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Olivia Parker creates 'The Walls'

Chickasaw fine arts student discovers new path working through pandemic

 

Chickasaw citizen and performance arts student Olivia Parker is photographed dancing opposite Andrew Harris in the video, "These Walls." The video brings awareness to mental health and common experiences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chickasaw citizen Olivia Parker is utilizing her fine arts education and skills to highlight common pandemic experiences and raise awareness about related mental health challenges.

"The first step in destigmatizing mental health is talking about it, sharing experiences and letting people know that they aren't alone," Miss Parker said.

Miss Parker, 21, is currently pursuing a bachelor of arts in performance studies from Texas A&M.

With her artistic background comprised of a variety of mediums, she chose the major since it allowed her to engage in interdisciplinary study.

Miss Parker revels in all things that fall under the umbrella of performance arts, particularly storytelling and directing. In early spring 2020, she was exercising those passions, anticipating the debut of a musical she directed.

Two weeks before the show, Texas A&M moved all its classes to an online format to help mitigate the virus.

Miss Parker's life turned upside-down.

"It was the first time I was really stepping out of my comfort zone and presenting work that I was proud of," she said. "Suddenly, I was staying with my grandparents, trying to make the most of the remainder of the semester."

With her parents halfway around the globe on a military base in Germany, Miss Parker was beside herself that she couldn't be with her family during unprecedented circumstances.

"I know that I was far from the only person separated from their family and loved ones," Miss Parker said. "I was lucky enough to have family in town to take care of, and take care of me. Still – I keenly felt the loss of the things I was looking forward to and the distance between me and my parents in such a scary time."

She said it was cathartic to be able to work through those feelings, and reassuring to know she wasn't the only person processing complex emotions.

And through those challenges she faced and overcame – an idea emerged.

Miss Parker was moved to use her creative skills to direct and perform in a short video, "These Walls." The video depicts how the pandemic affected collegiate experiences, long-distance relationships and the struggle to stay connected.

"The arts are a powerful tool in that they not only communicate emotion in a specific way, they also allow the artist(s) to express themselves," she said. "Everyone wins. Creativity and expression are important elements of our mental health diets and something that it's important to make time for, even if no one sees your creation."

The video was a cooperative effort from Miss Parker and fellow Texas A&M students, who she found through mutual friends and mass emails over a three-day period.

"I wasn't expecting to find anyone, especially not people as talented as I did," Miss Parker said. "Having all experienced the turmoil of the previous months, we had something in common to start off and explore creatively."

Joshua Carley designed the lighting, Nick Jaye wrote and produced the song, Andrew Harris, who dances opposite Miss Parker, assisted her with the choreography, and Ember January functioned as the video's director of photography.

In order to orchestrate the video in a safe manner following COVID-19 guidelines, Miss Parker and her teammates had to be meticulous and innovative in their efforts.

Filming in the university's liberal arts black box theatre required strict protocols, with two-hour time limits, masks, extra cleaning measures and the use of a plastic shower curtain to keep the two dancers from making physical contact.

Initial rehearsal and filming were completed in one week and only one reshoot needed. The video was put together in less than three weeks, with additional edits following over the next few months.

"These Walls" officially released this past December.

"I'm blown away that it happened safely and in such a short time...all credit for the speed and quality of the project goes to the team," Miss Parker said. "The most rewarding part of the project has been the discovery I've enjoyed immensely and have found direction for my career."

The profound impact the video left on Miss Parker stirred her to base her undergraduate thesis on "These Walls" and the overall experience of the pandemic.

Miss Parker is also grateful to her school's staff and faculty for supporting her and fellow students, both in safely making timely work and providing personal support through the pandemic.

"Since completing the video, several friends and family members have contracted COVID-19 and had close calls, even with social distancing," she said. "My heart hurts for everyone who has lost loved ones during the pandemic."

Key moments from the video and lyrics from the song were turned into stickers by Bella Correa, with proceeds going to the National Mental Illness Alliance.

Links to the video, song and sticker collection can be found at the channel 'Olivia Grace Creates.'

Miss Parker is the daughter of Kevin and Abby Parker, and sister of Sophie Parker. Her Chickasaw heritage descends from her mother and a long line of strong, Chickasaw women.

 

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