NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Learning acting online in a pandemic

Regional tertiary students learned alternative skills in performance when after just two weeks of face to face acting classes, we were forced to undertake all teaching and learning online via Zoom due to the pandemic. Emergency remote teaching offered in response to a crisis such as COVID-19 is different to well-planned online learning experiences.

By Dr Linda Lorenza

Regional tertiary students learned alternative skills in performance when after just two weeks of face to face acting classes, we were forced to undertake all teaching and learning online via Zoom due to the pandemic. Emergency remote teaching offered in response to a crisis such as COVID-19 is different to well-planned online learning experiences (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust, & Bond, 2020). While some institutions opted to cancel tuition, others opted to move tuition to some form of “online” teaching and learning, which Hodges et al. (2020) carefully label emergency remote teaching.

CQUniversity is a major provider of distance education, so the emergency remote teaching undertaken in the first half of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic should have been business as usual. However, the Bachelor of Theatre degree is performance-focussed and taught face to face using a fully functioning 200 seat theatre for everyday classes. Skills classes in acting develop the students’ capacity to act and react in scene with other characters. This was not feasible to transition into an online format.

Rather than thinking of being on stage with an audience watching them, the students needed to place the online camera within the monologue … Examples included the perspective of CCTV watching a student in a school counselling consultation in a monologue by Peter Malicki

Phelan (2012) highlights the importance of learning communities and the student’s sense of “belonging” (p. 34), an aspect that immediately seems absent when learning is no longer in a physical face to face environment. After only one week of replicating the regular timetable online, energy levels were low, and the collaborative nature of acting was absent. Students’ motivation to learn is evident in their adaptive and maladaptive behaviours (Martin et al., 2013). The way students respond to learning situations is evident in a range of attributes including planning, task management, and persistence, which Liem and Martin (2012) consider to be adaptive or positive behaviours, in contrast to maladaptive behaviours such as disengagement and even self-handicapping.

Inhibitions students previously experienced in the live studio space were inverted in the online space. In some cases the performing student was less-aware of the audience of their peers and consequently responded more confidently to ideas and direction in the solo and small group classes than they would have done in a face to face class on campus.

In order to continue undergraduate acting tuition online during COVID-19 I chose to substantially change the structure of acting classes, usually held in year groups for two 90-minute sessions each week. Emergency online learning and teaching in acting became a very different looking program. Year groups were broken into smaller groups of four or five students. These groups logged in for a shorter masterclass-style session once per week. Each student had a ten-minute one to one monologue coaching session. I worked with all students in a mixed year group dialect and accent demonstration class once per week, in which the students entered breakout rooms by smaller groups comprised of peers from their year groups. I found the optimum duration of group classes was 45 minutes. In this time period students were able to maintain the energy and focus required for participating and observing the workshop of each student’s selected monologue.

Within these revised acting classes I challenged the students to reimagine the performance context using the location in which they had to work for the COVID-19 shutdown period. Rather than thinking of being on stage with an audience watching them, the students needed to place the online camera within the monologue. They were prescribing the audience’s perspective of their character. Each student found a perspective unique to their character. Examples included the perspective of CCTV watching a student in a school counselling consultation in a monologue by Peter Malicki, and the perspective of Helena on the receiving end of a rant from her best friend, Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One student made the online audience her master, Prospero to her Ariel in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. By placing the camera on a high shelf in her room she had to look upwards to speak to Prospero, her master. Each student creatively incorporated the camera location and their physical surroundings to create an energised and interesting performance under difficult circumstances.

While online training of undergraduate actors is by no means an ideal, it did create some new perspectives and demonstrated that the limitation, that is the single dimension of the screen invigorated the way we think about live performance of character. Inhibitions students previously experienced in the live studio space were inverted in the online space. In some cases the performing student was less-aware of the audience of their peers and consequently responded more confidently to ideas and direction in the solo and small group classes than they would have done in a face to face class on campus. Means, Bakia, and Murphy (2014) identify nine dimensions in the design of online learning: modality, pacing, student instructor ratio, pedagogy, instructor role online, student role online, online communication synchrony, role of online assessments, and source of feedback. Upon reflection in this emergency remote teaching term I inadvertently considered each of these nine dimensions in my revision of the acting classes. Some of these revisions I have carried over into the return to face to face teaching and learning.

