Drama students performing without a stage

Second-year BA (Hons) Drama and Performance students from the University of Portsmouth were working on a performance called ‘The Race 2020’, which was to be part of an international festival of performances facilitated through the US-based Sojourn Theatre Company. Now that the lockdown has taken over events, things have to be adapted further.

The Race 2020 uses the theatre as a site for civic debate and exchange, to ask what we as a society want out of our government. The original script was written for an American audience and students were going to adapt it for UK audiences, incorporating events such as Brexit and the UK parliamentary election.

Rehearsals started before the lockdown and students were keen to continue their work in developing the performance, despite their inability to be physically together. So over the Easter break, Dr Erika Hughes, Course Leader for BA (Hons) in Drama and Performance and her co-teacher Angela El-Zeind spent a week planning how to adapt the Advanced Scene Study unit for online delivery to the nearly 30 students in the class.

Instead of the planned stage performance, students will now develop a series of monologues that explore the experiences of their characters in lockdown. The monologues will be recorded and edited into a video for public performance, with a virtual premiere to take place in June.

“This difficult situation poses an interesting challenge that our students are exploring through their art,” says Dr Hughes. “The lockdown has given them an added experience of pivoting and adapting, the way many theatre professionals are also having to do around the globe. Indeed, Michael Rohd, the author of The Race 2020, will be participating in the virtual performance alongside the students.”

This method of teaching, however, means more time has been spent delivering it. What would have been a weekly four-hour rehearsal block has turned into a series of weekly one-to-one masterclasses, as well as group improvisational acting sessions, with additional coaching and pastoral care. The technology has also posed a challenge for a course that would have normally been really physical. However, the response from students has been really positive.

Student Kaylie Haigh said: “The University shifting to online classes has been difficult and tough for me as a student. However, I think the University has handled it in the best way possible. With Advanced Scene Study, it’s been a breath of fresh air as I was originally working as a stage manager, and changing to a director has been such an incredible experience. My knowledge on directing has broadened more than it would have in face-to-face lessons. Overall, I am very happy with how the university has handled online classes.”

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