Moving Theatre Online: The Challenge of Teaching Performance Classes
Kris McIntyre, lecturer; theatre; Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts
What’s it like to teach performance courses online? Oof! I teach in the Department of Theatre, which you can imagine makes for an interesting transition into online teaching. This semester, my academic load consisted of teaching two Core Curriculum courses (THEA 130: Principles of Dramatic Analysis and THEA 149: Acting for the Non-Major) and three majors courses (two sections of THEA 242: Vocal Production and one section of THEA 142: The Speaking Voice). In addition, I was working with BA senior Shaughnessy Burns on overseeing her direction of the Second Stage Production of “The Women of Lockerbie,” which was also to be her honors thesis project.
I was fortunate to have already completed dozens of CeTEAL courses, and I recently received both a distance learning certification and a COOL grant for creating an online version of THEA 130. I’ve used Moodle for many aspects of my classes throughout the years, and I knew I would be proficient in making Echo360 videos of me teaching from home; uploading audio-guided PowerPoint lectures; and creating assignments for my students that allow them to upload videos and journals, connect with their peers, and access linked library resources and supplementary videos. Thanks to the excellent training and preparation by the team at CeTEAL, I was ready, at least intellectually, to move to online instruction.
Emotionally, however, it was another thing altogether. You see, we who teach theatre thrive on the interaction with our students, and the greatest pleasure is derived from seeing them have an “a-ha!” moment while working on a scene or monologue or making a discovery while analyzing a play. We read their body language and facial expressions, as we are teaching them to do with others, in order to make in-the-moment adjustments in how we teach, constantly searching for clues in them that will help us guide them to those“a-ha!” moments. So, how was I going to do that online?
Just when I reached the peak of my consternation, which literally consisted of me walking around my house saying, “How do I teach voice and acting classes online?!,” I noticed that hundreds of theatre friends across the country were on Facebook expressing the same quandary. It prompted the creation of the Theatre Education Distance Learning (Resource Sharing and Support Network), where every day people were adding hundreds of links to online teaching ideas, portals, software, streaming services for theatre…you name it! It not only made me feel far less alone, but I gleaned many ideas for how to maintain a sense of connectivity and interaction among my courses. And the theatre community worldwide has truly come together to provide free streaming videos of world-renowned theatre, music, and dance performances for educators as well as all arts lovers. One common theme that has come from this that keeps motivating me is, “When the world is in a crisis, and we are looking for a little bit of connection to our humanity, where else would we turn but to the arts?”
Ultimately, my courses are now a combination of prepared lectures that I can upload, Echo360 video tutorials of me teaching them a specific skill, video and homework submissions from them that I can correct and scan back to them for review, and my favorite part: Zoom classes. Each week, my students and I log into Zoom, an online meeting portal in which every person who logs in can be seen and heard in real time, and I answer their questions, watch and provide feedback on their monologues, and just check in with them as human beings. It is now the highlight of my week, although I am limiting it to one hour a week with each class so I do not overload them with obligations. They love being able to check in with their classmates and see each other’s work and progress.
While teaching from home has certainly been no picnic, I easily have to cover the same material in four different ways each week (PowerPoint lecture notes, Echo360 video tutorials, written responses to journals and homework, and live Zoom classes), I am grateful for the comprehensive education I have received from CeTEAL that has made me feel adequately prepared to take on this crisis!