An open letter to student activity directors:
Imagine this - it’s December 31, 2019 around 11:48 PM. You’re at a party with your best friends. You look to one of them, raise a glass and shout “2020 is going to be OUR year!” You were wrong. 2020 has been anything but “our” year. Three months later, a global pandemic would sweep across the United States, tragically claiming the lives of many Americans. We were ordered to shut everything down and we did. College seniors cleaned out their dorm rooms, packed up their caps and gowns (which were not returnable) and told their diplomas would be mailed to them. Four years of hard work – or six if you weren’t a good student, like myself – thrown out the window. They will never get the chance to walk across the stage, shake the president of the university’s hand and accept the massive amount of student loan debt they accrued (with interest) with a smile.
The quarantine and social distancing were set to last a few months and everyone would be able to return to campus in the fall to lead as close to a normal life as possible for the class of 2024. Well here we are, August 2020 and we are far from that dream. The landscape of college move ins and orientations looks vastly different than they have in the past. University Presidents are addressing their incoming students on a computer, wearing the Zoom mullet: suit and tie up top and sweatpants on the bottom, if I had to guess.
The typical speeches of “We are an amazing university, capable of educating the greatest young minds in the country” and “A degree from our institution will set you up to achieve any of your wildest dreams” have been replaced with “We are coming to you and asking that you PLEASE wear a mask on campus and social distance from your friends, other students and facility members as much as possible. This pandemic is on all of us and we need you to do your part to STOP THE SPREAD!”
Of course, every level headed person in the world knows that keeping 18-22 year olds apart in their first experience away from home is, uhhh, well… impossible. They are going to party (sorry campus security and higher education professionals – young adults do party, even though we’ve been telling them for years not to). They are going to socialize; it is simply human nature and we cannot fault them for that.
I’m writing this blog from an outsider’s perspective, with a lot of experience speaking to college students, looking in. For the past 6 years I have been a comedian, game show host, talent show emcee, bingo caller and whatever else a school has asked me to do to make their campus events successful. During my time, I’ve met some of the most amazing students and advisors and I’m beyond grateful that I have been given this opportunity to pursue my passion, which is making people laugh.
My “job” is entertaining students and giving them a break from the stressful environment of writing papers, cramming for exams and preparing for real world. I am fortunate and wake up every day looking forward to my next gig. Until 2020, things were going well. I was hopping from college town to college town, performing at over 75 colleges a year. Anywhere from massive universities that I idolized and cheered for to small schools that I wasn’t even sure existed, but my agents assured me they did. I love every single thing about it. If I could make an impact on one student, I was happy. If I could turn one bad day for a student into a smile, I was winning! This is my purpose on earth and I am so glad I found it.
In March 2020, my career came to a SCREECHNG halt. Every college campus shut down, every show on my calendar disappeared and I was left thinking when will I ever return to the stage? Many shows transitioned to virtual programming, which was not only fun for me but seemed to be very successful for the schools. Fast forward to today and many schools are still booking my virtual programs (THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS) but when will things get “back to normal”?
Well, what if I said things SHOULD get back to normal for activity directors sooner rather than later? Okay, that’s what I’ll say. Schools should absolutely be booking live entertainment on their campus during the fall 2020 semester! Follow me here – students are cooped up in their dorm rooms, forced to attend Zoom University and after they are done... they are given the opportunity to watch Netflix, play video games or attend virtual programs. But there’s an old saying “Idle hands do the Devil’s work” and that may be just what we are dealing with.
For years, student activities have not only been a fun source of anxiety relief for students – they’ve also been extremely helpful as alcohol alternative events. The thought has always been, the longer we keep students engaged on campus… the less time they’ll have to drink and make questionable decisions. We need this NOW more than ever before.
If students do not have programming that is engaging and fun, parties are going to happen. While that may not be the worst thing in the world during a normal school year… It could be devasting during a pandemic. How soon would it happen? Well, at one college hundreds of students gathered on the quad to have a “twerk off” on move in day. This kind of thing will continue to happen unless we can keep students engaged on campus as long as possible.
Booking a live event on your campus such as comedy, music, game shows or even lectures could be the solution! How so? Well if schools offer live entertainment… something that students have to get out of the dorm rooms to go see, it could be a great reprieve from constantly staring at a screen AND if your school is in charge of the event, YOU control where the students sit, how they view the experience, how much they socially distance themselves from their classmates and how far away the performer is from the audience. Without any live alternative programming that schools can monitor, students will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (or shoulder-to-feet while doing keg stands) at parties. We can slow the spread on your campus through laughter, music and learning!
As it’s been said by every theater company in the world “The show must go on” and with colleges trying to return to life as normal, this show also must go on. It may seem like a risk to book live entertainment on your campus but if we follow state guidelines and national social distancing rules we can bring it back safely and effectively! In a year where college has been everything but normal, shows could be our saving grace.
Below you’ll see my 5 suggested steps on how to offer live events in this time.
5 Steps to Offer Live Events During a Pandemic:
1.Make the artists responsible for bringing their own sound equipment.
We want to be safe too! Using our own mics and sound will allow everyone to be as safe as possible at the event.
2.No meet and greets.
I know for many campus events, meeting the artist is some of the most fun but socializing in close groups is what we’re trying to avoid! We’d love to meet you as well but we can still connect with your students/activities boards on social media after the show. We can build relationships without congregating!
3.Do multiple shorter events to accommodate more people.
“Our state has restrictions on how many people can attend events!” That’s okay. We understand this. Artists are more than happy to do 2, 30 minute sets so that we can bring more students in to enjoy the show! Heck, if it means hearing live laughter again – I’m sure many artists, myself included, would be happy to do multiple full length shows to accommodate all the needs for your campus.
4.Use non-traditional event spaces.
During this time, we need to get creative not only with how we hold events but also WHERE we hold events! Outdoor options are great alternatives for social distancing and still getting people to enjoy your event.
With theaters being heavily regulated by states for events, non-traditional spaces like gyms, lobbies, classrooms, etc. make great alternatives where shows can happen safely and effectively!
5.Wear PPE and be SMART!
When you’re on campus to attend an event WEAR A MASK! Yes, you can laugh, enjoy music, get excited about a game show or lecture while wearing a mask. I promise! Also… Be SMART. We’re battling an invisible enemy here. If you’re feeling sick or have a temp stay in your designated area. No show is worth your life or the life of your classmates.
We can do this! We NEED to do this. College is as much of a social experience as it is an educational one. If we follow these guidelines, campus events can return and provide a little bit of normal in an abnormal situation. Keep your students engaged and SAFE with on campus programming. Who knows – maybe a little laughter or music might keep someone from partying, contracting the virus and spreading it rapidly throughout campus. Your next live event could save lives.