Considering both resources and safety, teaching theatre online is the best option
Due to COVID-19, theatre classes have shifted online to protect their students. While some believe this is detrimental to the art form, others think that this is not only the best option for students' health, but it offers access to resources and opportunities previously impossible for them.
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With the pandemic being so widespread the safety of people is paramount and social distancing is one of the most important factors in stopping it in its tracks.
Generally speaking, virtual theatre is not ideal for artists that crave physical togetherness. However, at this moment, our world is asking us to find another way to connect. Part of traditional theatre’s beauty is its intense physical intimacy. Both the actors and the audience are invited into a shared space. Schools are not the only theatrical spaces that have closed down; Broadway has closed for the rest of 2020. Mirvish Productions in Canada has lost 80% of income due to the pandemic and in order to remedy the immense financial burden reopening their doors would pose, they would need 70% of the theaters full. Seeing as the virus is still operating in full force, financially speaking, it would not be wise to open theatre up now anyway. Not to mention the health risk. Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic, the coronavirus is more contagious than the flu, can spread amongst all age groups within six feet of each other and sometimes undetected, and is life-threatening. The enormity of the current pandemic is not lost on most of us, and while it is manageable if we follow guidelines, practicing traditional theatre would be a risk at the moment. Teaching students theatre online, especially if they do not yet have a foundational understanding of the art form, is challenging. However, educator Bryan C. Parker and journalist for Austin Monthly, argues in favor of virtual productions and especially of online teaching. He explains that the digital world is our best bet by a long shot right now, for the very reason that the counter argument asserts. The conversation has revolved around ensuring that students get the most out of their education. However, Parker cites Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to point out that students can only grow if they are healthy. The virus is new to us, and going back to in-person school is just postponing the inevitable cancellation and migration to an online platform, and it is also flirting with danger. We must make some very difficult sacrifices based on the circumstances and adapt to a safer form. This, explains Parker, is actually the most daring and most exciting solution. We are about to embark on an adventure into new territory, and it’s all in the name of protecting each other. Consistency and structure, Parker continues, is quite possible online and impossible in person. Aside from prioritizing health, this might actually provide some extra benefits for students. The University of Southern California’s newspaper the Daily Trojan published an article acknowledging the hardship of virtual school, but also exploring the newfound accessibility. With less extracurricular activities available, students do have a little more time on their hands; that is to say, very little, since we are all dealing with a troubling moment in our lives. Students have been taking it upon themselves to write and produce their own work together They do not have to worry about booking a space or physically hosting an event. Rather, the digital world has given them the chance to work on projects they love and on their own terms.
We cannot deny the innovation that has already come out of sending theatre classes online. Students are empowered to take their education into their own hands. The internet gives everyone the authority to speak, create, and advertise their hard work. And yes, high school students get the chance to chat with someone in the industry who lives across the country. The options are limitless…if you have access to them. Senior dance major Alex Policaro has had to use her garage for dance practice which is damaging to her back and not what she signed up for when applying to the University of Southern California. Daniel Proa is studying cinema and does not feel prepared for the industry, as he no longer has access to the expensive equipment USC provided for him. He has had to spend some of his own money for necessary devices and ended up building his own makeshift tripod. This is all very innovative, until he is asked to handle real equipment at a job. Maria McMillian, who is studying music, explains that she cannot properly practice with her cohort. She came to school to learn how to “collaborate” in a space together, a priceless skill in the industry. According to Laura Collins-Hughes of the New York Times, online theatre plays by different rules. There is nothing wrong with exploring the form, but we cannot pretend that this is the same theatre we have for so long taught in our studios. That would be something of a disservice, since virtual theatre operates in a different realm. The audience is not asked to show their faces and intermingle with each other. Depending on the streaming platform, even in live theatre, the actors might never see the audience and they are surely not in the same space as each other, reading and absorbing energy. This is not to say that virtual theatre is not valuable or exciting; it is both of these things and an evolving artform. Yet, in a world so full of screens taking us away from each other’s bodies to connect on a cerebral level, theatre has always asked us to come back to our shared energy and our imagination. It might be detrimental to claim in our classrooms that this is still theatre. It is noble to recognize what we have gained through virtual theatre but what are we depriving students of if stretch the artform?
[P1] With a shift to online classes students have also changed their ways of coming together to learn, making use of things like zoom to connect with each other at a safe distance.
Rejecting the premises
[PR1] Theatre is meant for a live stage audience and while there's a live audience there's a lack of stage, taking away from the action of the theatre.