9 Reasons why Online Theatre Education is Awesome
Posted on August 30, 2021
Article by Ellie McKay
Thinking of signing up for one of our fabulous Virtual Academy classes? Read on to hear why our Teaching Artists are enjoying interacting with students online!
(Originally published on August 10, 2020)
I miss being in the theatre. I miss being in my classrooms. I miss high-fiving my students and being able to huddle in a circle and share encouragements with a group of dedicated young actors. I thought moving our classes online this summer would be mediocre at best, and, if I’m honest, I thought they would be downright awful. A dull specter of something that has colored my whole life with vibrancy and wonder. To my colleagues and employees I’d say: “We will be fine — as theatre artists we’re experts at trying new things, taking feedback, and making it better.” And at home I’d say, “This will never work — theatre is meant to be in person — is it even theatre if it’s online?”
But, we did it. We planned. We talked to our students, their families, and teaching artists. We tried new things we thought would be successful online and left some things behind. We started small and asked for feedback and tweaked and changed along the way. And guess what? It was actually really fun. And special. And different. It’s not the same as in-person. And that’s okay. It’s like when I tried spiralized zucchini pasta for the first time. Everyone told me, “it’s just like pasta.” Well, it’s not like pasta, but it is delicious! And online theatre is not the same as being in the classroom — but it is vibrant and full of wonder.
And like spiralized zucchini noodles, online learning isn’t right for everyone, but here are 9 reasons why online theatre education is, in fact, awesome:
1. Students are learning from the comfort of their home. Being in a new space, away from family and comfort objects, in immediate proximity to a whole bunch of new people can cause many students to feel anxious about class. Through Virtual Academy, we see many students engage more deeply, more quickly. We see students jump in more fully and express themselves in bigger bolder ways.
2. We get to meet people from all over. CTC’s Virtual Academy served students in 30 states and three countries, and from all corners of Minnesota. Not only do students get to expand their definition of their community, but they get to find similarities with people as well as learn about and appreciate their differences.
3. Greater equity within theatre education. Online classes allowed us to connect with families who told us they didn’t have programs like this in their community or that transportation was a concern, so online was more convenient. We saw students who blossomed while using the chat rather than having to share ideas verbally. And we could send recordings when someone missed a class. This is not to say that there aren’t still major concerns around equity in online learning like access to technology or supervision while at home, but it was encouraging to find those moments where online learning made class more possible for some families.
4. Full family engagement. At CTC, we consider ourselves a multigenerational theatre which means we serve the whole family, not just the young people. In CTC’s Virtual Academy, we got to watch early learners create original stories with a grandparent and budding film makers enlist the help of their entire family. Art existed beyond the hours of class and beyond the students enrolled. It became a whole family affair and, even if they didn’t sign up for it, they are all now artists, too!
5. Interactions became more personal. This surprised us, too! Online interactions are frequently labeled as distant and cold, but because these classes take place in a student’s home, classmates get a window into that person in a completely different way. Teachers prompt students to bring something to class that is important to them and students bring deeply personal, meaningful items without fear of losing or breaking said item. We get to meet pets and siblings, see gardens and family photos. We get a glimpse at the larger context for each individual student and it’s lovely.
6. Expanding our definition of theatre to include technology. Theatre (and theatre teachers) have long been in a battle with technology. To embrace it or stick to the origins of the form? In CTC’s Virtual Academy, we are leaning into the technology and finding the ways it’s enhancing our teaching, our art, and our community. What better way to teach about setting up a film shot than having everyone already on camera and seeing themselves on screen? And by studying film shots, you can apply that to setting up a stage picture in a play. Or even learning to add music to the one-person performance you recorded on TikTok and having a greater appreciation for how music choices will impact an audience’s experience.
7. Embracing Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving. In the theatre education field, we talk all the time about the benefits of arts learning in terms of creative thinking and problem-solving. Now is the time to practice what we preach and model the creative process for our students. We get to be vulnerable, try something new, fail in front of the class, pick ourselves up, try again, get feedback from our students, and learn from them. They talk us through hiding non-video participants, and, ultimately, make something way better than we dreamed possible.
8. Practicing technology required in professional arts careers. Students are getting to learn theatre for an online world. Colleges require pre-screens or sending in a recording of a monologue, a vocal selection, or choreography. Anyone who’s made one can tell you it’s completely different recording a monologue than performing one in a room — what angle should you use? Are you lit? Is the mic picking up your air conditioning? In CTC’s Virtual Academy, because we are learning these acting skills through video and often by recording, we are naturally gaining these skills and learning how to trouble shoot common problems.
9. Theatre and Home are no longer separate spaces. Home is now a space for creation and creativity. Home is where art is made, imagined, talked about, and consumed. Art is something that can happen any day of the week and at any time that works for you. Art is not owned by institutions and Artists with a capital “A.” Our students are making work beyond the class. They are making plans and collaborating with others. They don’t need the structure of a classroom or the stage in a theatre to make art — they know they are artists and their art can happen wherever they are. And we will be here for them to support their artistic journey along the way.
I would like to thank my incredible team of interns for their thoughts as this collection comes from a brainstorm we did after completing two sessions of month-long online classes. Grace Peacore, Bianca Davis, Hawken Paul, Helen Killius, Bella Cavicchi, Madeline Jacobs, Elizabeth Jeffrey, Ayee Mounivong, and Olivia Griffith — Thank You!