Teaching online classes have taught me a thing or two
I’ve lived in my apartment building in Brooklyn for 16 year and I never knew I could go on my roof. Craving fresh air but needing to do social distancing, I took matters into my own hands. I found a part of the building I never go to, climbed stairs that led to more stairs and a kinda sketchy door, and there I was. Let’s call it pandemic-inspiration.
So now our days consist of incredibly labor homeschooling lessons and then we head up to the roof. Bubble wand in hand, we and seek a little social distance…al fresco. I’m not sure it is even legal for us to be up there but #desperatetimes….
This is just one of many weirdly wonderful things to come out of this otherwise deeply trying era of coronavirus. Other happy discoveries:
- Attempting YouTube cardio kickboxing classes with my husband in our living room.
- Getting super creative with tuna (capers + arugula = yum!).
- Busting out the musical instruments and having a spontaneous family jam session.
But by far, the thing that has blown me away the most, is the kids I teach.
Silver linings in the storm
We moved all our Child’s Play NY programming, from pre-k to high school productions to online classes this week. It was actually…amazing. Working in this way proved the resiliency, commitment and bond that we all shared! It made me believe in the power of art and community even more than ever.
Much as I would love to be in the same room with all these creative kids, the probability is that we are all in for a long-haul of social distancing. It is a very isolating and stressful time. Of course, our students and our own children can’t help but take this on. Now more than ever, its imperative that we can find ways to stay social – even if it is through a screen.
So, for the time-being, I’ll be at the foot of my bed, singing, dancing and directing. We are all working together, separately. Here’s a picture of us in a Shakespeare class. We are laughing, playing games, doing scene-work, growing how we can and smiling at each other. Basically, every time I see my students’ faces pop onto the Zoom boxes I start to choke up.
Teaching theater through a computer is challenging, energy-consuming, and totally gratifying. That said, there’s plenty to be grateful for and myriad ways that you can use the format to great effect. Call me Pollyanna, but I’m seeing the silver linings in this on-line teaching like it’s my job. However, I helm a company with 35 teachers who are now bringing our online classes to kids so, it kinda IS my job!
The Positives of Online Classes
Bravery is inevitable and the screen is the great leveler
Here’s something that I didn’t anticipate: Our shyer students have thrived with the on-line classes. They find themselves in the camera, their voices come out strong, they are making really awesome character choices. Conversely, kids who have a harder time sharing the spotlight have had no choice but to take turns with this online platform. There is a newly level playing field since we each take up no more than one box on the screen!
The lens is fun
In addition to our voice and body, the lens itself is essentially another useful tool that the young actors can use. Especially since we are doing online theater classes we can lean into this medium. Actually, it is turning them into young directors or cinematographers, newly aware of this visual medium and the storytelling that is inimitable to the camera. Kids have been experimenting with things like a director. They play with distance, close-ups, positioning their hands in the frame. There is so much curiosity as they play around with the new eye pointed at them!
“A surprisingly awesome thing about the class being online is that you can use the screen in creative ways to show movement, emotion and humor…like dramatically rising out of the bottom of the screen or storming into the room by coming in from the side of the frame. It makes it really fun.”
– Maxine, Child’s Play NY student
Less is always more
In these times, we are forced to use what we have. From constrain comes creativity. The tagline of Child’s Play NY is “Acting on Imagination”. Never before have we all been called upon to use imagination so much. Instead of relying on props or costumes to tell a story, we use what we have and make-believe from there. In an online pre-k class, a black sock becomes a worm. Kids loose their minds as that worm leaves one teacher’s house and magically travels to the other teacher’s house. So while we don’t have our puppets, we do have socks! A banana becomes a phone that we use to call each other! In an online class for 2nd grade, when asked to grab something that makes noise, Nathaniel reached for two pencils and they became his musical instruments. Transformation is necessary and possible and because of the need our collective imaginations are being stretched like never before!
Kids know their cameras
If there ever was a generation that can hang with these cameras and this tech, it is these kids! Just this week, our teachers have made up so many games specifically for this format and they are fast becoming some of my absolute favorites. For example, Instagram Stories Game, TicToc Improv, News Pundits are unique to the online classes and speak to what these kids know. As we consciously lean into the technology and build games with the camera in mind and the results are awesome.
You can film the online classes or the final presentation
Amazingly, it is possible to create a lasting memento with the tap of a button. For instance, there was Mini Musical class in a public school in Brooklyn that was wrapping up just as the pandemic hit. Normally, it is almost impossible for all the parents to make it to the last class to see their children’s final show. This time, the parents all watched over Zoom as their kids sang and shared their original story. Those that couldn’t come to the computer, were treated to a recorded version! They were emailed the link, and now they have a record of their children making art even in the midst of the craziness.
Alternatives are bleak so let’s embrace this!
I feel incredibly grateful for the connection that these online classes are providing in this time of social distance. I love seeing my students smiling back at me each day – working through games, improvisation, dance and song together, separately. It feels incredibly lucky that we can provide the continuity, structure and community inherent in this learning experience. Even as we take in the world from our own windows, we can keep the window of our screens open into each other’s lives. Even more amazingly, the Child’s Play NY teachers can continue their work with children all over the globe since online classes are now available for all kids. Parents are making their own groups with cousins in other states, and schools, far from New York, are coming together to get programming going for their students. We are all working more than ever to make sure this brand of play, joy and imagination has a place in the world – now more than ever.