COVID-19 has caused countless disruptions in coursework for both Ohio University faculty and students, but one group that has had an especially difficult time transitioning to online learning are the students in theatre, dance, music, film and other art programs.
These primarily hands-on classes are now expected to occur over video chat or through programs such as Blackboard, which has been proving nearly impossible as the worldwide pandemic worsens.
The School of Theater was just beginning to shift into gear, working on the 25th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival, an event which highlights the work of and provides feedback to OU’s MFA playwrights. Due to the coronavirus, this festival is now cancelled, eliminating an enriching learning opportunity for theater students.
Senior Caleb Crawford looked forward to being involved in the festival and was disappointed when it was cancelled. Crawford and other students studying acting performance prepare for this festival and other in-person events each year, and to have that taken away makes finishing the semester difficult.
Crawford said physical presence is incredibly important in an actor’s process of exploring and expressing their character. Even on-camera and voiceover work, the emphasis of Crawford’s classes and projects this year, requires all of these elements because, Ceawford said, you never really are in sync with someone else unless you’re in the room with them.
“Because of the virus, our Stage Managers cannot fulfill their course requirements of running a show,” Crawford said in an email. “Our MFA Playwrights are not given the opportunity to watch their work in rehearsal, which is crucial to the development of their plays. Our BFA Playwrights are unable to put on their works because they lack access to actors now. Our Production Design & Technology Departments are unable to accomplish any of their tasks because they have no access to the equipment and tools needed. Our BFA Actors are unable to perform and enhance their craft. Our first-year BFA Musical Theatre Performers are unable to receive the training and feedback necessary to their growth.”
The School of Film also depends heavily on students in the School of Theater, and to have these actors and actresses taken away brings the studies of both schools to a halt. Crawford highlighted how these practice opportunities for filmmakers and theater students are now practically impossible.
OU will be utilizing multiple online programs such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard and Canvas in order to allow students to continue their studies. However, many students are worried about the quality of education that they’ll receive through a screen.
“It's disappointing to lose such valuable class time because that's where the magic happens,” Crawford said in an email. “I am incredibly grateful for my health and all the opportunities to me, but also, I am incredibly stunted and stalled by this virus.”
Jenny Martin, a senior studying production design & technology, said she was in a state of disbelief when Tantrum Theater first broke the news that its upcoming show, Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith, was cancelled. Martin was supposed to be the co-master electrician for the show and had met numerous times for rehearsal.
“As theater people, we have a ‘the show must go on’ mentality, where no matter what catastrophe happens along the way, the show always opens,” Martin said in an email. “But accepting that all theaters are going dark, including Broadway, took a moment to process.”
Professors are taking steps to make the transition from hands-on classes to the internet as easy as possible. An example provided by Martin is that classes involving stage lighting are being re-imagined through online projects rather than physically arranging the stage lights. Martin also emphasized that theatrical companies like Electronic Theatre Controls are also offering various online courses for free.
The College of Fine Arts is being affected entirely differently, especially the studio classes. These classes rely on students working on physical pieces of work, which students will now have to do out of the studio, without many resources.
Lila Fisher, a senior BFA with a focus in sculpture and expanded practice, is no longer allowed in their allotted studio space in order to finish their thesis work. Even if Fisher were to finish their thesis work at home, the thesis exhibition receptions are cancelled, giving students nowhere to display their works.
“While I fully understand the necessity to shift to online settings, I was disappointed beyond words,” Fisher, who uses they/them pronouns, said in an email. “So it’s obvious that those receptions are cancelled, which is a total bummer and punch in the gut. I’ve been working towards this point for almost 4 years, and now that that’s gone I feel frustrated.”
Fisher explained that, for the fine arts students, there’s a sort of movement coming through social media. Students are creating Instagrams that allow others to submit images of the work they would have shown at thesis shows. Although this isn’t a complete fix, it allows students to view each other’s work safely, limiting human contact.
Fisher is understandably unsure about what is in store for the future of the College of Fine Arts. However, they believe that their professors won’t leave them with nothing and that artists are really skilled at adapting so, no matter what, folks are going to make it.
“No matter how high quality, I feel that my learning is being inhibited due to this shift,” Fisher said in an email. “But it’s what’s necessary, so I can’t complain too much. We all need to be aware of how we can help others in this time. Staying home is an act of caring for your community and loved ones. I’m sure I’ll be able to show my work sooner than later!”