Singing in the face of disaster

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Max Kasler '20 communicating with the performing arts community of Zoomers Virtual Stage via Facebook Live

Ever since the early departure of the ‘Berg Theatre & Dance season, the final farewells to the extensive displays of student and professional artistry and the continuation of performing and visual courses on various virtual platforms, it has seemed to a great many in the Muhlenberg community that there was an element missing from the great whirlwind of imaginative prowess that normally engulfs each and every engaged student of the arts on campus. Could it be the ability to constantly have real-time conversations with like-minded artists? Or maybe the lack of an audience where there was previously the constant potential to gather one at any given time? Perhaps both spawned ample reason for solemnity.

Without a doubt, it became abundantly clear that something needed to be done, and quickly, in order to accommodate the sudden drastic change and hundreds of creatively starving lifestyles.

So began the trend of using large-scale Facebook groups as a medium for artists to be granted a widespread audience. Though the actual origin is unclear, the bulk of the excitement around this phenomenon seemed to stem from Max Kasler ’20 and his newly-created Facebook Group, “Zoomers.” A play on the popular quarantine educational tool “Zoom,” Kasler constructed an environment in which students had the ability to sign up for a specific time slot ranging in duration from fifteen minutes to one hour and use that time to do anything their hearts desired, with the added promise of advertisement to the large community also involved in Zoomers. After the group began, Kasler released a statement via Facebook Live where he meticulously explained his idea for the project and the exact mechanics through which the sharing of art and ideas would eventually work. 

As time progressed, this trailblazing effort saw a few home performances from instrumentalists, singers and groups of musicians performing collaboratively from different locations, making their musical whimsy take flight even in the heat of the devastating social distancing mandate.

“I started the Zoomers Virtual Stage to try and create a space for people to perform and create art virtually during this time of quarantine,” says Kasler. “I’m hoping people do soon! I think it’s important for people to still make art and create with and for each other during this crazy time where we can’t be near each other.”

In addition to just performance media, some members of Zoomers Virtual Stage who were inspired by Kasler’s work decided to create unique arts-related facebook groups as well, using the Zoomers group as a platform to advertise their groups to as many people as possible. One of these members, Ava Pirie ’23, is one of the minds behind “To Covid or Not to Covid”.

In the group, members read one Shakespeare play every single day until April 12, which was the original date of return for Muhlenberg College, and the goal was “to provide some optional structure that keeps our theatre brains active & satiated,” as Pirie phrased in her advertisement.

After posting in Zoomers, a considerable amount of people found themselves interested, reaching out for more information on how to get involved. Certain commenters also recommended friends whom they believed would have an interest in the activity.

“One of my close friends and I decided we wanted something artistic, academic and concrete to do over our break from school,” explained Pirie. “Since we both have grown up with a love for Shakespeare, we soon landed on that idea and it seemed like a fun challenge. After joining and observing Max Kasler’s Zoomers group, I figured I’d make a group too! It’s actually been really wonderful to build and help foster the community. There are people from all over the country—ranging from close friends from ‘Berg, to friends of friends, to friends of friends of friends, etc. It’s been quite reassuring knowing that there are a multitude of people just as passionate about this little project as I and Julianne, the other founder, are. People are responsive and enthusiastic and, frankly, nothing could warm my heart more. The active nature of the growing community has led me to realize that anyone can be a catalyst for art, even during a time where the very nature of art is being challenged.”

Following the excitement of Kasler’s and Pirie’s Facebook groups, a web of other similar Facebook groups has started to spring up within the Muhlenberg community and beyond, reaching people all over the country and all over the world. The truth of the matter is, without the support and dedication of these talented individuals and so many more, there would be a far less vibrant student network, and artistic people would likely be without a steady way to learn and grow during these uncertain times. 

Danny Milkis '23 is a Media & Communication student at Muhlenberg who has a specific interest in writing and journalism. In high school, he took part in extracurricular writing whenever possible, and received a Metropolitan Award nomination for his work as a Student Performing Arts Critic. He is ecstatic to have joined the staff of talented writers and editors at the Muhlenberg Weekly, and is excited to learn from this wonderful group of knowledgeable individuals throughout his time at Muhlenberg.

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