References

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Educause Review. Retrieved from https://medicine.hofstra.edu/pdf/faculty/facdev/facdev-article.pdf

Liem, G. A., & Martin, A. J. (2012). The Motivation and Engagement Scale: Theoretical framework, psychometric properties, and applied yields. Australian Psychologist, 47, 3-13. doi:10.1111/J.17429544.2011.00049.x

Martin, A. J., Mansour, M., Anderson, M., Gibson, R., Liem, G. A. D., & Sudmalis, D. (2013). The role of arts participation in students’ academic and nonacademic outcomes: A longitudinal study of school, home, and community factors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 709-727. doi:10.1037/a0032795

Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). Learning Online: What Research Tells Us about Whether, When and How. New York: Routledge.

Phelan, L. (2012). Interrogating students’ perceptions of their online learning experiences with Brookfield’s critical incident questionnaire. Distance Education, 33(1), 31-44. doi:10.1080/01587919.2012.667958


Dr Linda Lorenza joined CQU in 2019. Linda is qualitative researcher focussed on the arts, arts education, and applied arts in health and rehabilitation contexts. At Bell Shakespeare she was involved in the Theatrespace longitudinal research study into the influences on young people’s theatre attendance. Her more recent research interests include curriculum change in the arts, the impact of COVID-19 on tertiary performing arts tuition and undergraduate students’ responses to overseas collaborative performance experiences. Linda is Head of Course for the Bachelor of Theatre degree in which she lectures in acting and theatre studies.

More from this issue

More from this issue

2020 has brought major changes that have, and will continue, to impact upon higher education and tertiary creative arts in particular. But as our contributors remind us, these upheavals have brought resilience and innovation to the fore in creative arts.

My friend, Kate Daw, died from cancer on 7 September. Kate was Head of the VCA School of Art, in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, at the University of Melbourne. I first met Kate in 1994 when I was a third-year undergraduate student in Sculpture at the VCA. I saw her one day just outside the Sculpture yard and I approached her to introduce myself. From that moment we stayed within each others’ psychic radar.

The arts publishing industry in Australia is remarkably vibrant and resilient, offering a platform for a range of voices and serving the interests of multiple demographics in a nation built on the virtues of cultural diversity and equal opportunity. In this ecology, the running of a nationally distributed arts magazine can be a complex, albeit highly rewarding endeavour.

The current and projected state of Creative Arts, in the context of an ongoing global pandemic, can be symbolically represented by Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse. This fable refers to power balances and how these can be inverted, regardless of the implied strength or magnitude, which ultimately indicates that even the smallest being – in their creative resourcefulness – is capable of assisting a greater one.

It’s probably not a good time to be using flu symptoms as a metaphor for the grim circumstances that envelops us all. But being the good scholar I aim to be, if I am going to use it then I’d better use the right source. It was, in fact, not an American politician but the Austrian diplomat, Klemens von Metternich, who first coined the snappy phrase “When France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold.”

On 28 September, Currents, a new post-graduate arts research journal, was launched through the Centre of Visual Arts (CoVA) at the University of Melbourne by editors Kelly Fliedner and Jeremy Eaton. This new initiative, established between CoVA and the School of Design, University of Western Australia, draws on a broad range of arts-based research to form an interdisciplinary, supportive and valuable platform, which highlights the rigorous inquiries being undertaken by emerging scholars.

Winding through ARM (Ashton Raggatt McDougall) Architects’ 2001 design for the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum of Australia Canberra, snakes an impressive architectural interpretation of the Boolean string rising and plunging like a rollercoaster. This bold element is intended to conceptually embody the past and future of our Australian history, within which we are entangled.

2020 has waged a remarkable and sustained attack on the ranks of the glass half full creative practitioner. As the consequences of COVID-19 have leeched through every fibre of our industry, trying to identify anything that might signal a bright, or even brighter, future could be seen to be the preserve of a strange cabal of tin hat wearing creatives.

If we can look up and away from the ongoing challenges to both the arts and tertiary sectors, we may see some opportunity. Ways of doing things differently, working together in new ways, trying methods we may not have previously, looking at sustainability in different ways.