NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Digital Education in Performing Arts Training – a modern day love story

I ran the Stage Management pathway at a traditional drama conservatoire in the UK for a number of years. Digital Education was in its early days and the general mantra was, “It does not work for us or our students – we are a practical discipline that must be taught face to face.”

By Antonia Collins

  • 2010: Met my first Virtual Learning Environment. Broke up soon after. We were not compatible.

  • 2015: Was introduced to Canvas and it was love at first site.

  • 2016: Started an MSc in Digital Education and the love affair grew.

  • 2019: Launched my own fully online Stage Management courses.

  • 2020: Theatres closed but the courses blossomed.

  • 2021: We continue to evolve and grow.

I began my career as a professional Stage Manager in the early 1990’s and moved into teaching when I had children. I ran the Stage Management pathway at a traditional drama conservatoire in the UK for a number of years. Digital Education was in its early days and the general mantra was, “It does not work for us or our students – we are a practical discipline that must be taught face to face”. 

I did not want to be promoting a course for a sector that was “closed” with no idea what it would look like in the future. It felt morally “wrong”.

Fast forward to 2015 and a career move to Hong Kong to discover a “push” on Digital Education at my new institution. At first I was interested because it could be a tool to support students who were non-native English speakers but here the seeds were sown of how I might use it in the future. Another job and another country followed. This time at Florida State University. As I worked at FSU (and completed my MSc) I began to develop more thoughts about how online education could revolutionise a very traditional (and fairly exclusive) specialist sector.

By the time I returned to the UK in the summer of 2019 I had the beginnings of a plan. In order to make quality Stage Management training more accessible I would launch an online course. It would be asynchronous with a variety of tasks and activities, supported by one-to-one tutorials containing a similar level of content to that you would expect to see in a masters programme. We launched in November 2019 and held our breath. Students trickled in and the course was a success. I got to spend time with each student to work out what they needed and deep dive into their questions. We had brilliant conversations about our art.

People are finally recognising that the theory of these disciplines can be taught (and taught to a high standard) online.

Then the world stopped and I struggled to know what to do. I did not primarily start the course as a way to earn money (that was a valuable extra) and I did not want to be promoting a course for a sector that was “closed” with no idea what it would look like in the future. It felt morally “wrong”. I spent my time doing webinars and panels that were available for free with very little talk of my own courses. However slowly people decided that they wanted to use their time for learning and slowly we began to take on more students.

Unlike the traditional face to face courses our course was always designed to be online. The main point was that you could work at your own pace in your own location. If I had been creating an in-person programme it would be structured differently. It has been interesting to note how many educators have come to ask my advice about “going digital” but the task to “pivot” is always going to be more challenging when you are adapting rather than starting from scratch. I am pleased though that people are finally recognising that the theory of these disciplines can be taught (and taught to a high standard) online.

At the end of 2020 I emailed all of the students I had taught that year and received a number of replies but my favourite simply said that undertaking the course had been the best thing they had done in 2020. This was the greatest compliment and confirmation that all the hard work had been worth it. I started the course to offer educational opportunities to people who would not normally be able to access them and then 2020 provided people with the time to take that opportunity. I would not have planned for the world to stop in my first full year of business but for me and the students it has worked out just fine. Here’s to theatres reopening fully so they can now go and practice what they have learnt.


Antonia Collins is a freelance Stage Manager and Educator specialising in International Stage Management. Antonia has lived and worked in the UK, Asia and America. Originally forming The Bamboo Manager Project in 2017 as a networking opportunity for early career SMs, in 2019 (with the support of her audio designer husband) she launched the first ever fully online Stage Management programme for those looking to pursue a career in the craft without undertaking a university course. The mantra of the training is “flexible, adaptable and sustainable” which reflects Antonia’s approach to Stage Management and to life.

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