BWW Blog: Zoom University - Taking an Acting Class During a Pandemic
When Gov. Cuomo announced that all SUNY schools would be moving to an online learning model for the remainder of the school, my thoughts immediately started reeling. I had so many questions, concerns, and worries that my mind couldn't let go. One major question persisted: how am I going to take theatre classes online?
I am not a theatre major, but a theatre minor. I have a double major in communications and journalism, and I added the minor in theatre because it's my passion and an industry I hope to work in one day. While my major-based classes were likely to work almost normally in a virtual setting, I worried that that wouldn't be the case for my theatre classes. This semester, I decided to branch out and take an acting class. In addition, I took a History of Shakespeare class which focused on plays in performance. Both classes were not designed to be taught in an online setting. With the semester officially over, I can reflect on what it was like to take theatre classes virtually. Hint: it wasn't great.
Let's focus on my acting class. My professor was really wonderful, given the circumstances. She scrambled to figure out a way to restructure the class. Initially, the class consisted of working on a scene with a partner, doing a solo monologue, and doing another scene at the end of the semester. Due to the shift to virtual learning, our professor decided to adjust and have us work on two monologues - one contemporary and one historical. This made sense, since doing scenes with a partner virtually would be near-impossible. It was a valid alternative, but not as effective as if the class was in-person.
The monologues had the option to either be performed live when the class met on Zoom or to be submitted as a self-tape. That worked, for the most part. However, viewing my classmate's monologues was either a lagging video through Zoom's screen sharing, or through a web camera with minimal opportunity to truly see nuanced details such as facial expressions. It was fine, given the circumstances. But it definitely did not teach what an acting class was supposed to.
Another aspect of the acting class was the requirement to see a professional production. The original syllabus required us to see an equity production such as Broadway, regional theatre, or a touring show and write a paper critiquing the acting. That, of course, went out the window when the pandemic hit. Live theatre performances came to a halt as the nation went into lockdown. As a result, we had to watch a filmed live professional production for our paper, leading me to purchase a BroadwayHD account. As an act of sympathy with the situation, our acting professor also offered up to nine percentage points towards our grade for viewing up to three additional productions and doing a short write-up. "I just want you guys to take this time to see as much theatre as possible, even if it isn't live," my professor said during one of our class Zoom meetings.
While I was lucky with being a theatre minor and only taking one performance-based class, my few struggles made me think of my peers and friends who are theatre majors. Performing, practicum, and being a part of the department's remaining spring productions all disappeared. For theatre majors, "Zoom University," is hardly a viable option for a true education. Still, if this experience has taught me anything, it's that theatre prevails, and you can work on your craft no matter where you are. Live performance is about dealing with the unexpected, and that's perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.