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Student Blog: Experiencing 'Back to School' Nerves? I've Got Them Too.

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If you're nervous about having to perform in class again, you're not alone.

Being a theater student and having to take classes online was...interesting to say the least. Actually, 'interesting' isn't nearly the most accurate way to describe the experience. It was pretty awful. Since many of us college students were forced to close out our spring 2020 semesters online due to the pandemic, I've been talking to other students about their online learning experiences. Just about everyone immensely struggled with the transition from classroom to Zoom meeting. Many of us not only had to leave our classrooms abruptly, but also our campuses in general. For instance, I had to leave my New York City school and apartment and move back to my childhood home in New Jersey, not only changing my learning environment but my living situation as well.

Being that I had to leave in the middle of the spring semester last year, I had 2 months of school to finish online. As a double major in theater and journalism, I was taking a mix of writing and performing classes that semester. Yes, the journalism classes were tough online - we went from conducting interviews and attending events on the city streets to attempting to come up with ways to write articles without stepping outside our homes. It seemed impossible to try and find the motivation to complete any kind of assignment. But the biggest challenge was trying to get through my theater classes.

I was in an excellent acting course taught by the head of the theater department at my school, and I was in that class with some friendly faces that I was excited to work with. We were reading and performing scenes from plays that dealt with very important topics, and by March I had already gotten a lot out of the class. I was loving the opportunity to work with and form a relationship with this professor too, considering how much the other students raved about her. But just as we were about to get into our second set of scenes, the semester was moved online.

It turned our class setting upside down. Everything that we were working towards, had to be completely changed in a matter of days. The first class on Zoom was basically a big venting session, where our professor asked us how we were doing and most of us were pretty scared, not really knowing what to do with ourselves. We knew we would have to take it easy over the next couple of weeks, but we didn't want to sacrifice the rest of our class time. We had to get back to work.

What followed was days of my professor attempting to rearrange our curriculum. We had rehearsals, out of school meetings and special guest visits that had to either be cancelled or moved around. Although my professor did the best she could with attempting to make the class go as smoothly as it would in-person, nothing could prepare us for having to perform to a computer screen instead of an audience. We ended up performing monologues from the plays we were reading versus scenes with partners because at the time that seemed way too difficult.

The monologues were no easy feat. There was always a lag during the Zoom meetings, and of course the various awkward technical difficulties that could take you out of a moment in a matter of seconds. I also never wanted to try and do anything standing up because heaven forbid I would turn my laptop camera a little too far to the right, exposing the One Direction cardboard cut-out still standing in my childhood bedroom. Needless to say, it was a stressful experience. I still appreciated my professor trying her best to create a safe space for us, and it was nice to know that my classmates had my back. After all, even if we weren't in the same space, we were sharing the same scary experience.

I detested online school to the point where I decided to take a gap-semester that upcoming fall. I figured I would have a little more time to spend on-campus, whenever we would return. Spring 2021 came along and classes were still online, so I bit the bullet and decided to dedicate that semester to strictly journalism classes so that any remaining theater classes I have to take will be in-person. Now looking towards the future and the fall 2021 semester, I will be returning to in-person classes (either in NYC or studying abroad in London...but that's another story for another day). Either way, it means that I will be taking theater classes in-person once again.

When I first heard that my school was re-opening, I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to see my friends from the theater department, reunite with those professors, etc. But as the fall approaches, I've started feeling a little insecure about my skill set and how I may perform in classes. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling like the pandemic has made us performers feel, for lack of a better word, rusty. Quite rusty. I haven't officially performed in front of a breathing human-being in well over a year. At most, I've done an online play reading for approximately six people outside of school. I've simply been out of practice.

I immediately started comparing myself to others, thinking of the people I know who have had the ability to take online workshopping classes or have been motivated enough to practice performing on their own. I started thinking about how those people will probably return to class still sharp, able to put on a great performance at the drop of a hat, making me feel like a beginner all over again.

The pandemic put me in a tough space mentally, and I am just finally beginning to dip my toe into the idea of returning to a normal life. It's a very isolating process. And this may all seem very personal and may sound like I'm unloading, but honestly I knew I should write about this in a student blog because I have that gut feeling that I am not alone.

At first a lot of us thought that we might just be quarantining for a couple of weeks. I know that when we initially left school in March of 2020, we were expected to return mid-April. Well, it's been almost a year-and-a-half. We've gone through a whole lot during this time and for many of us, making sure our acting or singing skills are still top-notch hasn't been a priority. I,on one hand, was focusing on surviving and keeping my loved ones safe. As dramatic as it may sound, it was a year of survival.

So far, the transition into "normalcy" hasn't felt like a smooth one. Mask mandates are suddenly lifted, travel restrictions are lifting, and we're going back to school! Which really is great news, but don't think that you're a "wimp" if you're a bit scared or intimidated about it all. We're moving from one drastic change to the next. So if you're a theater student like myself or just a performer in general, and you're nervous about doing it all in-person again, just remember that you're human. Not only that, but you're a human who has been working to survive a worldwide pandemic. It's okay if you can't get into character right away, stink at the improv game your instructor has you play on the first day of class, or that you haven't auditioned for anything in months. It doesn't mean you've lost all your talent. It just means we need a little time to get back into the swing of things - and that's alright!

Try to remember why you love performing, why you love going to class. Remember that a lot of your classmates are probably just as nervous as you are. Kind of like how it was when we were transitioning into an online class setting, we're all going through it together. I'm sure we'll get back in the swing of things sooner than we think. Don't forget to have fun, and break a leg!


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