Educational programs have been one of the institutions that most quickly needed to adjust to the current climate of COVID-19 adjustments. Especially with regards to those finishing grade school and moving onto post-secondary as well as those in post-secondary programs nearing their ends, there are many decisive factors of education that hinge on those points. So it’s not surprising that online assignments and streamed class content quickly became the norm for many schools. With such a hurried alteration to the formula of a very formulaic facet of society, one would not expect many institutions to be looking at extending their aid and influence during these times. But the National Theatre School’s Art Apart program is reminding budding artists that they are supported in Canada.
In conjunction with the CBC and Power Corporation of Canada, the National Theatre School’s Apart Apart project distributed $750 grants to eighty different emerging artists after hundreds of applications were submitted from across Canada’s provinces and territories. The ideal is to aid artists still early in their career that are facing increased financial difficulty due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, as well as to have these artists continue to enrich the world of art even while the majority of the world’s populace is socially distanced from directly consuming these works. Over the course of April and May, the works are gradually being revealed and hosted on the NTS website.
The works presented here span a great diversity of voices and mediums. While it seems that there is a bend towards the performing arts and film, there are also costume designs, scripts, paintings, and immersive interactive forms presented through this collection. Many of the theatrical readings and short films that have been created for Art Apart are premiered through livestream but then hosted on the site or through Youtube, so viewers are able to peruse the media at their leisure. Many of the offerings are from students in post-secondary artistic programs, and there is some roughness to the quality in both execution and production value, but there are some resonant ideas at the core of many of these works that are showing a distinct beauty that emerges from our current situational zeitgeist.
One of the offerings, It Makes a Sound, is a 40-minute short-film by Todd Houseman, a graduating student of the National Theatre School. Houseman describes It Makes a Sound as “an attempt at bridging the gaps between what is called ‘indigenous art’ and ‘art’”, clearly channelling his identity as a Nehiyo Cree artist but showing why art with indigenous content or values shouldn’t be pigeonholed and separated from art at large. The film is a strangely effective and dreamy retelling of Cree lore and utilizes mask work, heavily processed and reversed dialogue, forest sounds emanating from apartment surroundings, and a sombre overarching feeling to great effect. Despite the lower quality of the filming detracting a bit from the visuals, Houseman finds some beautiful moments and gives an excellent performance for the many masked characters throughout.
As for some of the more experimental offerings, Keshia Palm has created Make Me An Alleycat, “a digital community arts project” seeking to give a sense of friendly connection in this time where so few of us are getting to experience the world with our companions. Inspired by alleycat races (unsanctioned bicycle races), individuals can utilize the digital platform in order to gather and share biking or walking routes, hitting particular stops along the way. Each stop comes with it a story or a moment that is experienced through a follow-along audio track by the participant. While it may not be quite the same as time with our friends, it is a touching exploration of connection through a combination of physical and digital means.
The world keeps moving despite so much seeming to stand still right now. We sit at home most of the day, we don’t have the exact freedom we have had, and we find it hard to keep track of the blurring time. But amongst the grey stillness, as more flowers begin their bloom, so to do works blossom whether they are being ushered into the world or not. And the National Theatre School’s Art Apart project is helping young artists plant those resilient seeds so that something may grow in this trying time, even if those flowers must stand alone.