Performing Arts – Improvising the Script and Getting Ready for when the Normal Picture Resumes.
Who could have imagined four weeks ago that SERC would be online?
And that lecturers and technicians would quickly have to adapt face-to-face lesson plans and tutorials to digital formats, thinking creatively to deliver lessons usually delivered in a lab, a studio, simply in a class filled with the bustle of students?
And that students, used to a journey into college, mingling with classmates, catching up about the weekend shenanigans, would find themselves taking a lesson on their phone or tablet, trying to schedule time on a home computer along with a mum or dad, now working from home, or other siblings keeping up with school work? Not many of us.
But almost everything has changed.
Learning online will be somewhat familiar to most of us. We’ve all had to do a bit of research and some of us may even have completed specific pieces of coursework or qualifications online, but learning and teaching online, full-time is new to all of us.
Catching up with a Performing Arts lecturer and a student seemed a good way to find out how the new digital way of the world is working out.
Steven Lee, Performing Arts Lecturer and Course Coordinator of SERC’s BTEC Higher National Diploma Performing Arts said: “For Performing Arts students, online learning is the antithesis of what they signed up for and we are all having to adjust. From my perspective, it is all about being here for the students, as you would in the class, except now we are all online.
“My expectation is that students come to class, continue to learn and if they need to speak one-to-one, clarify a point, raise and issue, ask a question, they know that this is all still possible.
He added: “Teaching and learning via platforms such as Microsoft Teams is challenging us to be creative in how lecturers like myself deliver courses. Take for example, teaching our Level 3 students Devised Theatre – a method of theatre making in which the script or performance originates from collaborative, often improvisatory work by a performing ensemble – we’ve really had to think outside the box .
“You have probably all heard of TedTalks? Well, we’ve come up with BedTalks to deliver Devised Theatre. The students must think of a subject that they are passionate about, then they must deliver, in character, an improvisation from their bed!
“We have one student who is mad about Jujutsu and the performance was amazing. All the students watched online – we weren’t physically there, but all the emotions of the performance were very much alive and connected.
“We are also using platforms like TikTok which allows students to put something up with music. In addition, we have found that many organisations connected with our sector are working with us to get students over the line in terms of their course work.
“For example, lighting company ETC have released their education software for free until the end of May so that students can continue to learn and fulfil criteria for the Theatre Lighting units. Students can download the software, complete activities and exercises and upload their work and they will get a certificate through from ETC when they pass.
“At this stage of the year, students would be in rehearsals but for obvious reasons, this is not possible, so we are really having to be very creative about setting work so we can gather evidence and tick off everything that helps students fulfil the course criteria.
“Of course, we are very concerned for all our students’ wellbeing. We are constantly checking on how they are doing. Keeping with our creative side we have been setting little origami challenges – this allows our students to take time out and focus on something else for a bit. It is all part of looking out for our mental health and keeping our brains active.
“We are working round the clock with students who are operating on somewhat different time schedules – they may not have access to a computer whilst mum or dad is working from home, or they have to pitch in to help with siblings – everyone’s situation is different and right now ‘flexible’ has to be part of everyone’s vocabulary.”
Rebekah Patterson (20), from Comber, is in her second and final year of the HND Performing Arts at SERC’s Bangor Campus. Rebekah joined SERC from Nendrum College. She completed the Level 3 in Performing Arts before progressing the HND at SERC.
Speaking about the ‘strange’ new distance learning course she finds herself on Rebekah said: “I feel that my tutors have been really helpful in sorting out my personal situation in terms of the IT side of things. I quickly realised though, like many people, I had to help myself and try something else if things weren’t working. The biggest challenge has been getting access to the course online.
“I had been having trouble accessing Microsoft Teams, it would load and reload. I have got it on my phone, but it is a little bit distracting with all the usual messages popping up. I have just finished a health and wellbeing essay which I have uploaded using One Note which is really handy, and since I was involved in the Alibaba Pantomime performances at Christmas, I am finishing off a self-evaluation section, using the same platform.
“My class are having our normal chats and doing some practical work using the Microsoft Teams, but we have been making the most of other platforms too. We have been working on scripts and were tasks to rewrite it in pairs. You can imagine, this would normally be battered out over a computer, coffee and a good amount of healthy arguing and bouncing ideas of each other. We got together on Facetime to work over it and got it completed. It was a different way of working but we got there.
“Our tutors are always checking that we are safe and healthy. All my friends are very supportive, and we are looking out for each other. I am getting up and trying to stay focused by following the timetable. I did miss a tutorial but luckily, the tutor had screen recorded the session, so I was able to watch it later and keep up to speed.
“One of my next units is Direction and obviously this is very physical – I am not sure how it is going to work through distance learning, but I think this will just add another layer to the challenge.
“I am concerned about how I am going to get my qualification at the end of the year. I have been working hard and if grades are to be predicted (as for GCSE and A Level students) I would like to think that any grade awarded reflects the work that I have done rather than a blanket pass. For now, I realise it is important to continue to work and do my best. The support is there for us
“When I was at College, I was getting plenty of exercise as part of the course – Performing Arts is very physical and you are on the go all the time for some of the units – but now, because I am focussing on course work and working from home, I am looking at building something in to the day to keep well, stretching or a quick walk.
Rebekah added: “I was thinking of going to university, but I wasn’t sure it was for me right now. I am an actor, so I will continue working part-time and plan to pursue paid and unpaid roles to advance my acting career. I am also thinking of trying my hand at photography which means I could work from home in between roles. I am thinking about the future and what I am going to do next. A normal picture will resume… and I am going to be ready for it !”
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