On March 30, 2020, after the shift to remote learning and prior to our regularly scheduled cohort meeting in early April to discuss our portfolio progress, I drafted an email to my fellow Making Teaching and Learning Visible cohort colleagues:
…The bulk of my work now has significantly shifted due to the fact that I am now trying to teach an advanced Period Performance class online and my “problem” was rooted deeply in reflection, response and returning to the performance.
The week before the break, when I was to collect the second set of data from the group on their second unit project, we were told to not meet in person if at all possible and to allow those students who did not want to come to campus, that option. That week everything shifted. Most of the student reflection was about that shift and the influence on their work and consequently, their lives. The students were terribly distraught. My plan is to integrate that into my project. In addition to the university closure, our department cancelled all productions, most of which my students were either in performance production or rehearsal process (most of their final projects and hours of investment – cancelled). About half of this class are also part of the group of students who would have traveled to New York next month to showcase work. However, the university cancelled the trip and now I am in the process of putting together a “Virtual Showcase” for more than 800 agents, casting directors and others in the field who will take the time to observe their work – with those students.
I will post what I have thus far with the intention of completing the project while realizing the inherent difficulties and challenges now at hand. It is very different and while I feel, similarly to many colleagues in the performing arts at other universities and institutions with whom I have connected, that my intent right now is in providing my students with an experience where they are still able to grow, learn, and create. If that somehow strays from the original intention of my thesis because the learning curve on my end of the scenario is rather steep – that is what I have to contend with right now. It is heartbreaking. In the meantime, may we all do our best to serve our students and provide learning opportunities that yield curiosity and creativity.
Looking back on those first weeks of online instruction and the necessary reconstruction of one unit project and the final salon for the class, it was a terribly daunting prospect. What I learned above all else was to simply grant myself the permission to remain open to the possibilities presented in the work and be willing to experiment within the given circumstances. In some ways, it was not so unlike approaching a period style as an actor and being asked to experience a completely new way of life.
Brené Brown (Ph.D., LMSW) refers to the pandemic as "a massive experiment in collective vulnerability." And continues that, "we can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other."
In the beginning of this project, that actually began the previous summer when I participated in the Teaching and Learning Institute with Professor Daniel Bernstein, I was encouraged to examine a class “you love to teach” rather than a class “you want to change”. In hindsight, that passion and desire to create a better way to facilitate conversations with students about performance so they can grow, identify synthesized learning through revised class performance projects, and cultivate a clearly useful reflection tool for the class, was indeed what provided this project with the essential components that allowed all of us involved to be our very best, bravest selves.
I had only taught performance courses in-person, and certainly this one, an advanced level period style acting class is not an ordinary proposal for popular online offerings. It was up to us, me and the students, to allow ourselves to show up, admit we were scared, and make some art. As any artist can attest, the best art is that which is a reflection of the deep connection that the artist has to the world in which they are living. Our final project, although not what we originally intended was a result of the deep, honest conversations we were able to have based on what was happening literally in the world and what had happened to shift the style in which we could share our work.
It is more common to create curriculum that is carefully connected to how the class grows through the course of a semester. What is not as common is predicting how one might respond to such "a massive experiment in collective vulnerability." Especially when the course of study requires that the student position themselves deep in the heart of their own vulnerability. Actors are expected to exist in a place where they take risks - allowing themselves to be fully seen, heard, and felt by an audience. This group of students were far more prepared to take on the challenges posed to them this spring because of that sensibility and bravery. This project would not have happened without their being open and receptive to the possibility of the radio play proposal.
They were the ones who came to view the situation as an opportunity to cultivate the seeds (being bombarded at us) of change. In the student final reflections and final Radio Play sound file, one can read and listen between the lines to feel their energy, vibration, and desire to grow. The goal of this project was to clarify how best to talk about performance style while remaining connected with each other and considering the ways to make that work clearer and resonant – even during a pandemic.