Shenandoah Conservatory hands over facilities, programming to students in unprecedented initiative

shenandoah universityIn a groundbreaking new initiative, Shenandoah Conservatory is canceling its regular classes and rehearsals for one week and turning over its facilities and resources to the students in order to support student-run projects that emphasize collaboration and interdisciplinary partnership. The initiative, modeled after similar programs in the United Kingdom, will be the first of its kind in the U.S. From Tuesday, Nov. 27, through Saturday, Dec. 1, students work across disciplines on self-directed, time-limited projects fueled by their passion, drive and curiosity. The week culminates with a Festival of Arts, Ideas and Exploration on Dec. 1 featuring more than 30 innovative and provocative music, theatre and dance projects that highlight student creativity and collaboration.

While the daylong festival offers audiences access to a wide variety of live performances and presentations, the underlying goal is to inspire artistic and scholarly excellence, preparing talented students for successful careers in the arts. “Polling of top CEOs and arts leaders is clear: the career success of this generation of students will hinge on their ability to work collaboratively, to solve problems with independence and to be innovative in bringing people together around projects that matter,” said Shenandoah Conservatory Dean and Professor of Music Michael Stepniak, Ed.D. “Student Performance Week is so significant because it provides conservatory students an extraordinary opportunity to practice and strengthen these very skills.”

The journey to Shenandoah Conservatory’s Student Performance Week (SPW) began in the UK in 2017, when Dr. Stepniak visited The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. At the time, both schools were in the midst of initiatives that effectively turned college instruction on its head, freeing students to interact and create in ways both new and completely of their own design. Excited about the possibilities of such a program existing at Shenandoah Conservatory, Stepniak assembled a small student/faculty task force and, thanks to funding from the Dean’s Circle, supported an exploratory return trip the following year. After a four-day whirlwind tour in early 2018, the group returned to Shenandoah with a positive recommendation for creating a similar initiative at Shenandoah Conservatory; albeit with the important caveat that it must include students from across the entire conservatory — music, theatre and dance, as well as the academic and research-oriented departments. Since gaining approval, the task force has shifted to planning and promoting this massive project.

From a field of 67 submissions, 33 projects were selected and will be featured across main campus in the Festival of Arts, Ideas and Exploration from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. More than 100 additional conservatory students are collaborating with project leaders to make their creations a reality. Festival-goers will receive wristbands, giving them access to a day of performances and presentations, as well as an after-party celebration, which begins at 10 p.m. in the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre.

Wristbands are available for a suggested donation of $10 ($5 for students and youth). Proceeds support ongoing Student Performance Week efforts. Festival wristbands and information are available at the Shenandoah Conservatory Box Office at 540/665-4569, located in the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre and online at

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