I had planned to spend my spring break watching as many Broadway shows as I could, and I never thought the then-downplayed threat of COVID-19 would change that. Before 2020, the longest time that Broadway closed was in 1919. It wasn’t due to their pandemic, but because of worker strikes that went on for a month. Now we are over 200 days past March 12, when statewide measures shut down Broadway theaters and gatherings of over 500 people. They still have not been lifted.

So what has The Great White Way done to adapt? Attempts to replicate the same live experience online to maintain income for 97,000 Broadway workers—and to appease theater audiences—have resulted in virtual gatherings. The most notable example is the release of the live taping of “Hamilton” on Disney+, which on its first weekend resulted in over 500,000 mobile downloads of the app and many more online downloads. Fans who did not have the resources to see these shows in person were elated. Broadway has also begun to host different online performances and fundraisers that have raised millions of dollars for workers’ compensations, and the increase in online presence has introduced fans to shows they may not have heard of. Since April, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s program “The Show Must Go On” has released a live taping of a musical for 48 hours for free, with donations going to theater employees affected by the pandemic.

This has unfortunately not been enough for some productions. Shows such as “Frozen, “Beetlejuice” and “Hangmen” will remain closed for good. Recently, John Gore Productions laid off a hundred workers. Refunds had to be issued by productions nationwide, and actors’ attempts to perform live streams have faced the challenge of copyright claims and legalities.

As of now, Broadway will remain suspended until January 3, 2021. However, experts have said that even reducing theater capacities by half will not generate enough income for shows to survive. In anticipation of this, Broadway has taken the initiative to innovate. Over the summer, director Michael Arden presented an outdoor moving live performance called “American Dream Society,” an invite-only experience where audience members were asked to drive along a certain path, with each stop showcasing a different scene of the play. Most recently, the upcoming show “Diana: A New Musical” announced their premiere on Netflix ahead of its intended May 2021 Broadway debut, which is extremely uncommon for a new production.

In Korea, the production of “The Phantom of the Opera” has been able to continue throughout the entire pandemic, mainly through the rigorous testing protocols of their government and the strict safety measures put in place for all theatregoers, such as head-to-toe disinfectant upon entry and a mandated contact-tracing app. However, Korea’s ability to implement these measures is perhaps rooted in their government’s decision to aggravate their testing and tracking instead of immediately closing down all institutions. It is food for thought to consider how Broadway could be functioning now if the United States had taken the same measures back in March. While it is a “coulda-shoulda-woulda” line of thinking, seeing an industry that has provided countless memories, joy and relief to millions suffer pulls at the strings of empathy and grief for its fans.

Nonetheless, the community is strong, and the audience is perseverant. It may be painful to think of what the future of Broadway will look like, especially since Broadway regularly contributes $15 billion to the local economy, but we cannot discount the hope and strength that pulses through the community. We can see that bringing back Broadway may be difficult, but it is not impossible. There will always be the drive to deliver theater content to audiences, and if this pandemic has shown us anything, it is the impact theater has beyond the stage. To quote a comment I saw online, “It is worth the wait, and we will wait.”

-

Art by Jessica Tasmin

The first thing I did when I re-entered New York City was cry.

It wasn’t necessarily my fault. In the passenger seat of a car where I’d spent most of my high school years,  “(I’ve Had The) Time of My Life” from the classic film “Dirty Dancing” came on. Of course, that isn’t what got me so teary-eyed; it was how the song happened to do so the second I hit the Brooklyn Bridge. A song that made my mother roll her eyes for its “general schmaltziness” had me blubbering all the way back to my first apartment, the apartment I had left behind in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I had been, as we all were, displaced, but it hadn’t felt real until Bill Medley’s voice filled the small vehicle. The city I was entering, the city I’d wanted to feel like my city for so long, would never feel the same.

My emotional experience with such a peppy, pop-trash 80s song is not out of the ordinary. Music is strongly associated with memory and our ability to recall specific events. The power of music is its ability to personalize any experience; the second you’ve found a melody to attach to a person, place or thing, it’s done. That’s why there are songs we can’t listen to anymore because they remind us of pain. That’s why there are songs we listen to everytime we feel triumphant: because we associate it with happy victories. I bet you can think of a song right now that would make you cry if you were driving across the Brooklyn Bridge; a song that had once encapsulated you having the time of your life. This one wormed its way into mine when I stopped being the girl from my hometown. It was after my transition into the girl who lived in Brooklyn with her two best friends. We would listen to the song and dance together, barefoot on our hardwood floors. Screaming, laughing, singing, jumping. Something was ending to let something greater begin. I felt savvy and omnipotent.

