As a company with remote teammates (more so now than ever), we at ProductionPro are very familiar with video conferencing. It allows us to connect with the entire team and maintain a connection despite our distance.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, current regulations have pushed a majority of people to work from home, including theatre teachers. It’s created a new challenge as they try to stay engaged with their cast and crew remotely.
If you’re a theatre teacher, here are some pointers on how to make the most out of your (and your students’) video conferencing experience.
1. Create a suitable rehearsal room.
Find a space in your home to function as your video conferencing spot. This should be somewhere where there’s hardly any traffic behind you, preferably in a corner with your back facing a wall, or with room to move depending on the type of rehearsal. It should also be well-lit and clear of any distractions, such as dirty dishes, a TV playing in the background, or other household members moving around you.
2. Everyone should be mic’d.
We highly suggest you and your students wear headphones or earphones with a microphone at all times during the call. If your students are going to be up on their feet, it would also be very useful to have wireless headphones for scene work or choreography This will not only reduce background noise when you or your cast are speaking (since the microphone is closer to your mouth), it will also allow everyone on the call to sing and speak at the same time. If you try to do this without headphones the video chat technology will try to cancel out the sound coming from all but one person on the call. Lastly, with everyone working from home, using headphones during calls will help keep the meeting to yourself.
3. Find your light.
As you set up your camera, set it at a comfortable level and make sure you don’t have anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see. (Pro-tip: keep the camera on during set up so you can see what others see on the call and adjust as needed.) If needed, make sure screen-sharing is set up and keep your desktop clear of any screens that won’t be used in the call. This will keep private or sensitive information hidden as you switch between screens.
4. Schedule a tech rehearsal.
Before the call, everyone should check their microphone and video settings to make sure others can hear and see them clearly. Any technical difficulties will interrupt the flow of the call. We recommend giving yourself a little tech rehearsal 15 minutes before the call, just in case you’re using a new program for the first time. You should encourage your cast and crew to do the same so they’re ready from the start.
5. Help everyone stay focused.
It’s important that everyone keeps their microphone muted if they aren’t speaking, even if they’re alone in the room, since background noise can be very distracting. If your camera isn’t needed, turn off your video as this will reduce the toll on your connection and minimize any lag for others. This will also help avoid distracting others on the call if you have a lot of activity in your background. If some of your cast isn’t in a particular scene they should turn off their cameras to help the call stay clear for those that are.
6. Please silence your phones before the show begins.
Silence notifications so that they don’t ring in and interrupt your rehearsal. Everyone on the call should do this on all their devices, because rings and dings sound even louder when you are on a video call than they do in a rehearsal room.
7. Set up digital rehearsal room etiquette.
If you’re using Zoom for your video calls, have your students take advantage of the “Raise Hand” feature. They’ll be able to virtually raise and lower their hand and you’ll be able to know exactly who wishes to speak up. If you’re using a program without this feature, set up some guidelines on how your students can still chime in if they have a question or comment. When they do speak up, encourage them to shortly introduce themselves before speaking. In large groups, others might not be able to immediately identify who’s speaking, so saying a quick “Hi, this is Alex” before continuing will help.
8. Treat the video call like an in-person rehearsal.
As tempting as it will be to wear pajamas or sweatpants all day, you and your students should dress appropriately for every video call. You never know when your camera may fall (if you’re using an external camera) or when you have to stand up. Everyone at home should be dressed appropriately, as well, in case they walk around or behind you during the call. (To make the most out of your virtual rehearsal, check out “How Theatre Teachers are Keeping Students Engaged Amidst COVID-19”.)
9. Wait for a break.
It’s very important to avoid doing other tasks during the call, such as checking emails or looking at your phone. When the camera is on, it’s easy for others to tell when you aren’t paying attention. If you’re speaking, speak clearly and at a slower pace to account for any potential connection issues or lagging. You can also try to look at the camera instead of yourself, so others know you’re completely engaged and present.
We know working remotely for a long period of time will feel like a new challenge, so it’s important to make the most out of your video conferencing experience. If you haven’t chosen (or been given) a service to use, here are some free options to look into for you and your students.