Performing arts students adjust to online classes

By Sarah Siock

Before the coronavirus pandemic, senior acting major Katherine DeLong’s classes were filled with group scene rehearsals, learning movement techniques from fellow actors and watching live performances on campus.

However, along with the other students studying in Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, DeLong’s classes look different this semester due to their remote formats.

“My acting style comes from connecting. A lot of my inspiration comes from when I do scenes with other actors, and I can see their facial expressions. I can feed off their emotions. Zoom only lets you see so much,” said DeLong. “I have not been able to see other people’s body language. Sometimes if someone’s Wi-Fi is kind of crummy, I cannot see their facial expressions either. It’s really hard to connect with other actors through a digital medium.”

Performing arts students like DeLong are forced to learn their craft in a completely new format this semester, which is met with many challenges. Dance majors are unable to touch their dance partners while musical theater majors are performing from their bedrooms instead of a stage.

DeLong said her professors are doing their best to ensure students are receiving the most out of every class. However, she said the adjustment to Zoom classes is not easy.

“Before we went on Zoom I really did not have a lot of film experience. And what my professors have been doing is taking these classes and using it to teach us about film acting, and how to construct professional reels. Which is kind of an unexpected bonus,” said DeLong. “The downside of it is that if something weird happens, like my sound cutting out, no one is going to be able to hear me and give me notes to improve.”

While live in-house performances will not be taking place this semester, students still have the opportunity to take part in productions virtually. DeLong has a role in Rider’s first-ever radio drama “The Ungodly Hour.”

Auditions for the production took place remotely with students submitting a pre- recorded video over email. DeLong said that while the virtual production is challenging, she appreciates the space to express herself creatively.

“I love the work that I am doing. I love working with the people and they make Zoom exhaustion a lot more bearable,” she said.

Actors in virtual productions are finding new ways to express their characters, according to sophomore musical theater major Tiffany Beckford who has a role in “The Ungodly Hour” as well another show titled “Chasing Grace.”

“With these shows, we have been doing more improv work and thinking about how to portray our characters’ personalities through just speaking. It’s been a fun experience and Zoom is not doing too much to hinder our ability to rehearse,” said Beckford.

Beckford said one of her biggest obstacles this semester is staying focused during class. Typically, Beckford has several classes that involve movement and interacting with others. Now Beckford is learning from a screen and is confined to a smaller space.

“It’s not easy to sit still in front of a laptop for an hour and a half. I get antsy. I want to move,” she said.

For some students, the hardest part is not having access to the same tools that they would have on campus. There is no stage for students to fully expand on what they are learning.

“So much of what our major is and what we do is connection based. We are hands-on learners, we want to get up and move. When you are stuck at home it does not feel like you are being pushed. It does not feel like I am growing as much as I could if we were in-person,” said junior musical theater major Andrew Smith.

Smith is also a board member for the student-run production company, The Broncway. The board produces shows that are written or directed by students. Smith said Broncway also faced difficulties this semester with a remote format.

“We were set to put on a virtual cabaret on Oct. 9. But we are dealing with some licensing issues with the publishing companies since it is a virtual performance and it could be rewatched from people not from Rider. So we had to postpone it,” said Smith.

Now the event will take place on a later date and will consist of pre-recorded videos.

“Of course, it is not ideal. Everyone is just trying to create and keep the drive going while we are stuck in this pandemic,” said Smith.

Ultimately, students in the fine arts department are using remote productions as a placeholder for in-person performances. DeLong said while she is thankful for the space to express herself creatively that nothing will replace the experience of in-person theater.

“You will never replicate that feeling of sitting in an audience of 2000 people and watching a play that makes you feel all these emotions. And not only feeling it by yourself but feeling it with 2000 other people. It’s an energy that radiates through the room, that you cannot replicate by watching something alone,” said DeLong.

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