In a typical week, drama students in Tisch manage two days of classes and three days of studio work. Though studio days vary, they are generally a mix of singing, dancing, acting and music classes. Unfortunately, the past few weeks have been anything but typical due to remote learning conditions. So how are students and faculty dealing with the situation?
The sudden shift to Zoom challenged both students and their professors to step out of their comfort zones and try new methods. Many students struggle with and feel as if they are not getting the most out of their online courses, but two Tisch drama students’ notable optimism has not only helped them overcome the obstacles posed by online classes, but has also allowed them to find silver linings in these difficult times.
For Tisch first-year Maanav Goyal, the official decision to close school and move classes online didn’t come as a complete surprise, but it was a determining moment nonetheless. Goyal recalls reading President Andrew Hamilton’s fateful email announcing the move to online classes just as his Writing the Essay class ended, but he tried to stay positive.
“I was terrified,” Goyal said. “I knew it was coming, but I was scared because the conversation that was constantly going on was how do we do any of the arts programs?”
This sentiment was shared by Tisch sophomore Sarah Mccluskey, who had been anticipating this part of her second year. While first-year students focus on conditioning, sophomores work on rehearsal projects. These are full-length plays that are prepared throughout the second half of the semester, even though they are not performed for the public.
“I was absolutely devastated,” Mccluskey said. “We had been looking forward to them for our first year and a half, and to be unsure of how it would proceed was heartbreaking.”
Although the initial concern revolved around how performing arts could be taught online, Mccluskey thinks that her regular classes feel impersonal when compared to the consistent support from professors. She recalls professors openly expressing their feelings, pointing out the notable work ethic and concern of Stella Adler studio’s associate artistic director Angela Vitale, who has consistently checked in on the students’ well-being and opened up about her own struggles. Meanwhile, Goyal noted the transparency and hard work of studio heads following the announcement.
“He was very upfront with us,” Goyal said, referring to the head of the studio. “As scary as it was, at least you can tell they’re working on it, they’re not just giving up.”
When it comes to classes, and studio days in particular, professors have had to restructure their lessons, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job. While the students were used to working in groups, most of their training has been turning into solo work. This has worked out quite nicely for most classes, but music classes requiring ensembles have been a bit more difficult to navigate. In some classes, professors send out videos demonstrating a technique or dance combination and ask the students to submit a recording of themselves practicing. In others, exercises are turned into presentations.
“In terms of acting, there are new things we are finding,” Muccluskey said. “We like to think of it as flexing different muscles, but we also can all acknowledge that there are some things that are just not going to come across or aren’t worth focusing on now.”
This new format might take some getting used to, but the students are making it work to their advantage. Though they miss the company of their peers, Mccluskey and Goyal agree that their classes are mostly functional, and their skills have been improving in different ways.
According to Goyal, having to learn multiple parts of a song or act out a scene in front of a camera is really an opportunity to hone skills he wouldn’t have prioritized otherwise. He also thinks that being the only person in the video forces him to improve his performance, since he can’t hide in the back of class or look around for guidance.
“Now we’re being told to learn multiple parts, so it’s kind of good because it expands what you have to do, and in the industry that’s just what it’s like — they’ll tell you to do anything,” he said.
Mcckluskey has also found advantages to remote learning, especially when it comes to rehearsing. Though she finds it a bit difficult to stay motivated while she’s alone, she does find it easier to rehearse at home. She has even managed to practice monologues with a group of friends.
“I think some of my skills will lag a bit, but others will grow,” she said. “In some ways it’s easier because I don’t feel bad being loud and disrupting my neighbors, as I live in the woods.”
Moving forward, Goyal and Mccluskey both plan to use the skills they’ve developed and their free time to further their careers. Goyal thinks the situation has toughened him up, and he sees this situation as an opportunity to create more content and delve into other things.
“I think the biggest thing I have been taking away is just how to be resilient,” he said. “Sure, I can’t do a play right now, but if I wanted to, I could write a song; if I wanted to, I could make a short film. I can do all these things at home and it just makes you expand on what you can do. That’s ultimately what this semester has really been giving me.”
Mccluskey, on the other hand, was originally planning to attend a summer program in Los Angeles, but has since had to adjust her plans. Instead, she has applied to remote internships and hopes to gain professional experience.
Optimistic outlooks from some students suggest that the performing arts have been managing remote learning in a professional and productive manner. Understanding professors, innovative teaching techniques and hard-working students have made this difficult situation bearable and turned it into a genuine learning opportunity.
Email Dani Herrera at [email protected]