the outreach of their current initiatives, as they plan to hold a composition competition which will be open to all university students. This is in addition to the society’s plans for their membership, which include distributing practice tracks for members to rehearse with at home.  

Musical Theatre Ensemble (MUSE)
MUSE are currently in the organising stage in terms of much of its online content, but have been proactive in organising watch parties (with one in conjunction with SUDS put on last weekend).They have also promised  panel discussions in the coming months. Their major production for 2020, Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was set to be performed this month, has been postponed, and the society are currently attempting to secure the Seymour Centre to perform the show in later in the year. 

Piano Society
Piano Society has shown some creative adaptation to the current circumstances, holding their usual fortnightly ‘jams’ in video format, with individual parts of a song being recorded by different members. Other activities have included a virtual concert over Zoom and a skribbl.io tournament. The society is also hoping to live stream a formal concert from the Conservatorium of Music later this month, where performers “walk in to play their piece, and then walk out, with the piano being sanitised between performances.” President Daniel O’Dea stated Piano Society “would happily take suggestions” as to what events and activities the readers of this article want to see take place. I, for one, would like to see some piano sanitising tutorials. 

Symphony Orchestra (SUSO) With their first two concerts of the year cancelled, SUSO is currently looking towards using the extra time to plan and prepare for their concert in September. A current goal for the society, which ties into the concert’s theme, is to “raise awareness for issues confronting ocean life.” A camp is also being tentatively planned for the end of the break between semesters.

Social Dance Society (SDS) SDS kicked off the quarantine period with tutorial videos outlining some basic dance moves, but have since made the jump to live Zoom sessions. These have been titled ‘Sip & Salsa’, and include a dance tutorial led by an instructor followed by a “dinner/drink social sesh”. 

Soulxpress Soulxpress are currently hosting multiple weekly dance classes covering a range of styles, including Waacking and breaking. 

Wind Orchestra (SUWO) SUWO are currently looking to combine the two concerts that they were supposed to hold in 2020 into one larger concert at the end of the year, with their annual band camp hopefully taking place later this year as well. In the meantime, the orchestra is in the process of distributing practice parts for its players online, and hope to have section leaders provide help by videoing themselves playing difficult sections of pieces and giving advice on how to play them. They’ve also expressed interest in restarting their previously-held board games nights over Zoom.  

Note: Madrigal Society and Pop Music Performance Society (PopSoc), do not currently have information on their Facebook page regarding online events or activities, and did not reply to messages asking for a statement.