BLOOMSBURG — While COVID restrictions have prevented the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) from presenting its shows on stage, it isn’t stopping members’ efforts to inspire creativity and community. The organization recently announced that it will offer virtual theater classes and a modified version of the beloved TreeFest tradition this fall.
Children in first grade through high school can take advantage of a variety of classes through the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble Theatre School from Oct. 20 to Nov. 12. The classes will be offered after school hours live via Zoom.
According to Abigail Leffler, BTE Education director, the school is actually offering more classes this year than usual for the season: Storytelling for ages 7-11; Imagination Station for ages 8-11; Stage Make Up for ages 12 and up; Audition Techniques for ages 12 and up; and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for teens. Each class will meet once a week for four weeks and is taught by ensemble members, affiliated artists and staff.
While Leffler admits that remote learning and teaching comes with some unique challenges, especially for teachers who might have to work a little harder to offer students as much one-on-one connection and hands-on experience as in-person instruction would allow, “I think we are going to do a great job of this.”
“We are setting up these lessons to help each student leave their remote classroom with passion and knowledge to apply what they learned with their friends, siblings, or parents.”
Class times this year will be shortened to accommodate student school schedules, and Leffler said they are also being offered with the understanding that many students have been spending a lot of time in front of screens.
“We wish to make sure they feel excited to enter our Zoom classrooms and not bogged down by the screen time spent with us,” Leffler said.
“For our students — and our instructors — theater is an amazing outlet for self-expression and camaraderie,” Leffler added. “We feel strongly that any form of theatre school is better than no theatre school at all. Our students feel like theatre is a safe space and we feel strongly in maintaining that for any who wish to participate in our virtual offerings.”
The fee for each class is $35 per student. For schedule information and registration, visit www.btetheatreschool.org.
BTE is also moving forward with modified plans to offer TreeFest to the community with no charge for admission this year. A holiday tradition since 1989, the public will be able to view the trees from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 at the Caldwell Consistory in Bloomsburg. More trees will be on-site in a tent in the parking lot for those visitors who prefer not to go inside the building.
“It’s BTE’s sincere hope that TreeFest will bring some small respite from what we’ve all been living through at a time of year when many faiths focus on shining a light against the darkness and trials of winter and on the promise of new life,” Schultz stated last week in a press release.
She explained that TreeFest has been a fundraiser for BTE. In addition, after the event, the trees are donated to needy families.
The free admission to the event this year is due to a generous partnership with First Columbia Bank and Trust Company and All Occasion Rentals.
Schultz said normally decorators would come the weekend before Thanksgiving to choose and decorate a tree. This year, they will be assigned trees and the number of decorators within the building will be limited to one-hour timed entry decorating slots.
This year, some of the other modifications will include new weekday open hours to help reduce the number of people in the building at one time, and fewer trees in the Consistory to encourage social distancing. The traditional TeaFest will be available through boxed “High Tea Kits,” and entertainment may be made available virtually.
No on-site consumption of food will be allowed, and guests will be required to wear masks for entry. Hand sanitizer will be provided.
According to Schultz, TreeFest on average features 100 trees sponsored by local businesses and individuals, and more than 100 community and business groups creating decorations to adorn the trees. Over the years, it has grown to include a Santa corner, a Santa breakfast and more holiday vendors.
Updated information is available at www.treefest.org or by calling BTE at 570-784-5530.
According to Peter Wiley, communications director, BTE is also planning some virtual offerings for Halloween and Christmas.