Students at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh are testing their voices and instrumental skills—even their stage fighting skills—in a large tent installed near the Arts and Communication Center.
The tent is intended for use by aural skills singing classes and for individual woodwind and brass lessons, weather permitting, as well as small group rehearsals. Additional performing arts classes are benefiting as well.
“The tent is going to be used primarily for music courses such as theory and aural skills—courses that involve singing,” said Music Department Chair Alison Shaw, who noted research showing dangers of singing indoors due to the spread of vocal droplets that linger in the air after passing through vocal cords. “Even with masks, singing in an enclosed space has more risk. This is also true with woodwind playing, especially the flute and even brass.”
Merlaine Angwell, professor and UWO Theatre Department chair, took advantage of a beautiful 72-degree day this week to teach her stage combat class. The group of nine students started with warm ups, then learning basic rapier attack areas.
Angwell said rapier stage weapons (swords with narrow blades used for thrusting) were used and the course is for theatre majors and minors who have had either of two prerequisite acting classes. Angwell said the course is essential for actors and directors on stage and in film.
Senior theatre major and Wisconsin Rapids native Max Benitz said knowing how to safely perform a fight scene and make it look real widens the number of potential roles. He noted some of the most famous plays contain fights that “make or break” the production.
“If the duels in Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet don’t land, the play is worse off for it,” he said. “The tent has been a great place to properly train while also following the current COVID-19 guidelines. Students wielding swords is certainly not something you see every day, so we get a few curious looks, but it feels nice for the department to be seen and to have people ask about it.”
Music Professor Ed Martin, who is teaching Aural Skills I class Tuesday and Thursday mornings, is hoping for a warm autumn so the tent space can be used for a few months.
“The tent provides us with a safe environment for group singing, which is a primary component of aural skills class,” Martin said.
The idea for a tent came up over the summer as music faculty discussed ways to teach group singing safely.
Martin said his vocal students seem to enjoy the change of scenery and learning outside. He said instructors are grateful that the University provided a safe space for singing.