The transition from in-person classes to remote learning in the middle of the semester has not been seamless for all students and academic departments. Some students worry about how they’re going to complete their lab requirements for chemistry, how student-teaching will take place or how recreational courses like broomball or social dancing will translate to an online format.
It hasn’t been any different for the department of theatre. In fact, taking theatre education online has posed some unique challenges.
“No one was prepared for a situation like this to happen,” visiting instructor of theatre Torie Wiggins said. “I’ve never been trained to teach an acting class online.”
After the move online, faculty and staff members of the theatre department spent their time in countless meetings to reshuffle their in-person class format and their planned theatre productions for the remainder of the semester.
“I had to throw some of my expectations out of the door,” Wiggins said. “My main concern is that my students are learning something about the subject of acting, whether or not I’m able to complete the expectations of my original syllabus or not.”
Sophomore theatre and psychology major Jordan Myers has found it difficult to meet the learning objectives of her studio acting class remotely.
“As actors, we rely a lot on connection with our scene partners,” Myers said. “I find it very difficult to find that connection through a Zoom or FaceTime format.”
Junior theatre major Eleanor Alger said the same of her stage makeup class.
“Stage makeup has been a challenge since we don’t meet synchronously,” Alger said. “It’s difficult when I have a question and need to send an email or picture and wait for an answer instead of being able to raise my hand in class.”
Students in acting and performance-based theatre classes often look forward to the opportunity to present their work in a final showcase but won’t have the opportunity to do so this semester..
“For my musical theatre dance class, we’re no longer doing any type of final showcase,” Myers said. “Everything is recorded. I just teach myself the choreography, record a video and submit it to Canvas for a grade.”
The same goes for Myers’ private voice lessons with instructor Lisa Ericksen.
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“I still meet with Lisa every week via FaceTime for my voice lesson,” she said. “But instead of our jury performance and vocal forum assignments at the end of the semester, I just record and submit a run-through of my songs as my final performance.”
Since returning home to Colorado, in a time zone two hours behind Oxford, junior theatre major Meghan Stille has had to adjust to a sudden change in her class schedule.
“It’s been a difficult transition with the acting studio starting at 10:05 a.m., [and] having to get up for Zoom sessions at 8:05 a.m. because I live in Colorado,” Stille said. “While some of my professors have been more understanding about my time zone difference, others are not.”
Wiggins, on the other hand, makes sure to screen-record and post her Zoom sessions to Canvas to accommodate students who do not make it to class due to time zone differences.
“I don’t require my students to meet synchronously,” she said. “Some of my students are from China. I can’t expect them to get up at 8 a.m. in their time for my 2 p.m. class.”
While these unique classes have been difficult to transition to an online format, some classes in the theatre department have translated really well to being online.
“Dramaturgy and music theatre history haven’t been too difficult because a lot of the course is research-based,” Alger said. “We’ve had to adjust some of our research methods since we cannot utilize the campus libraries, but professor Christiana Molldrem Harkulich has been excellent at adjusting her expectations.”
Despite being spread across the country, theatre students have made an effort to stay connected via GroupMe, FaceTime and weekly video chatting. Alger and fellow classmates find themselves meeting on Zoom outside of class time to work on homework and projects together, paralleling the idea of working in a lounge or study room.
Theatre department chair Julia Guichard has made sure to stay connected with students by providing resources like directions on how to access WiFi for free, links to articles about how to stay engaged as an actor and a Healthy Thursday series in which each Thursday a theatre professor leads a 15-20 minute virtual session to promote relaxations and mental wellness.
As Guichard continued to provide resources and support to students for the online learning transition, many involved in the late April production of “Comedy of Errors” wondered how they’d receive their production credit with the performances being canceled.
“We’ve decided to do Zoom performances of video episodes with “Comedy of Errors” that will be released as a web series,” senior theatre major and stage manager Maddie Wagner said. “We considered coming back in August to do a performance, but the web series was a better option in terms of logistics.”
The cast, crew and production team rehearse for the show every Monday through Friday evening. While remote rehearsals bring their own challenges, Wagner is making the most out of the situation as stage manager.
“This whole situation has taught me the importance of being a positive presence in the room,” Wagner said. “I want to make sure rehearsal is a safe space for everyone because our situation is hard on everybody.”