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Student Blog: How a Virtual Class on Shakespeare Changed Everything

To take a course during a pandemic is one thing, but when you know the person you’re studying also lived through a pandemic, it makes everything hit closer to home

Student Blog: How a Virtual Class on Shakespeare Changed Everything

My first semester of online classes, much like everyone else's, was tough. Watching my professors attempt to share their screen for twenty minutes was not my ideal way of learning, and my focus often wandered elsewhere during class time. When I decided to take a class on Shakespeare that first quarantined semester, I figured it would be the same as the rest. I was familiar with the Bard as I had read some of his plays throughout high school, and I thought the class would be one I'd breeze through and maybe learn a thing or two about tragedy vs comedy. I had no idea at the time that my entire outlook on the pandemic would be changed from just one class, or that I would learn so much about how the world of theatre was coping.

Before the class even began, our professor required us to read the novel Station Eleven, which I thought was purely cruel at the time. How can you assign an entire book before class has even started? Nevertheless, I picked it up about a week before my first day and found myself so deeply engrossed that I struggled to put it down. A story about a pandemic that wipes out 90% of human life on Earth, but a small, traveling group of Shakespeare performers don't let that keep them from doing what they love. It was the perfect novel to read in such a time when our own pandemic was raging on, and helped me remember to keep up and continue doing what I love even when things look grim. The shows these performers acted out brought such joy to the few remaining towns they visited, and reminded me to be forever grateful of the things I have while I still have them.

After discussing Station Eleven, we dived right into some of the more well known Shakespeare plays such as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing. Our professor wanted us to know a bit more about how theatre was operating during quarantine, so he assigned us virtual productions of these plays to watch. I was astounded because I thought theatre had stopped completely, and had no idea there were so many performers persevering and attempting to get their art out in any way possible. We watched a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream that was done entirely over Zoom, and I was shocked at how well it was done and how engrossed in the performance I became. The actors used the video chatting technology to their advantage by changing their virtual backgrounds to make it look like they were in the mystical forest, using different voice effects to match their characters personalities, and even using the face filter technology to give the character Bottom a donkey head. It was hysterical and the performers did such a great job working through all the challenges and technical difficulties.

Near the end of the semester, I was lucky enough to act in an abridged version of Othello with a few of my fellow classmates. We decided we wanted to see for ourselves what it was like to perform over Zoom, and took careful time putting our scripts together and recording every monologue over the video chat system. It was definitely a challenge and a few scenes had to be re-shot (luckily ours was not a live performance much like A Midsummer Night's Dream was), but we eventually put it all together successfully. Over the course of the semester, our entire class had been working on a website dedicated to Shakespeare and what we had learned. Our little abridged Othello made the perfect edition to the site, and I left the class feeling proud of what I accomplished, and also much more aware of how the arts were persevering during this time.

To take a course during a pandemic is one thing, but when you know the person you're studying also lived through a pandemic (the bubonic plague), it makes everything hit closer to home. I have never had a class that felt so personal, and taught me so many things about the world of theatre that I love so much. To know that the arts will always find a way to persevere is such a comforting thing for so many people. Whether there's a global pandemic raging on, or you've just had a bad Monday, don't forget about the things you love and remember they will always be there to pick you back up again.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Lauren Brown