Performing arts in virtual time

HARLINGEN – As in all things in the time of COVID-19, students in speech, drama and debate are competing online.

Both Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South, as well as Gutierrez Middle School, have begun participating – and succeeding – in competitions.

However, instead of traveling out of town to face judges and competitors personally, they’re recording their entries and posting them on YouTube. Judges then view the entries and make their decisions. No one is too happy with the arrangement, said George Matthew Gutierrez, 12, a Gutierrez seventh grader.

“It was very, very disappointing,” said George Matthew, who took fourth place in the dramatic interpretation event at the Southlake Carroll Dragon Faire early this month. He and his fellow Gutierrez speech, drama and debate aficionados took seventh place against 54 high schools from across Texas and other parts of the United States – and they never left their homes.

“I feel like everybody is disappointed in this whole online thing because I feel like you make a lot more memories doing things in real life,” George Matthew said. “You have more fun doing things in person.”

Nevertheless, he understands the purpose of the precautions.

“I need to keep in mind that this is probably for the best,” he said. “Doing it online is probably for the best because a lot of people are out here risking their lives for this coronavirus pandemic going on.”

The really great thing, however, is what students of the performing arts are still doing in spite of all the COVID-19 restrictions.

“When the COVID hit, we really didn’t know what our tournament world was going to look like because we were just heading into our big national tournaments,” said Lee Ann Ince, coordinator of fine arts for the Harlingen school district.

“We had to figure out what does this look like, and it’s come down really to film,” Ince said.  “And so the kids are figuring it out. They’re buying lighting and the angles and ‘What does your backdrop look like?’ and ‘How close to the camera do you get?’ And so it’s been kind of a transition from stage to film in a way and it’s learning a whole new skill set.”

In the past couple of weeks, guest artists from across the country have been giving master classes to students of the Performing Arts Conservatory. Each Friday, an accomplished entertainer Zooms in from another part of the country, such as New York City, and speaks directly with students logging in from their homes in Harlingen.

Ince said the virtual situation has created more opportunities for students to speak with entertainers without all the expense and so it is with speech, drama and debate.

“It’s been interesting and honestly it’s been kind of nice because we can enter so many more like this,” she said. “We don’t have the cost of transportation and lodging and all of that. So the kids are getting more opportunities.”

Azeneth Corrales, a Gutierrez seventh grader who also competed in the Southlake event, seemed to take it all in stride.

“To me it wasn’t any different than performing live, except that it wasn’t live obviously,” said Azeneth, 12. “But my mom actually helped me record it and then we uploaded it to a YouTube channel and then we submitted the link for the judges to view.”

Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South have competed in three tournaments online and performed very well.