As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, our daily routines have been uprooted with the practice of quarantine and social distancing. Public spaces have either shut down or restricted contact, non-essential employees have moved to working remotely, and students everywhere are now taking their classes online.
Students, educators, and staff in the performing arts are particularly affected, since physical presence and face-to-face contact are time-tested requirements. Those in theatre are navigating uncharted territory as schools and programs face the challenge of putting on a production while everyone is remote.
Despite the growing uncertainty, theatre teachers and directors have become unsung heroes during this crisis as they push to keep their students engaged.
We recently spoke with a few theatre teachers and directors from around the country about how they’re taking measures to make sure the show goes on. Here are some of their tips to keep students uplifted and connected with online resources.
Rehearsing choreography remotely is a new challenge for those working on a spring show, but it doesn’t mean progress should be halted. You can start asking your choreographer or the stronger dancers in your cast to record step-by-step choreography videos, which they can upload to platforms like YouTube or ProductionPro. Likewise, you can have them record videos on how to warm up their body or stretches they can do to minimize injury. This will help students keep up the repetition necessary to develop muscle memory, while feeling like they’re getting the full rehearsal experience without the rehearsal studio.
If you already have recordings from previous rehearsals, before social distancing was enforced, you can start sharing them with your cast as well. When we spoke to Skylar, a dance and drama teacher at a Montessori school, she explained that she had recordings of a rehearsal where her students ran through all of the big numbers for “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” before COVID-19. She was grateful that she’d be able to share these (and future) choreography recordings with her students as part of their distance learning rehearsal.
Depending on how far along you are with your choreography, you can switch to using the original Broadway choreography for certain shows by using a resource called The Original Production, which provides step-by-step choreography instructions from top choreographers.
One of the best ways you can continue music rehearsal is to ask your pianist or music director to record themselves playing each track of the show and upload them to a centralized place online. You can also check with your licensing company to see if they offer the music tracks for your show with programs like RehearScore. This will make it easier for the cast to continue practicing on their own. However, if you want to rehearse as a group, you can host sessions over a video conference, with programs like Google Hangouts or Zoom. (If you want to learn how to make music rehearsal more seamless over a video conference, check out our “Video-Conferencing Tips for the Theatre Teacher”.)
Similar to helping students warm up their bodies for their choreography, ask your music director to record vocal warmups and exercises for the cast to practice. You can also have your students use apps like “Liz Caplan Vocal Coach” (available for iPhones/iPads) for extra reference. Liz Caplan coaches stars like Ben Platt and Hugh Jackman on singing techniques while maintaining their vocal health. Her app will give students access to these same methods, no matter their skill level, and it’s very affordable.
When you rehearse with your cast over video conference, schedule blocks of time for everyone to run through entire scenes together. On a smaller scale, assign “rehearsal buddies” by pairing up students to practice their lines. For this, you can schedule separate video calls for each group and check in with them. They’ll be able to keep rehearsing on their own as you move from call to call to give your notes.
Costume, Prop and Set Design
Now is the time for your creative team to get, well, even more creative. Streamed performances and concert versions are becoming the plan of action for many schools, pushing directors and designers to now design with a completely different type of presentation in mind – with even less time to pull it off. As new ideas come together, you and your designers can upload sketches and research to programs like Dropbox or ProductionPro over time, for the rest of the team to view. If using ProductionPro, you can automatically attach each design to the right scene or character so everyone is clear on where the idea fits in the show. This will ensure everyone is constantly up-to-date with the progress of the show despite being remote.
If you’re tight on time and won’t be able to construct your own set, you can consider using a resource like ScenicProjections by BMD, which provides Broadway quality digital projections that are 100% script accurate and ready to go.
There is no doubt that rehearsing remotely will be a challenge, but you can use multiple online resources to help you create a system for your students. If it feels hard to wrangle everyone and ensure they’re staying on top of their work, it’ll be helpful to find one centralized place online where everyone can check in for the latest updates. The teachers we spoke with have been using ProductionPro for their upcoming shows because all their rehearsal materials are easily accessible for their entire cast and crew to reference every day while remote – from any phone, laptop, or tablet. If you are working on a licensed show check to see if ProductionPro is available for your show; it will come pre-loaded with the digital script and piano vocal score, which you can instantly share with your entire team quickly.
Although our daily lives have significantly changed during this time, the best thing we can do is find ways to still engage with each other, even virtually. Kelly, a music teacher from a small town in Minnesota, had this to say to other theatre teachers, directors, and students:
“Don’t give up hope on how you’re going to figure out a way to connect and perform together.”
And we couldn’t agree more.