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Underground Thursdays: Back from Quarantine unites performers, audience members over Zoom

Underground Thursdays returned last week, with 14 performers sharing their talents in a two-part online series

Underground Thursdays returned to the Brown community with its online showcase, Underground Thursdays: Back from Quarantine on Sept. 3 and 10. The two-part series included performances from locations scattered throughout the world. 

Underground Thursdays is a monthly program organized by the Student Activities Office. In the past, the event has featured student performances, such as piano nights and poetry readings, as well as marketplaces where students sold their own crafts at the Underground Coffee Shop. 

Because of the ongoing pandemic and the school’s temporary suspension of classes, Underground Thursdays were unable to resume their original format this semester. Noah Medina ’22, campus center programmer, and Matthew Branch GS, assistant director for student activities and special initiatives, decided to transition the monthly program online. 

The Back from Quarantine series is the first program offered by Underground Thursdays this semester, although they had two previous events during the University’s transition to remote learning in the spring. The show for dozens of audience members commenced at 8 p.m. over Zoom. Performance types ranged from spoken-word poetry to EDM music to vocalists singing with guitars. Many performers said they were grateful to be a part of the show, even though it was online. 

Medina hosted the event. He and Branch have worked diligently to try and unite student performers and fans throughout the various online programs they have offered. 

Medina said that there are a lot of opportunities for performance at the University, but only in certain spaces. He believes Underground Thursdays provides an accessible space for performers who might not fit in a defined space at the University otherwise. He also shared that Underground Thursdays usually attract many singers/songwriters. 

The transition of Underground Thursdays to an online platform initially daunted Medina, but he said he made the necessary adjustments. Without potential audience members physically on campus — meaning, among other things, that he could not advertise in person with physical posters to grab people’s attention — he started advertising many weeks in advance through posts on Facebook and Today@Brown. 

Not all aspects of the new online format posed greater challenges —  Medina also noted that aspects of preparation, such as soundcheck, were much easier online. “Instead of everyone coming in an hour before and having to scramble getting chairs set up, we can do the soundcheck the day before over Zoom.” 

The event attracted many people, including Linda Wakamoto ’23, who performed for the first time with Underground Thursdays Sept. 3. Wakamoto shared a speech she wrote after the death of George Floyd entitled “Black Lives Matter from a Japanese American.” She said that it was her goal during quarantine to perform her speech to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and she was grateful that Underground Thursdays gave her a platform. 

Performer Paul Abrams ’21 sang two songs with his guitar, an original song and a cover of “Alarmist” by Pinegrove. 

“When you’re in person, you can see their faces. But over Zoom, you’re the only one that’s really visible. The chat feature is nice, though, because you can see people’s comments about your performance when you’re done, even if there is no applause,” said Abrams, who has performed a few times in-person at Underground Thursdays before. 

Bree Zhang ’22, who performed on her guzheng, a 21-string Chinese harp, stated that she almost found it easier to perform online since she did not have to carry any of her musical equipment across campus. 

“That’s a really nice thing, staying in one place,” Zhang said. “I can finish dinner, go on another call and finish a meeting and hop on with my guzheng and just perform.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Linda Wakamoto. The Herald regrets the error. 


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