Teaching Theatre During COVID-19
It would have been a tall order for Carol Collins, a senior lecturer in the department of performing arts, to conduct her playwriting, improvisation and honors theatre appreciation classes without face-to-face interaction. So when classes switched to an online format after spring break, Collins’s chief priority was to maintain collaboration and communication among her students. Using Zoom, a video teleconferencing platform, helped replicate the classroom experience and keep students engaged.
In the playwriting class, students met online to act out read-throughs of scenes they had written, and to Collins’s delight, the responses were thoughtful and intentional. “Those playwrights were just helping each other with great insight and feedback, and that was very pleasant.”
Because in-person groupwork was no longer possible, Collins had to make some adjustments to her final projects. For the theatre appreciation class, instead of requiring a built set model based off a one-act play, students constructed a mask and rendered a costume to connect to a chosen character. They also added sound effects to explore the work’s themes, characters and conflicts.
“They could still collaborate, but they could also concentrate on their own [projects],” Collins said. “They wrote a monologue, and they loved it so much that I’m going to keep it for future classes.”
In the improvisation class, the original final project was for students to build an art installation that would be a set for their improvisation. Collins instead had her students make items that represented original characters, and they enthusiastically embraced the new assignment.
“Some built a sculpture. One built a wall. Someone built a box,” she said. “They could create anything to represent a character, and then when they did their improvisation, they were very creative.”
“Those playwrights were just helping each other with great insight and feedback, and that was very pleasant.”
When everyone except for the performer was muted on Zoom, Collins had her students wave homemade “celebration wands” to capture real-time reactions, provide encouragement and introduce some much-needed levity during a time of uncertainty.
“I took cues from each class and wove together with my students how we could make [online learning] fun,” Collins said. “The students were very supportive and imaginative and creative and helped the process soar. I couldn’t have done it without them!”
— Emily P. Baker