The Virtual Classroom: Musical Theatre on Multiple Stages

Posted on April 22, 2020

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A famous monologue in Shakespeare’s As You Like It begins, “All the world’s a stage…”

It’s not exactly what Shakespeare meant, but taken literally, it’s true these days. Theatres — and theatre classrooms — are closed and suddenly professors and students are relating with each other from “stages” in their homes. But how do you teach an art that depends on human interaction when the participants are apart? Dominick Amendum is the Artist-in-Residence and Coordinator of UNC Greensboro’s Musical Theatre Program:

“It’s not just interaction between teacher (director) and students (actors), but also between the students/actors themselves. Suddenly being thrust into a reality where our only interaction is via a computer screen is really challenging, and has required innovation and creativity to make it work.”

Erin Speer is Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre, Directing, and Acting. She says the limitations of space and equipment at home definitely make things more difficult, but the biggest obstacle is not being in the same room with her students:

“I miss the ease of sharing space and communicating truthfully in person – I think half of the reason I direct theatre is the magic that happens when working in the room together. The rehearsal process where we make mistakes, and laugh and joke and have gigantic discoveries. That cannot be duplicated digitally. It’s about the community experience!”

Amendum says he misses hearing his students sing in person:

“The goosebumps moments just don’t come via video or Zoom the way they do in person. I also miss the communal experience of a live audience. I’m realizing how much audience members rely on the body language, responses, and energy of other audience members to feed their own experience. Human connection is a powerful thing- and I look forward to the day we can all come back together.”

In the meantime, the show must go on, so Amendum and Speer teach their full load of classes using Zoom for check-ins, conversations, and occasional lectures. Speer pre-records choreography for her dance class, and students submit videos of themselves performing it. Amendum also uses recordings to teach Musical Theatre foundational training such as vocal technique, acting through song, and repertoire choice.

Online training may not be ideal, but the necessary use of technology may actually have a positive outcome. Speer says the industry has been moving toward the use of self-submissions as a pre-screening tool, and sometimes in place of a live audition:
“I think there’s a silver lining in all of this — our students will be exceptional at the art of the self-tape. It’s a great opportunity to work on skills that will be essential when they graduate.”

Amendum agrees:

“It is sometimes a good and healthy thing to challenge what is ‘normal’. This situation has created some new techniques and innovation that might just continue into the future. It has also been powerful to see the entire theatre community all sharing resources, streaming shows, etc. Mankind, and our industry, have come together. But at the end of the day I think we all are just yearning for connection again — to share the same space, exchange a handshake or a hug, and get back to what is ‘normal’ when it comes to our teaching and lives.”

This story is part of an ongoing series, The Virtual Classroom, in which we highlight the way CVPA has pivoted to online classes during this time of social distancing. If you have a story to share, from either a teaching OR learning perspective, please send your information to [email protected] with The Virtual Classroom in the subject line.

Photo: Screenshot from the Musical Theatre Studio
Top row, from left: Dominick Amendum (Artist in Residence and Coordinator of Musical Theatre Program), Erin Speer (Assistant Director of Musical Theatre, Directing, and Acting), Jack Muzczka, Garret Noga
2nd row: Mandi Hamilton, Parker Perry, Molly Oldham, Quinn Rollar
3rd row: Millie Stevens, Courtney Walker, Grace Bollinger, Trevor Neal
4th row: Tevondre Bryant, Maddie Conti, Grace Howell

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