Generally, that savvy omnipotence is an accessible feeling for all music listeners. A study conducted by Norman M. Weinberger in 2006 showed that music triggers dopamine hits in the frontal and temporal lobes, which are also associated with memory. Simply put, when we find a song we enjoy listening to, we tend to listen to it on repeat because of that dopamine trigger. This happens a lot during the teenage years. In a 2018 VICE Australia article, Katherine Gillipse wrote of how a person’s favorite song tends to be decided from ages 14 to 17. The dopamine triggered by music during our formative years tends to linger well into adulthood.

In a time that is so unprecedented, music seems to take up more space than ever. Artists are now releasing albums available on streaming platforms without an expectation of the tour and the fanbase it facilitates. Music, something that so many people depend on for a feeling of community, is now an isolated, intimate experience between artist and listener. Every album and song has become a listening experience you have by yourself in your bedroom. As a result, the memories that music draws you back to are yours and yours alone. The moments you share with a song and yourself feel as personal as a diary entry, rather than an artistic platform to build a community off of. Yet, with all this intimate contact between artist and listener, the most haunting part of quarantine was the moment I realized music had become an escape from reality rather than a way to cherish it.

This intimacy of rhythm now lost consumed me on that fateful bridge. I didn’t expect to ache so much through a song that reminded me of a “before;” another transition from girl in Brooklyn to girl displaced that I had yet to experience. There were losses I couldn’t even anticipate yet. A song that was supposed to evoke happiness and excitement became bittersweet, and I couldn’t help the emotions which had washed over me at its hand. I hadn’t been able to dance with my friends for so long, to twist and shout and shake to songs we found together. Music was, in so many ways, where my community lay. All those basement shows and concerts I made small-talk during and danced alongside sweaty strangers during are no longer a part of my life. Sitting in that feeling, in the childhood car where my mom hates the music that I play, I wondered what songs I would listen to during the After. What songs would define this newfound city for me? The only thing I can hope for is I will never find myself weeping in the car while simultaneously wanting to watch “Dirty Dancing” ever again.

-

Art by Pete Gibson


Sarah Kanu is the president and sole officer of Pratt’s chapter of the Black Student Union. Starting this year, Kanu has been working closely with Pratt Institute Archives to collect and display artifacts from the BSU in the 1970’s, and to keep the current organization alive for years to come. While still in the early stages, this project is one Kanu is dedicated to continuing, particularly when it pertains to the transformative ways archives, and other people, can do better to preserve a collective and accurate memory. Read our conversation below.


Carly: How did you begin this project? Was there a specific catalyst that inspired you this summer, or was it an ongoing idea?

Sarah: Ever since I got to Pratt, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that organizations are 90% student-formed, led, run and maintained. Although of immense value, this also presents issues of inconsistency and a potential inability to establish legacy and a passing down of knowledge. I frequently use the phrase “dropping the ball” to describe how being a member of the Black Student Union for the past four years has felt; not as a phrase to chastise any former leaders, but to express how exhausting and isolating it can be for anyone new trying to fulfill [its] goals. Due to this, it’s always been at the back of my mind to figure out methods of saving and passing down the work that was done by the Presidents before me, [as well as] the work I’m currently doing as president.

It wasn’t until the July Community Meeting, however, [which was] graciously hosted [by] Black Lives Matter Pratt, that I decided to begin this work. At the meeting, we were collectively presented with the last recorded demands on the BSU from the 1970’s. The fact that many [past] issues have persisted throughout the [fifty plus] years since then—and the fact that in the fifty years since, no recollection of the work done by any iteration of the BSU exists in our institution—was harrowing.


You’ve emphasized how important the Pratt Archives’ role in this project has been. Can you expand on that; what do they do exactly?

