Section: Opinion

Kenyon needs student performances back on campus

On Sunday, March 21, the sun finally came out. Peirce lawn was full of students sipping coffee and safely enjoying each others’ company, and the next few months may feel very similar. Spending time outdoors is the safest way to see friends right now, and after a Zoomed-out semester we’ve all realized that nothing compares to being together in person. Something is missing, though: live shows and performances. 

There is hesitancy on campus, from students and administrators alike, to host these kinds of events. But if we can be outdoors, distanced and masked in a big, open-air space, what’s stopping us from putting a few people up on stage? Kenyon needs performance and music groups to share their work with the community, and everyone needs to pitch in.

Kenyon culture relies on live performances. My non-COVID semesters here were defined by hitting up a play, an a capella performance and a Horn show all in the same night. The rhythm of being a Kenyon student relies on a student body that makes its own fun. We have to; there’s nothing else here. The work is inventive, sometimes brilliantly fresh, and above all, a source of community. I think about last year’s Mamma Mia! shadowcast frequently. Nothing feels more Kenyon than New Side and Old Side students coming together for dress-up and dancing. 

The campus is opening up, and students are clearly craving connection. I’ve heard of more than a few parties, and the bar at Chilito’s every Friday and Saturday night is (apparently) an anti-masker’s delight. Flouting the rules is bad, yes, but people need to connect and be together. Performances are the perfect way to find community in a safe way: At a concert on a hazy weekend afternoon, it’s much easier to enforce social distancing than it is at an NCA at 1 a.m. 

Whether you contribute to the arts on campus or not, they are an integral part of your Kenyon experience. Kenyon defines itself by claiming a kind of “poet aesthetic” — a romantic writerliness fueled by our rural Ohio oasis. In selling itself to applicants, Kenyon identifies with Allison Janney, John Green and a long list of other successful alumni creatives. If you chose this place, you chose to join a community that’s constantly responding to the world through an artistic lens, and you feel its benefits every day you’re on campus. 

If student performances are going to come back, they need more administrative support. I am currently directing a play in the Pine Grove with performances in April, and corresponding with Noelle Jordan, the manager of the BFEC, has been an absolute joy. Her understanding of the value of the project has shaped and propelled our rehearsal process. 

It would make a world of difference if other productions received the same level of support from the College. We are all navigating a challenging period, and while administrators have done a wonderful job setting standards for events on campus, there is still a collective attitude that performances shouldn’t really be happening. We need the administration to shift their stance from mild apprehension to full-blown enthusiasm. Performance is a necessary part of Kenyon life, and safe, outdoor events are worth pursuing. 

I spoke with a downtown New York theatermaker this week. She told me that Central Park is going to be the artistic hub of the city this summer, especially as more and more of the population becomes vaccinated. She painted a picture of a utopic Woodstock of a season: free, shared art made by the community and open to all, as long as masks remain in play. This is the kind of Kenyon I hope for this semester. Bringing performances outdoors is necessary, given the reality of the pandemic, but it’s also an incredibly exciting opportunity to break down the walls that separate social groups on this campus and make students’ artistic work open to all. 

We’ve been stuck indoors, alone, for so many months — now that the sun’s out, it’s time to start sharing. 

This is a call to all Kenyon creatives: Get your stuff out there! I want to see concerts on the Quad and stand-up in front of Old K. I want to see a play behind an NCA and a dance concert at the BFEC. Go forth and do it safely — we need you. 

Anna Hampton ’22 is a drama and American studies double major from New York, N.Y. She can be reached at hampton1@kenyon.edu.

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