Dramatic Vocal Arts Builds Performance By and For Students, Following Sudden Departure of Professor
Every year, students in Willamette’s Dramatic Vocal Arts (DVA) program gear up to participate in a musical performance that showcases both their musical and theatrical talents— except this year, when an unexpected wrench was thrown into the process of staging the DVA performance. The chair of the DVA program, Professor Katherine Skovira, mysteriously departed the school, leaving students in the program such as Ella Stringer (‘25) in the dark. “We don’t really know what happened, we got a lot of different answers,” Stringer said of Skovira’s sudden absence, emphasizing that none of the students in the program were clearly told whether she was fired or quit on her own volition.
Originally titled “Feminine Endings,” the Spring 2022 DVA musical performance was going to consist of individual vocal performances, a group song, art showcases and instrumental numbers. Stringer said that the three students in the planned DVA showcase were assigned pieces “composed or chosen for us by an outside composer,” and that the performance was originally going to be online. “Feminine Endings” was plagued by structural and planning issues from the start—a last minute pivot from an online to an in-person format left students feeling worried and disorganized, since they “already had the days we were going to film and record voice parts planned out,” Stringer said.
Though Skovira’s departure left students wondering what they were going to do and “basically threw an entire semester of work down the drain,” Stringer believes that the program’s students “are all pretty excited about the change.” Now that the DVA performance is an entirely student-led venture, she said that they now have the “freedom to take charge and make it a really cool show.” One reason for this excitement is a general air of disagreement with Skovira’s leadership of the DVA. Stringer said that Skovira “would say a lot of offhanded things that were inappropriate” and that “it was obvious sometimes that there was a lack of experience with directing” in Skovira’s instruction of her students.
One unresolved issue is that of student compensation for those who earn money for their work in the DVA, as Skovira was the one who approved their hours. Stringer felt reassured that “the music faculty is still figuring it out” and that the change was “pretty sudden so we’re giving them all a lot of grace.”
Despite these setbacks, Stringer insists the DVA students are “glad to be moving in a different direction” because “a lot of us felt like what we were doing before in DVA didn’t represent us truly.” As a solution, the DVA students are now putting hard work into creating their new performance: the “Show Us You Cabaret,” which is tentatively planned to happen around the end of April.
Perhaps the most significant departure from the format of “Feminine Endings” is that the performance is now open to any Willamette student who would like to perform, allowing singers and instrumentalists to “perform any song that makes them feel good.” To sign up, students can use a [Google form], due Wed. March 16th, to list the song they intend to perform and whether they need accompaniment. Students should also use the form to submit a mandatory 30-second video of themselves performing to see if their piece fits the theme of self-expression, as Stringer and the other students organizing the event “are trying to make it cohesive.” Stringer is “looking forward to more collaboration” that comes from bringing more of the student body into the fold. She seemed optimistic about the pivot away from the depersonalized mode the DVA performance was operating in prior to its pivot towards student leadership: “We’re trying to change that so people can ‘show us the real you’ and shift it into something positive.”