The work of the Pratt Archives predates me. I’m simply an opportunist who saw the work they were doing and wanted my years [at Pratt] to be saved in that archive. I’m working with Cristina Fontánez Rodríguez (Virginia Thoren and Institute Archivist at Pratt Institute Libraries), who, in a motivating moment similar to my own, noticed that Pratt’s institutional records are heavily centered around administration, which historically tends to be white, cis and/or male. She has since prioritized [documenting] marginalized, underrepresented and misrepresented student-centered organizations, [and] actively involving us in making the archives more inclusive.


Were any challenges imposed by the current pandemic? Are you mainly working remotely?

The pandemic hasn’t presented any challenges. If not for the pandemic—and the space it opened up for questions on race, accountability and the end to policing in all forms—I wouldn’t have [realized] how little Black history at Pratt is saved or remembered beyond those who experienced it. Time and resources are more of a challenge. I’m unable to separate the different spheres of work that I do. I’m nowhere near campus, so I’m unable to do anything in person. I’m working completely online while running clubs, serving on Student Government, being a full-time student and a daughter and sister at home. It gets pretty overwhelming.


You’ve shared some scans from DRUM, a radical publication by members of the 1970’s chapter of the Black Student Union, online. Can you talk more about the magazine?

It’s a wonderful resource saved and shared with me, thanks to the Pratt Archives. It was illustrated, written and put together by [Pratt students] at that time. It’s all the more striking when you realize how much of what they were experiencing, struggling through or demanding from the Institute is what my peers and I [are facing] today. On the BSU Instagram, we only posted a few pages of two issues, but I highly recommend checking out more volumes of the magazine that are digitized and available to read and reference through @prattinstitutearchives.


Have you seen any changes within the Black Student Union through these artifacts? Has anything remained the same?

I can’t speak confidently about what’s stayed the same, but there have definitely been shifts. Any changes in the multiple iterations of the Black Student Union are reflected in how society has shifted as well, and the perception of what purpose a BSU serves for students across time. At its core, Black Student Unions are about gathering and uplifting Blackness in whatever form that takes.


To say that erasure in archives, both on our campus and beyond, is harmful would be a gross understatement. You mentioned in your Instagram open-call for material that the “institutional and student memory” of the BSU is short, and has had to restart every four years. What are ways that Pratt and its students/faculty can start to stop this, both in the archives and in our everyday lives? What about archivists outside of Pratt?

The first thing we need to come to terms with is as long as these organizations are solely student-run—and the average Pratt student feels too overworked with courses to devote energy beyond that time frame—we will continue to see the falling of our organization to the detriment of lineage. In all honesty, I have been President one year [and] my predecessor was President for one year. Both of us maintained all of the other officer positions on our own. It gets exhausting. There have been several times this semester where I [asked] myself, “What is the purpose of continuing when what I have built during this time could completely disappear in May 2021?”

This is an odd time to be making demands when people are already being asked to work less, but what I wish was that Pratt had an official role dedicated to saving the information of/about these clubs that went beyond the capacity of the student. In my experience, the students’ average cycle of institutional memory is maybe 4-6 years: actions, demands, requests [and] events that do not last in conversational memory. The legacy of each organization when the last remembering party leaves is always up in the air. What I hope is for a distinct relationship between the Archives and Student Involvement to be built; [one] that allows for continuity and provides the groundwork for incoming students to know they are furthering the fight of those before.


Has the project helped to form a new community around the BSU or beyond?

Currently, the project is still intimate. It's mainly [Cristina and I] saving what I’ve gathered over two years. However, when the DRUM magazine and call for submissions posts were made, I was surprised to see how many people were resharing and talking about it. There is room for this project to affirm the community of Black students, faculty and staff at Pratt.


Has your view of the archive shifted, from an artists’ or personal perspective?

I’m not sure that my artists’ perspective shifted, but more so my community-focused perspective, inspired by the teachings of the numerous educators I’ve had from the Humanities & Social Science Department. They opened my eyes to the fact that the archives are not a stuffy place to collect and save whiteness. [Instead], they are fluid [and] can be current. [I’ve found] that there is value in the archives in 2020, especially for Black, Brown, Queer, [and] Disabled folks.

As an art institution, there is value in being able to archive the artistic and aesthetic work of BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ communities. [Mapping] the evolution of art that has historically been underappreciated over space, location and time is needed. In the age of the internet and the co-option of Blackness as “millennial culture,” it’s significant, more than ever, to ensure we accurately record and share Black art and culture within our communities.


