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BWW News: Four DC Broadway World Writers Who All Attend Catholic University on Dealing with Distance Learning

BWW News: Four DC Broadway World Writers Who All Attend Catholic University on Dealing with Distance Learning
L-R Elizabeth Seablom, Sophie Williams, Brandon Horwin,
and Russell Smouse.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been rough for everyone but one of the groups of people that might be having the hardest time adjusting to a "new normal" are students of all ages.

While there are ways to make learning fun for the younger set, high school and college students have to take things more seriously when it comes to their education. Institutions of higher learning all over the country have gone digital and this includes The Catholic University of America (CUA) here in DC.

The DC page of Broadway World happens to have four writers that attend CUA so I thought it would be interesting to get their take on how distance learning has affected their learning process.

Please keep in mind that three of the four students interviewed are Musical Theatre Majors which means under normal circumstances your learning would highly depend on interaction with another person or persons.

I posed the same question to each of the students. What is the biggest challenge for taking online classes in a major that depends on lots of interaction with others?

Their answers represent what students all across the country are having to adapt to.

The photos within their answers represent the last production each worked on before the pandemic shut everything down.

Stay safe everyone!!

BWW News: Four DC Broadway World Writers Who All Attend Catholic University on Dealing with Distance Learning
L-R Jimmy Bartlebaugh and Elizabeth Seablom in the Caatholic University production of A Little Night Music.
Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

Elizabeth Seablom (Senior) is a Musical Theatre Major and a DC native. Besides acting, singing, and dancing she enjoys going to see theatre, writing, going to Caps games and cheerleading for The Catholic University of America's cheerleading team.

I'd say some of the biggest challenges in doing online classes as a theatre major would be the lack of social interaction, and the unwillingness to understand what it is that arts majors need during this time to be successful. I understand that lack of social interaction is something that everyone is struggling with right now but, as people who have chosen to major in live performance the lack of a live audience is simply draining. Live theatre performers feed off of the excitement and reactions of an audience, it is an exchange of energy between us. We want to perform for you all! We want to tell a story to people and know that we are effectively telling that story based off of an audience's reaction. Apart from the lack of energy normally supplied by audience members, I've heard from several of my peers who say that practicing in their homes for voice lessons, tap classes, and other forms of arts classes has resulted in noise complaints and a general lack of understanding about what it takes to be a practicing musician and theatre artist.

Besides being an arts major I am also a senior and like many other seniors in college I know that many of us were extremely despondent by the cancellation of graduations, galas, and the excitement of participating in senior traditions. As a senior musical theatre major I was looking forward not only to the traditions of being a senior at my university, but also the opportunities that come with being a senior in my program. Senior recitals, showcases and shows have been completely ripped away and while my department has made every effort to counter and replace those losses it simply is not the same. My peers and I were on the brink of celebrating the hard work we had done all semester by travelling to New York to perform in a showcase in the hopes that maybe we'd get some performance opportunities fresh out of school, this has since been cancelled and replaced with videos sent out to casting directors. Instead of performing my hour long senior recital in front of my friends, family, and faculty I had to navigate the uncharted territory of editing an hour of me performing my same material in my basement on imovie.

Besides these milestones that we are missing out on, is the day to day grind of sending in video after video for dance classes and acting classes that is the most draining and least rewarding. I am currently enrolled in three dance classes and one conditioning class, all except my conditioning class have required video submissions which understandably is the only way to possibly conduct a dance class remotely but in doing this I have learned all the reasons why learning in person is significantly better. It is the social aspect of learning, sweating, and succeeding together that makes my dance classes enjoyable. It's the one on one interaction that I get with my teachers correcting, guiding, and fostering my growth. I have spent four years here making these connections and building these relationships; having my last semester taken away has left my peers and I feeling less than excited about stepping out into the world post coronavirus and post "graduation".

This is a new, turbulent time for all of us but I am extremely grateful for my peers who have shown unwavering support, their sense of humor and lightheartedness has created a sense of oasis in this crazy time; and to the musical theatre faculty at Catholic that has dropped everything in this global emergency to continue to foster a caring and compassionate learning environment.

BWW News: Four DC Broadway World Writers Who All Attend Catholic University on Dealing with Distance Learning
L-R Sophie Williams and Jimmy Bartlebaugh in the Caatholic University production of A Little Night Music.
Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

Sophie Williams (Junior) is a Musical Theatre Major and has performed, directed, and assisted on multiple productions. Her love of theatre extends past performance, as she loves enjoying the lively scene D.C. theatre has to offer. In fact, if she isn't in rehearsal, she's probably on the hunt for student discount tickets.

