During the spring semester 2020, students in the THTR 4023-801, Playing with Style – Studio IV course embarked on the challenge to not only understand and embody period style performance in the acting studio but also found themselves uniquely positioned at the center of a crisis that would notably affect the very art form that compelled them towards a serious BFA/Acting degree path.  This upper-level period performance study course is the fourth semester in the BFA/Acting training studio sequence, following three semesters focused on the creation of the ensemble, the creation of character, and Shakespeare.  In this course  the student is asked to explore plays, people, and places of other time periods most representative in the theatre performance canon.  The focus of the course portfolio and the expression of student learning is evident in guided student responses and personal reflection to the work, as well as understanding and articulating the noticeable adjustments when they return to a performance again.  The Student Work page of this portfolio includes examples of some of the “Methods of Reflection”, practiced by students (individual and/or class generated).  It also includes some process photos and reflections on their *overall learning experience of the course. It is important to note that during the third unit of study of the course, when I had planned to collect the second set of reflection data, all instruction was abruptly shifted to remote learning practice due to COVID-19.  Information in this section also reflects theatre performance students’ responses to the shift in online teaching and learning that drastically affected this course.  My teaching goal shifted towards creating online experiences for the students that encouraged the continued study of practice and performance.

The students were given project assignments for each performance time-period specific style unit covered during the semester.  These units included:  Greek (monologue and Greek chorus assignments), Restoration (scene study projects), Victorian Period / Poetic Realism (scene study projects)*, Final Performance Project – a radio play*.  

*These unit progressions were either disrupted (Victorian project) or altered (radio play project) due to remote instruction modifications caused by COVID-19 protection protocol and termination of all in-person instruction.  

In each unit, students were asked to present background material on the plays and people pertinent to their project.  Included in the portfolio are the guidelines for the required “Picture Project”, Character biography, and a sample unit schedule.  In each of the three units of study (Greek, Restoration and Victorian) students were required to complete a play report, character analysis and picture project prior to the first showing of their scene work.  After the first showing of their scene work the students participated in a structured reflection and response process (guidelines included in the portfolio) before approaching the performance again.  During the second and in some cases, third showings of their performance work, students were able to integrate group response feedback and witness transformation in their own work and the work of their peers.  

Some student unit reflections, as completed for the Restoration and Victorian units, are included in this portfolio.  The written responses demonstrate gained understanding of some of the requirements of performing plays in the time period in which they were originally written.  

This semester was most definitely an anomaly due to the mandatory teaching and learning adjustments put in place by the university mid-week of the week prior to spring break.  Basically, leaving six and a half weeks of instruction at the time that the adjustments were put in place.  Adjustments that deeply impacted how the course was taught and can be felt in the students’ final reflection of the work completed during remote instruction for the Victorian unit (which was unique in that half of the unit was experienced in person and the other half through remote learning).  Some of those reflections are included in this portfolio.

My challenge, in the composition of the final project of this class was about how best to ensure that every remote learning opportunity for the student included engaging material and a component of performance, while not substituting the live performative experience with online instruction created to fulfill the curricular criteria.  I turned immediately to the early 20th century popular performance style of radio drama and a text that the class emphatically expressed great interest and joy in approaching, The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.  

Wilde, a revolutionary of his own time period, served as a bridge between 19th and 20th century literature and performance.  He was a keen observer of human behavior and understood intrinsically how to create characters who resonated with audiences in a realistic way, thus paving the way for the immeasurable wit and tragedy of his work. Because he lived and wrote in the latter part of the Victorian era and arguably influenced many of the 20th century's greatest writers, he was a natural fit for the class at this juncture.  Not to mention his approach to comedy, through the gates of realism and truth while at the same time poking fun at the aristocracy, seemed rather fitting for the class as a whole.  Once the class agreed on the play, the connection to the performance project began to fall into place.  It is also worth noting that within performance training practices, the work of Oscar Wilde is some of the most challenging for the actor to understand and embody. Thus, the great work began.

The final performance project consisted of the class acting and producing all of the elements of a classic radio play.  That performance was recorded; you can listen to the play on the CU Presents website

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