Student festival returns to Shenandoah Conservatory

shenandoah universityShenandoah Conservatory’s unique commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration and student-led innovation will be on full display when ShenCoLAB returns for a week of unbridled exploration and creation, culminating Saturday, Nov. 2, with a daylong Festival of Arts, Ideas and Exploration.

Now in its second year, ShenCoLAB stands apart as the only student-led festival in the nation to span either an entire conservatory or university performing arts unit. During the week of Tuesday, Oct. 29, through Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, the conservatory cancels classes and rehearsals across all its music, dance and theatre programs, and turns over its facilities to students who work across disciplines on self-directed, time-limited projects fueled by their own passion, drive and curiosity. The week culminates Saturday, Nov. 2, with a Festival of Arts, Ideas and Exploration, featuring a wide variety of innovative and provocative performances and presentations.

This year’s festival includes 22 projects supported by 200+ student collaborators. Projects are being presented in seven venues across Shenandoah University’s main campus from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Projects this year include The Chewing Symphony, which involves an ensemble creating music by munching, crunching, slurping and grinding with the use of vegetables and fruits; “Being Positive,” an HIV/AIDS awareness and STD/STI prevention fashion show; and Storytelling Through Cirque, which explores circus art as a means of storytelling. Local food trucks are serving audiences, and the festival concludes with a celebratory after-party.

“ShenCoLAB was started as a radical experiment to support great learning by giving our students the time and space to develop and lead collaborative and innovative projects,” said Dean of Shenandoah Conservatory Michael Stepniak, Ed.D. “Put simply, ShenCoLAB enables students to do work that deeply matters and to sharpen the very skills that employers demand: teamwork, perseverance, creative thinking, courageous risk-taking, comfort with innovation, and rapid problem solving.”

Originally referred to as Student Performance Week, the idea for ShenCoLAB began 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 which 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 taskforce has shifted to planning and promoting this massive project.

“Collaborating with other artists leads us to make creative decisions we wouldn’t make by ourselves,” said Andy Herring ’18, ’19 (Bachelor of Music in Composition, Master of Science in Performing Arts Leadership & Management). “[The week] allowed us five life-changing days to focus our time and energy on a project that has added immense value to our education.” Herring co-led “Explorations in Improvised Dance and Music,” a project that brought 11 collaborators together to draw from improvisational norms in music and dance to create a performance in which the two disciplines were treated as equal partners and the artists reacted spontaneously to both motion and sound, during last year’s festival.

The daylong festival offers audiences access to a wide variety of live performances and presentations. Wristbands are available for a suggested donation of $10 ($5 for students and youth). Proceeds support ongoing ShenCoLAB 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 conservatoryperforms.org.


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