Written By Michela Arlia
Since the CUNY- and SUNY-wide shutdown two weeks ago due to the spreading COVID-19 global pandemic, many performance-based majors have been wondering what is to happen to all of the courses being taken this semester which rely on physical attendance and assignments for passing grades.
Few details from the theatre or music department was given to students during the academic recesses, but starting March 19, the first day of online instruction gave students some information on the still-evolving and hectic syllabi and department guidelines for the remainder of the semester.
The big question leading up to the first day of online classes was, how were these classes to go on? Will students still get credit and learn something about their craft from the comfort of their homes instead of in a studio or rehearsal room?
Before the conversion to online classes, acting courses were in the middle of scene studies with two or more scene partners, and music courses were preparing for multiple showcases and concerts for the Brooklyn College community.
“It is extremely important to be physically present in class because sometimes the course work requires physical contact,” said Owen Alleyne, a student in the BFA Acting program.
It is an added challenge for students within the arts programs on campus to receive and succeed in the training of their craft, as it is much different than sitting in a typical lecture styled course twice a week.
“I feel like for my basic gen-ed courses, I’ll get the same outcome that I would have if I was in class. In my acting class I will not.” says Alleyne.
These students depended on physically showing up for class every week in order to receive any type of grade for their courses. What is unique about these classes is not just the physical attendance, but the issue that it is close to impossible to have these classes function the way they were originally intended to while online.
“The transition to online classes has been detrimental to my experience in the class,” said Alleyene. “All of my acting classes, such as movement, voice, and scene study were affected when transitioning to online courses. There is an essence, or should I say energy, that actors obtain while physically in class that is not received or given online.”
A professor in the Theatre Department who will remain anonymous said in an online class meeting last week that items in the syllabus such as projects, papers, and daily quizzes will be altered significantly to fit the challenges at hand.
The said professor told their class, “Attendance online is no longer something we need to worry about, because hey, there’s a pandemic going on. It’s totally understandable.”
Meghan Fawcett, who is on track to graduate in 2021 from the BA Theatre program hops on the attendance bandwagon saying, “Most of my classes were very strict on attendance policy, so this online thing has kind of uprooted that. I usually prefer in person classes anyway.”
Some professors and students also worry about the lost resources and campus space that they had to say goodbye to so suddenly and without any notice.
“The biggest transitional issue has been the loss of access to materials,” said Emily LaRosa, a student in the BFA Technical Theatre program, “All of my classmates and I used paint, paper products, and other tools that were provided by our professor. We can no longer access these materials since campus is locked down, and not all of us can afford to buy even cheaper replacements for these things,” she said, specifically referring to her class in costume design. Fawcett even says that her transitions from classroom work to living room work were stressful, but staff were able to be very comforting about it.
“Jolie Tong and Laura Tessman (the professors of the course) made it their number one priority to make sure no one was panicking and that they were there to help us,” she said. While everyone is adjusting to the new criteria and way of life for the coming weeks or months, shows that were on track to production by the Theatre Department are still running rehearsals virtually.
Zoom has been a very handy tool for various classes, casts and production meetings that still may be going on in hopes of the return to normal and everyday life.
Rehearsals for the Theatre Department’s One Act Festival that was set to go up in Mid-May will still rehearse scene work in the coming days and weeks. Should the productions be cancelled, they will use the exposure to their scripts to practice the craft and receive more training for future auditions.
When contacted for any additional comments or concerns regarding the matter, a handful of music conservatory students who would like to remain anonymous say they were advised to not speak on behalf of the matter until the department settles on what the final courses of action will be.
There is still no official word from the music conservatory and department on what their procedures will be going forward in terms of productions and concerts. All that the student body knows for the moment is that all shows across all departments are postponed until further notice.