• Leah Wright

Notes from the color guard world on March 11, 2020

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

On the morning of March 11, 2020, I went to my last in-person class of my undergraduate career without knowing it. I walked home from class that day. I realized I didn’t know how many of these walks I had left.

“The chances of WGI being canceled are seemingly increasing by the second so remember this: one night/weekend does not take away from an entire season of work. Perform every rep like it’s your last. wash your hands. spread love instead.”

at 10:58 am on March 11, 2020

I got home to find the community I love up in flames. News travels fast in this small subculture I’ve called home, especially on social media. Someone always knows somebody who is on the Winter Guard International executive board, and that someone always hears information from the meetings early, and someone always tells someone else, and someone always puts it on Twitter.

“WGI Sport of the Arts is canceling the 2020 WGI World Championships for Color Guard, Percussion, and Winds. The numbers involved in an event of this magnitude urge caution in light of recent national and international health concerns. Over nine days of competition, groups from 41 states and five countries would travel with over 16,000 participants. While we are deeply saddened to cancel these prestigious events, our priority is, and always has been the health and well-being of all those involved with our organization.”

at 2:05 pm on March 11, 2020

And that someone is almost always right.

I didn’t know how to process this information. I grasped desperately to the idea of the two in-state shows I had left, trying (and failing) to convince myself that those wouldn't disappear, too. WGI Championships is a culmination of months of hard work and dedication. A four-day-long party, surrounded by thousands of people who understand, by thousands of people who don’t need an explanation.

“The kids. The programs. The instructors. The seniors. The age-outs. The first-timers. The members. The ideas. My heart could not hurt any more than it does right now.”

at 4:38 pm on March 11, 2020

For the past year, I’d been going back to teach at my old high school when I can, alongside the program’s new director. This year, the last three girls I marched with when I was in high school were graduating. Three days before color guard ended, I watched them perform in regional finals for the first time in the program’s history.

Since I’ve graduated, the Novi High School color guard has gone through staff changes nearly every season, directors of the program never putting the effort in they needed to be successful. Finally, someone was giving them the instruction they needed, and I watched the most confident performers I’ve ever seen at Novi take the floor in Finals competition, in the most competitive scholastic class in Michigan, and I watched them show everybody that they deserved to be there.

“While it’s devastating to hear the news that WGI is canceled, we have to keep in mind that our performers are looking to us, as educators and role models, for guidance on how to process this intellectually and emotionally. Teach them well.”

at 4:37 pm on March 11, 2020

My hands hurt after watching them, because I couldn’t stop clapping. One of the three girls I marched with in high school said to me after the show, “We were dead last at states last year. We just finished in the top half of our class.”

“Put the phone down, go teach your kids, make the moments count, keep perfecting your show, spin, talk, cry, laugh, find the few moments we have left in the 2020 season, and make the most of them. I promise, we will remember these moments as much as we would in Dayton.”

at 6:01 pm on March 11, 2020

For as long as I can remember, color guard — whether it was teaching, rehearsing, or performing — was what I needed when the real world went to shit. Recalling the current events specifically from 2016 - 2020, I’m sure I would not have been able to make it through if it weren’t for my weekend salvation.

I woke up the next morning to news of my in-state circuit cancelling the remainder of the 2020 season. I woke up to no more Interplay, at the time I needed it the very most.

“Mourning moments that might have been is a whole different type of loss. And right now, I’m mourning the loss of incredible moments with incredible people.”

8:40 am on March 12, 2020

My season was cut short, by a pandemic that cut every other competitive season short, too. Every championship game, every last show, every performance ceased to exist.

Having empty weekends (and empty weekdays) was something I had never been used to, and my carefully crafted busy schedule was ripped out from underneath me. No matter how much I had time to do things on the weekends, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my knee should be hurting somewhere on the West Side of the state, surrounded by all of my best friends.

“We can try and pull the floor out in my parking lot — it’s pretty big. I want one last run with my family. I need one last run with my family.”

at 10:03 am on March 12, 2020

This was intended to be my last season with Interplay. I was graduating, and had no idea where my life would take me. I went into auditions last fall with the intentions of enjoying my last season performing, and being okay with this being the final chapter.

But how am I supposed to end like this?

“What to say? It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. But it won’t change a thing. Life is a never-ending series of lessons. Some good, some bad. Appreciate what you have accomplished this season. Remember the joy of performing. It doesn’t have to be an end, maybe a detour, a pause. Remember the joy and camaraderie of teammates and families. Here’s to WGI 2021. We will be back.”

at 4:26 pm on March 12, 2020

Interplay World’s 2020 show was titled “Hindsight,” and circled around the idea of memories, and understanding why things happen only after they have happened or developed. Working on “Hindsight” not only helped me see the beauty in my unexpected and unconventional color guard journey, but it helped me understand it — making this season with Interplay so much more special.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this short, but beautiful season, it's that even if I don't understand this situation now, I will as time passes.

“In 2021, when we implore our students to 'perform like it’s your last time, every time' — it will have such a bold, powerful, new meaning.”

at 5:50 pm on March 12, 2020

Less than a day after WGI cancelled championships, someone made a Facebook page where teams from all over the world could post videos of their latest performances, so that their work could still be shared with the community. The page had over 12,000 members in a week.

“Just an idea, let’s try to get everyone in WGI this year to join this group. Then have one person from every ensemble post a video of your final full run of the season so the world still gets to see your creation (with approval from your ensemble of course, and after your final competition)! Add anyone you can think of performing this season and let’s get every group involved! And even the groups that couldn’t afford to make it to Dayton can still perform for the whole marching arts community.”

9:53 pm on March 12, 2020

I watched so many groups I never would have had the chance to see in-person on that Facebook page. Granted, I would have much rather been in a sweaty, packed arena in Dayton, Ohio watching these shows, but the community set a new standard for making performance art accessible, under the strangest and most terrifying circumstances.

“It feels like yesterday everyone was announcing their shows and having first rehearsals. Now everything is in a state of shock, but beautifully we come together as a community. I believe the founders of WGI are looking at us with pride as we continue to find a way to share art with each other.”

at 11:59 am on March 12, 2020

Writing about performance, my favorite thing to write about, suddenly became very difficult for the first time in my life. My senior capstone circled around the relationship between performance and writing, but it was difficult to be creative. I couldn’t give the stories I loved so much the weight I wanted, because my mind was always somewhere else: how am I supposed to write about performance when I’m not performing anymore? There is a global pandemic happening, why am I trying to mourn the loss of color guard? Seemingly, everyone in the world felt the same way I did, but at the same time I had no idea how to convey the weight of this loss, even to myself. This was my closure on my writing at Michigan State, but I never got the closure or the performance that I needed.

My capstone class was paired with WRA 480, where I work with a team of talented writers, designers, and editors to produce The Current: a magazine that has proved to be a stellar group performance in and of itself. The staff of The Current is still making a magazine, finding ways to share their stories, despite everything.

And I’m still writing. No matter how difficult it is to be creative right now, there is still something that needs to be said.

Maybe in hindsight, this will all make sense.

“There is something sorrowfully poetic about an unfinished masterpiece.”

at 5:01 pm on March 12, 2020

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