Even though most of my classes ride on the promise of interaction between artists, many of my professors have found ways to keep our interaction active. Particularly my Pop Vocal Techniques course taught by everyone's favorite, Tracy Lynn Olivera, and my Musical Theatre Directing course taught by everyone's other favorite, Bobby Smith. These classes thus far have been super interesting as they rely on us being in person to have what Bobby calls "lab time" to experiment and work collaboratively but now with the added obstacle of distance. But as working artists, Bobby and Tracy both know how this takes a toll on the production of art and have been super supportive of us not only in our efforts to finish our courses to the best of our ability, but in how we are maintaining our health, mentally and physically.

I definitely think that being an arts major with smaller class sizes and more intimate settings pay off when our professors take personal interest as to how we are doing. Both classes had planned showcases, a performance of a pop song for our "Pop-Shop" course as we call it, and a fully staged song from Jesus Christ Superstar with fellow CUA peers cast as the characters. Obviously, these projects will not be happening, but my professors have made up for it tenfold by planning future projects, inviting their professional friends to come and speak to us, and workshops for self-taping (after much trial and error). I think these classes definitely had the ability to go south with distance learning, but I'm very thankful for my teacher's dedication to us as it has made the best of this situation.

BWW News: Four DC Broadway World Writers Who All Attend Catholic University on Dealing with Distance Learning
Brandon Horwin with co-Director Sophie Williams during rehearsals for the Catholic University production of Having The Time of Your Life: An ABBA Cabaret.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Brandon Horwin (Junior) is a Drama Major and Performing Arts Management Minor Recently at CUA, Brandon stage managed, assistant directed, and acted. That is what we call a triple threat. He was one of the proud recipients of the Drama Department's "Rookie of the Year" award last. Brandon has shadowed at several Broadway shows including Come From Away and The Phantom of the Opera, among others.

Converting to "virtual learning" a Drama major in college is certainly a challenge. Because my major centers around complete human interaction to conduct your studies, it becomes difficult to adjust classes to a Zoom call. For me, I'm quite fortunate since I am currently in only one Drama class this semester at Catholic University. This class, "Drama in Education" as in all drama class thrives in in-person instruction. It focuses on certain dramatic strategies that are proven to be of extreme educational value to students from grades Kindergarten through High School in order to enrich their learning in all subjects. Fortunately, our instructor Dr. Rosalind Flynn has conducted this class online before and has been not only extremely prepared but has done an extraordinary job transferring the rest of the semester's sessions online.

While it would be ideal to be learning these useful and important Drama in Education strategies in person with my fellow classmates, I'm grateful to be able to continue that online without being extremely hindered. We've continued to meet once a week and always have many laughs doing our "drama strategies" virtually. I've enjoyed every class session. Similarly, life in the arts on campus has not been completely canceled. We're continuing to plan for next year and our production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure has been transferred online to culminate in a "Zoom performance" on April 23. Professors, staff, and administrators are continuing to have office hours which helps to "connect" virtually to get a sense of being on campus for a bit. While nothing would be better than going back and studying theatre amongst other classes in person with my fellow students, this is our current reality and I'm grateful for professors like Dr. Rosalind Flynn and many others who are working tirelessly to make sure us Drama students, and all other university students are being able to continue pursuing our college degree in the midst of these crazy times.

BWW News: Four DC Broadway World Writers Who All Attend Catholic University on Dealing with Distance Learning
Russell Smouse (back row center in blue shirt) and the cast of the Catholic University production of Circle Mirror Transformation.
Russell served as Assistant Director for the production alongside Director Brandon Horwin.
Photo by Elizabeth Rich.

Russell Smouse (Junior) is a Marketing Major and has been a theatre enthusiast for many years. He has performed in many roles on and off the stage.

I work at the Hartke Box Office on campus and takes classes in the theatre department as well as participating in its productions. I was studying abroad this semester, and for apparent circumstances I was sent home in early march. This means that the classes I take are now structured somewhat differently. Many of the classes were based around studying the city of Rome and learning through on-site visits. Now I study Roman Church architecture from the comfort of my basement. I was looking forward to returning to the DC theatre scene and to begin reviewing shows again, though it looks like I will have to wait a while longer.

It is good to see that everyone is doing what they can to stay active while at home. In efforts to keep their students engaged, the Catholic Drama Department has invited their students to participate in weekly Shakespeare discussions via Zoom. They also are having the spring play, Measure for Measure being performed virtually. It is nice to see that through Zoom, Skype, and other platforms, the theater and performing arts community is still alive and well.


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