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.
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.
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.
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.