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The show must go online

UND theater and music students showcase their talents in virtual performances online

University of North Dakota junior Daniel Jung dances at Hyslop Center in a video featured on Theatre Arts’ “Social Distances” virtual series. Facebook screenshot.

With the University of North Dakota campus hushed and almost empty due to the coronavirus pandemic, Daniel Jung felt restless one day. So, he made his way into the Hyslop Center to revive a hobby he had picked up in high school in South Korea but had since pushed to the sidelines of his life in Grand Forks: dancing.

“It is like a small time capsule,” said Jung, a junior pursing musical theatre and design and technology. “My body hasn’t forgotten the movements.”

Wearing a black face mask, Jung skipped, bent his arms and twitched his shoulders, gliding through the room to recreate an elaborate number by BTS, the South Korean boy band. In doing all that, he wanted to help others learn the steps and movements that reflect his native country’s K-pop culture. He uploaded the video on Facebook, where Brett Olson, instructor of performance in the Theatre Arts department, saw it.

Olson asked Jung to feature the dance on “Social Distances,” the performance series the department is holding on Facebook.

“I was really surprised because I didn’t think that K-pop was a genre that would be considered for ‘Social Distances,’” said Jung. “I was really thankful to him because it’s also embracing a new culture, a different culture. I felt supported.”

Since that first video, Jung has been featured several more times in the virtual sessions that sprang up as a means of showcasing theatre students’ talents and entertaining the community in a time of pandemic, which cut the UND play season short this spring.

“It’s been a good experience for our students,” said Brad Reissig, associate chair of Theatre Arts. “It has been great seeing how they’ve responded to these difficult situations that we’ve all been put in, how they really continued on and forged ahead without knowing what will happen in the future.”

About half a dozen students have already participated in ‘Social Distances,’ reading poetry, showcasing their acting chops, dancing and even playing the guitar.

When it comes to musical performances, UND Music has also streamed performances by faculty and staff through its “Musical Moments” initiative, also on Facebook. About 10 students as well as professors have so far played a variety of instruments – trumpets, violins, pianos and flutes – as well as sung and created electronic music. Their pieces – from short bits to hour-long recitals – have flowed on Facebook twice a day for about six weeks.

“When campus got shut down, students were really bummed that they weren’t going to be able to perform for people after they had put in all these hours and months of hard work,” said Cory Driscoll, music instructor and organizer of ‘Musical Moments.’ “The virtual platform gave them the chance to still share their hard work with the rest of the musical community.”

Aside from the organic audience the sessions have generated on Facebook, Driscoll said links to the performances have been shared with local retirement communities and nursing homes. The programming is quite similar to the entertainment hours and concerts celebrities from around the globe have organized on social media as a means of connecting with their fans and offering a diversion from the health crisis.

“Music is a universal language,” said Driscoll. “It doesn’t require any words, it doesn’t require any training. It’s just something that people innately enjoy during any sort of time. I suppose when people are apart, music is something that can comfort them. It opens up many avenues of not only entertainment, but communication as well.”