The show goes on — solo and online — for performance arts students

Monty Cole in his home office

Faculty and students at Mercer University have made huge transitions to adapt to online classes since courses have moved to a virtual platform.

Performance courses, specifically in the music and theatre departments, have experienced more challenges transitioning their materials online.

Senior Chas Pridgen has learned to adapt to his virtual stage combat course.

“Honestly, the hardest part of all of this is the fact that I have to learn how to sword fight without a partner,” Pridgen said. “My go-to partner and I would always correct each other if we saw something that wasn’t quite right, and losing that accountability and immediate feedback is tough.”

Prigden’s course is taught by Scot Mann, associate professor and director of theatre, who ordered swords for all of his students to practice at home.

“Each student has received a hard plastic version of the swords we use in class so that they have equipment to work with,” Mann said. “It is, of course, not optimal. Stage combat is much like ballroom dance. However, everyone is having to dance alone, for now.” 

Prigden said having a sword at home has been one good thing that has come from transitioning online.

“We normally don’t get any weapons to keep, since we work with steel blades worth several hundred dollars each, so having something to keep forever — and use to rehearse with forever — makes it all worth it,” he said.

ABOVE: Students work in their lighting design course before coursework moved online. TOP: Dr. Monty Cole stands in his new home teaching studio where he records and holds Zoom meetings for his classes.

Francesca Rollins, an assistant professor of theatre, teaches a lighting design course. Students previously worked with lights in person, but now they use a program to play with color in a virtual space.

“This is far from the experience that my lighting design class should have, but it is the best alternative I can provide as we do not have access to our theatrical resources,” Rollins said. “Overall, I don’t think anyone is excited about being where we are, but together we will get through this, and we will be stronger on the other end.

“Through grit and grace we will get through this together because as our profession knows all too well, the show must go on.” 

In the School of Music, junior Emily Vu has experienced some changes in her musicianship course. A typical day in Vu’s musicianship course includes singing as a class, running through various exercises and ear training with the piano. 

Vu’s teacher, Dr. Monty Cole, an associate professor in the music school, has been very flexible and continued to do his best to give students the same level of enrichment that they would receive when going to class in person.

Through grit and grace we will get through this together because as our profession knows all too well, the show must go on.

Francesa Rollins, assistant professor of theatre

“Doing this class online is definitely a big adjustment, but it is going to help us become more accountable and strengthen our skills on an independent level,” Vu said. “A big challenge is that a lot of our exercises are done live in class, and our professor will test us individually to give us feedback. This is difficult to do online but not impossible.”  

Dr. Cole said there have been challenges transitioning this course online.

“Due to the lag of our Zoom video, unfortunately, group singing is fairly limited. I play for students and ask them to sing back individually. It’s still a lot of fun but just not quite the same. I miss the multi-part duets and trios we once sang,” Dr. Cole said. “Assessment can no longer be done in person, so students now make selfie videos of themselves singing the more difficult assignments and send them in.”

Cole tries to keep his class light and positive.

“I know that in these difficult times, it is a positive experience to be reunited with students and classmates even if it is only online. We spend a little time at the beginning of each class learning about how life has changed with everyone. I bring a disco light to play in the background and keep things light,” Dr. Cole said. “It’s fun to see how many students have a pet in the room with them.

“Coming together reminds us that the pandemic will pass and life will return to normal, and when it does we will all have stories to tell.”


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