What are your hopes for this archive? What do you hope people will take away from it?

That in 2035 or some time from now, Black students on campus will hear stories of, and have access to, the ways we were gathering, supporting and uplifting one another in 2017-2020. That they won’t enter Pratt feeling like the first Black student to ever go through those gates, and that they won’t leave feeling like the last Black student to walk through those gates [either].


Lastly, are there any resources (for contributing or viewing materials or related education) that you can provide?

Absolutely. Anyone who is or was a member of the Black Student Union can submit content to be archived to me (blackstudentunion@pratt.edu or skanu@pratt.edu) or message the BSU Instagram (@bsupratt). I will be graduating this year, though, so in the future, you should also consider contacting Cristina Fontánez (cfonta36@pratt.edu) or Pratt Archives [on Instagram] @prattinstitutearchives).

Readers should also check out the BSU’s [resource list] “2020 Black Lives Matter: Resources, Rest and More.” This living document was put together earlier this summer in response to the conversations students were starting at Pratt and in the greater world. Hopefully, the future leader of this organization continues to add to it.

Also, follow [social media accounts] that continue to prop up Black folks at Pratt: @prattbap, @blmpratt, @prattfic and @bsupratt.

-

Art by Amber Duan


I am a freshman RA on the 10th floor of Emerson, but currently rooming with a culinary student, a pro-skater repped by Supreme, one cat, a parakeet and a tarantula named Angel. I am not, in fact, living in Emerson; ResLife only allows emotional support animals, and I don’t think a spider would make the cut. I, like so many others, endured a whirlwind two weeks of apartment hunting and headaches before finding a good deal on rent in New York City. I may have five roommates, but only two of them actively contribute to the electric bill!

Besides spending the last two weeks of August begging my current property manager to agree to a four month lease, I devoted this past summer to the Pratt Connectors program. This is a system designed to help transition new students into their new life at Pratt and in New York City. I sent countless emails answering orientation questions, offering favorite study spots/places to eat around campus and building great expectations, only to have them come crashing down with the decision to close campus housing. Since President Bronet’s decision to close the dorms, both my classes and residents have moved online, and I am left trying to build a sense of community for freshmen in a world where everyone is socially distanced.

Reflecting back on my own freshman year, I remember my RA knocking on my door asking me to “please come out to a mandatory social,” in the dark hallway, complete with a flavor variety of BoomChickaPop popcorn. Unfortunately for freshmen today, they’re forced to click on an email link and buy their own snacks if they want to “come into the hallway.” There’s no in-person interaction, and, being in a new environment, they don’t necessarily know anyone in their classes.

My position as student and staff means that I am not only responsible for myself, but for the well-being of my residents as well. The main difference between me and every other student drawn in by StreetEasy’s sexy subway advertisements is that this semester is not just about me because I’ve continued with my position as an RA.

ResLife and Housing is still holding “socials” and events, but they’re now completely online. We’ve planned a couple of movie nights and club meetings, and have set up new social media pages to help students regain what they’ve been missing since March: a sense of hope and belonging. In addition, future plans to reopen campus are being made for spring 2021, while the transition back to in-person living remains a hot topic at staff meetings.

The position of Virtual RA, or RA@Home, is new to everyone. The idea behind this ResLife masterpiece is to connect students and floor communities while they’re socially distancing over Zoom. If you receive an email from your RA, they’re not a robot! Our names are not Alexa or Siri!

It’s been so long since I first heard of the housing crisis while shopping for dorm decorations in HomeGoods, since email after email blew up my inbox asking me for advice when I had none to give. Fast-forward one month, and it’s hard to imagine what life would be like if Pratt hadn’t made the decision to close the dormitory doors. Would we be facing the same predicaments as schools such as UNC and Notre Dame, who have opened without proper precaution and are now closed or subject to quarantining? Or is the conviction of both Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo so strong that Pratt may have taken these precautions in vain?

Luckily we attend an art school, where everyone has gotten creative with their work situations and ways to stay connected with each other.  I’d hate to think that my work up to this point has been in vain.

-

Art by Catherine Massa


FEATUREDthoughtscommunitycolumns
thoughts
see all
see all
community
Columns