Back in March, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced challenges that no one could have predicted just a few months earlier. For artistic communities nationwide, these hardships took shape in the accessibility of art; venues for creative exhibition and exploration closed, groups could no longer meet safely, and artists began to struggle under the challenges of just staying afloat. Organizations like 14/48:HS, a local community-oriented youth theatre group, were pushed into a virtual platform, their resources and activities stifled by quarantine. Even inspiration suffered under the toll of the pandemic. Days began to blend together into a surreal quarantine landscape, and the sudden depression of social distancing pushed many artists’ creativity into a background hum. Financial instability, social isolation, and the stress of self-sufficiency in a country that seemed to be collapsing were common issues among adults. But what about teens?
For teenagers all across the country, school and extracurriculars spelled out an escape from tumultuous relationships and home lives. Now, home life is all we know. Even school, something that used to be a welcome time for stimulation and friendships, is one hundred percent virtual and isolated. Most extracurriculars were postponed indefinitely or forced to move to an online format, including groups that promoted artistic expression through their activities. One such group is 14/48:HS. They’re dedicated to producing their student theater festival and being a supportive artistic community that fosters the creative growth of members in various artistic mediums. Their community is so strong, they’ve won the Teeny Award for Best Youth Engagement Program— twice. Since quarantine began, they’ve been trying to continue their group online. Finding solutions to the challenges that plague artistic communities during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. The inability to come back to a physical theater space has left a 2020 14/48:HS festival impossible, and they’ve struggled with engagement and creative work over a virtual medium. But 14/48:HS is overcoming these challenges, and they’re doing it in a fashion befitting their mission as a youth-led, directed, and produced organization.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, organizations have had to adapt to online meetings and employ creative problem-solving. 14/48:HS is a great example of how groups of young artists can use online tools at their disposal to explore their creativity and serve their community. I attended one of the 14/48:HS meetings and found an open, friendly community. Creative ideas seemed to bounce off every member and the atmosphere was relaxed. During the quarantine, they’ve been unable to meet in person and do many of the things that they normally do as a theater group, so they’ve changed up their mission and began focusing more on their community. Being a safe space to let members focus more on themselves and the social issues plaguing our community was important for them. However, they’re now beginning to get back to the artistic aspect of their organization and planning to use the internet, the one reliable tool at their disposal, for creating. Photo courtesy of 14/48:HS.
Social media may serve to be the most important tool in 14/48:HS’s shift back into theater during the pandemic. Community engagement has always been an important aspect of their organization, but during the quarantine, their artistic endeavors have suffered. A way to get back to creation whilst honoring these values may be through TikTok, an app with an overwhelmingly young user base. 14/48:HS plans on using the platform to create short musicals and skits, all recorded through the ideas of the members and from the safety of a home recording. The idea seems perfect for a modern theatrical response to a modern pandemic. The engaging, youthful peer-to-peer nature of 14/48:HS reveals just how well they’re making their group work even in these difficult times. They’re peers, and they’re a community; they know each other’s struggles, conveniences, and the trends of their generation. Because of this, they know how they can help each other through the dark tunnel of quarantine. Through this intrinsic connection, they’re able to more effectively understand their platform, their peers, and the world of virtual theater. Their use of other virtual sources than the more obvious video-chatting services shows their mindfulness, as it's an excellent way to combat the widespread phenomena known as Zoom fatigue.
These times may be rough and isolation may run rampant, but communities are still very much alive. The empathetic and engaging work of 14/48:HS proves this. Although creativity may take a backseat for many young artists in these times of strife and discord, nothing shows the strength of community and togetherness like knowing that that’s okay. Even a group as artistically oriented as 14/48:HS recognizes this. Their theater is made by and made for today’s youth. They use the internet mindfully to make a powerful point as they transition back to art. After all the fatigue and challenge of functioning solo in quarantine, the 14/48:HS community is a breath of fresh air and a sign of more creative youth theater to come in the future. It shows just how far a community can go towards making an event as universally stressful and isolating as a pandemic a little bit more bearable, and a little bit more creative. No other organization shows an intrinsic understanding of this better than the exemplary 14/48:HS.