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  • Writer's pictureLouise Casini Hollis

The Art of Interacting Online

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Hurrah Players

Words by Louise Casini Hollis. Image courtesy of the Hurrah Players

It may appear that the world has shut down, but the teaching artists of Hampton Roads have taken this opportunity to flourish online with a multitude of opportunities for students to stay connected during the pandemic. In an ongoing series, Spotlight HR is talking to artists and arts organizations around Hampton Roads about their experiences in engaging with students online.

Over at The Hurrah Players, Hugh Copeland and company are busy creating new ways to connect with their students. “When you have a company as large and as engaged and energized as we are on a normal basis then when it comes to a complete stop- so many of our performers are at a formative age that you just can’t stop,” observes Hugh, “so right away we realized we had to do whatever we could do to keep our students engaged, involved, connected and most of all to being creative.” Now in their 36th year, Hurrah has already added four new initiatives this spring to satisfy their young performers’ need to interact with their peers and practice their art.

While working towards his doctorate at the University of Massachusetts, Hugh came to Norfolk to establish a city wide theatre program for children in the late 1970’s. In 1984, he incorporated the Hurrah Players. “By forming a company, I was able to serve a broader number of people of all ages in studying and producing theatre. We started with 12 eager students and with the help of many concerned patrons, grew quickly in numbers for classes and productions.” Today Hurrah serves over 300 students and campers a year. “We’ve never turned away a student,” says Hugh proudly, and “we make sure various groups in our community see our shows who otherwise couldn’t afford it.”

The company has launched “Hugh’s News” to connect with the company’s students every Wednesday at 4pm via Zoom. Zoom allows the students to ask questions and for Hugh to keep them on task and motivated. He also alerts them to any streaming of Broadway shows or interviews that might be of interest through this format. Hurrah’s Music Director Diana Swenson continues to teach her music classes online. Lisa Wallace, Hurrah’s Choreographer, does virtual dance classes, inviting all family members to be involved. The company may see as many as 100 students a day via their virtual classrooms, “depending on who signs on” notes Hugh. “The good thing [about Zoom] is that you’re not just talking to a camera, you can see your students and they can ask you questions. Of course it’s different that we’re not all in the same room, but they can see each other on the screen, so I think we’re adapting petty well” observes Hugh.

The company is also producing “Virtual Bedtime Stories” for the residents of the apartment complexes owned by Pembroke Mall in Virginia Beach, allowing the young performers to share their talents. These stories are shared every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights at 7pm on Pembroke Mall’s Facebook page and everyone is welcome to join the virtual audience. Using their own costumes and props, Hurrah students record their interpretations of a story and send it to Hugh and company for editing and dispersal. A virtual cabaret put together by alumni and current students happens Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7pm. Additionally, guitarist Michael Lillie will be giving a series of master classes for Hurrah’s students on songwriting.

With such a variety of programming, it is no surprise Hurrah has been designated by the Virginia Arts Commission as Virginia’s “leading Family Theatre company”, meaning children and adults take part in their productions. Their next show will be Disney’s Moana, which was slated to open the day the city of Virginia Beach began restricting gatherings. They have already re-booked The Sandler Center for August, and if they are not able to perform it then, Hugh promises it will be the next show the company performs.

“I think all arts organizations have the same need,” adds Hugh, “we need to keep [our students] engaged and to make sure we’re offering them the ability not to feel so isolated. That’s the most important thing.” Thankfully, Hurrah makes it possible for families to stay involved in the community that theatre provides.

You can check for updates on The Hurrah Players website. For the Together at Home Academy: Email Hurrah to find out more information to register for classes. Or check out Virtual Bedtime Stories via Pembroke Mall’s Facebook page.

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