Above | Part of the BOND International Virtual Live Performance Festival was held on the top of the Forbes parking garage. Anonymous Ensemble, a Brooklyn-based group, worked with the Sophomore Studio students to involve them in this high-level and international virtual performance experience. The students will then take the knowledge and experiences they learn from this performance into the projects that they will create through the class’s collaboration with JMU X-Labs. Essentially, this festival performance offers tangible possibilities for virtual creative practice with professional artists. This will give students a better understanding of how they can engage with JMU X-Labs more functionally in their own projects throughout the course of the semester.

The Performing Arts Go Virtual

Working on projects [at JMU X-Labs] can help you explore ways of doing things that you didn’t know were possible for performance design.

Olivia Palmer Sophomore in Musical Theatre

At JMU X-Labs, we look at innovation as an intentional response to a problem. How do we get things done in the face of adversity or when confronted with an unexpected change of circumstances?

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with lots of those opportunities. Faculty from the College of Visual and Performing Arts came to JMU X-Labs with the idea of using the demands of the pandemic to create a new form of performance. We provide them with support and some novel spaces, they work with theater, dance, music, and playwriting students to create the learning partnerships that inspire this emerging form.

Visual and performing arts are a critical part of our society—they’re part of what makes us human. We’re inspired by the dedication of the faculty and students—we love having them create in the lab and beyond and seeing where it takes them.

A Bluescape image of New York City across three screensThe Bluescape virtual collaborative workspace at JMU X-Labs allows students to create storyboards and design virtual backgrounds for performances ahead of time, and it also stores their projects in timelines for easy access from anywhere.

Student doing moving performance on zoom with a static background
Student with palms facing forward during her Zoom performance

Above | Students performed their first assignments either online through Zoom using sound, filters, etc. or by interacting live with the lab equipment, which was projected through Zoom to the rest of the class.

Ingrid De Sanctis
Associate Professor of Theatre

professor headshot

Matt Pardo
Assistant Professor of Dance

Early in the semester, we asked Associate Professor of Theatre Ingrid De Sanctis and Assistant Professor of Dance Matt Pardo from the Arts Innovations: Sophomore Studio class some questions to get their perspectives.

JMU X-Labs: What were the challenges that you were trying to address/overcome when you reached out to JMU X-Labs?

Ingrid: Sophomore Studio is a class designed to create opportunities for Theatre, Musical Theatre and Dance majors to work together and devise new materials. These creative collaborations are the foundations of the class and when everything went online last spring, we had to navigate collaboration online. How do we do this and how do we teach this and is this possible?

In the spring, I was surprised and amazed by how the students navigated this online shift and when this fall was approaching, it was clear the course needed a redesign. Professor Seán McCarthy mentioned JMU X-Labs when I shared the challenges and, after meeting with Matt Pardo, Nick Swayne and the team from JMU X-Labs, we were thrilled by adding Platform to a class build and Process and Production. Thanks to Matt, the three P’s of the course (Process, Product, Platform) were named and we have entered the unknown and risk-taking world—but are so confident that we are teaching students to keep creating work and getting their work out in the world in a new way.

Matt: Ingrid and I both recognized that there was a huge opportunity for us to have this class (Sophomore Studio) focus on content that would develop our students’ devising methodologies and collaborative skills in new and innovative ways. Both Dance and Theater, our two areas of expertise, have been particularly hard hit by the global pandemic and we are being forced to reimagine our normal ways of creating and engaging in our own artistic practices. Our collaboration with JMU X-Labs was an opportunity for us and our students to work to innovate creative practice using technology and we are so thankful for the support and resources that this center has offered us. JMU X-Labs has allowed us to innovate with intention and has given our students a way to take ownership of their creative practice in new and exciting ways.

JMU X-Labs: What motivated you to reach out to JMU X-Labs with this idea?

Ingrid: How do performing arts continue to thrive in the face of a national pandemic? How do we continue to generate and share work? These questions moved me to hunt for a new way of teaching this class but I was not sure how? A conversation with Professor Seán McCarthy and learning about JMU X-Labs led to the collaboration we have now started. The humbling component of this process is that I am not an expert in this field. So as a teacher, this is a radical and exciting approach to collaborative teaching. I walked into the lab and had NO IDEA how to use any of this equipment or programs or platforms, so I am a student in my own class. This role of student/teacher is and was incredibly appealing to me. In the end, creating opportunities for students to continue to create and share is so exciting.

[A]s a teacher, this is a radical and exciting approach to collaborative teaching…In the end, creating opportunities for students to continue to create and share is so exciting.

Ingrid De Sanctis Associate Professor of Theatre: Playwriting

Matt: As a new faculty member, I was thrilled when Ingrid approached me with the idea to engage JMU X-Labs as a critical partner in Sophomore Studio. I was excited about the potential for the students to integrate with technology at this level. More than that though, I was so intrigued by the way that JMU X-Labs encouraged students and faculty to challenge norms and to commit to the experimentation process. In talking with Nick Swayne about the potential for innovation in the creative process, it became very exciting to consider having students be the ones to innovate and shift our paradigms in devising class-time projects. At our core, artists engage in this type of work daily and so partnering with JMU X-Labs was very exciting for this class, which gives students an opportunity to create new creative works in collaborative settings.

I was so intrigued by the way that JMU X-Labs encouraged students and faculty to challenge norms and to commit to the experimentation process.

Matt Pardo Assistant Professor of Dance

JMU X-Labs: What’s your experience of the class been so far?

Ingrid: The back and forth with in person and online classes has created challenges for training and access, but JMU X-Labs personnel have been so flexible at every moment. Our practice class session in the lab took more time and was challenging but that is all part of the process. From the first meeting with Seán and Nick with Matt, we knew that everything would take more time and we are all learning so flexibility is part of the process. In the end, the students are seeing, firsthand, the process of learning and collaboration and gaining tools in a season when we could lose heart about live performance.

Matt: Though navigating COVID has presented significant challenges for many faculty, JMU X-Labs has allowed us and our students so many wonderful opportunities for growth this semester. So far, the students have engaged in small and large group training sessions, have had an opportunity to work in the labs individually if they chose, and have created solo projects that engage technology in a manner that furthers their artistic intent. We could not be more thrilled about the way the semester is shaping up, even at this early stage, and we are so grateful for the support, excitement, and care that every JMU X-Labs representative has given us.

Posted September 29, 2020

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