Theatre students, professors explore online acting classes


Isabel Funk/The Daily Northwestern

Students performed a musical about Hans Christian Andersen at Wirtz Center for the Peforming Arts last July.

Rayna Song, Reporter

It can be difficult to imagine NU theatre alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus preparing for her parts over Zoom, but that’s been the reality for students taking acting classes.

Theatre students have had to adapt to Zoom when taking online acting classes as part of their acting sequence this quarter. Students and professors are working together to make the most of them, despite the lack of human interactions that are important in practicing scenes.

Due to the lack of interactions, Communication sophomore Bennett Petersen, who is enrolled in Theater 273-3: Acting I, said his class is focusing on monologues this quarter. Petersen said practicing monologues is useful for future auditions, and that usually, he would not have the opportunity of working on monologues with a professor during class.

“Normally in class… we’d be doing other acting exercises that we don’t really have the ability to do over Zoom,” Peterson said. “So it feels like taking a break from the actual acting curriculum.”

Communication sophomore Brandon Acosta, who is also in Acting I, said a challenge of online learning has been committing to the art without being around other people, even though some parts of the class are similar.

“It’s hard to perform a scene that is meant to be two people standing side by side,” Acosta said. “It’s definitely hard to maintain the energy and the intensity of those moments when you’re not actually with that person.”

Despite this, Acosta said limitations of the screen have encouraged him to push himself. He said he has found himself being more emotionally engaged when acting, since he has to imagine his partner physically next to him.

Communication professor Shawn Douglass, who teaches Theater 171-0: Basic Acting and Theater 373-3: Acting II, said some students might feel less comfortable playing acting games because other people in the house may overhear.

In the classroom setting, Douglass likes to play a game with his students that encourages them to move and make sounds together. Since Zoom does not support everyone making sounds at the same time, he said he can no longer do this. Douglass is currently finding new ways to foster a sense of trust and exploration among students.

Douglass said Zoom is a distinct platform that is neither stage nor film, which makes it a challenge to use the techniques he typically employs. He wants to find ways to improve interactions between students when they are in and out of character.

“The exploration has been trying to figure out how (to) find interesting ways of being in the moment, of responding to each other and being truthful,” Douglass said.

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