With colleges transitioning to remote learning, theater majors face an especially tricky adjustment. Rehearsing becomes more awkward than ever when it takes place in an apartment with roommates. Creating a sense of community with your fellow cast members can feel empty when you don’t get the chance to meet them face-to-face. And the overall magic of performance seems impossible to communicate when it’s taking place over Zoom. But don’t worry—keeping these simple tips in mind as you take on this semester could transform your acting skills for the better.
Here are 10 tips for success in your online acting class this fall.
1. Know the expectations
Skip the confusion this semester by getting familiar with your professors’ standards right off the bat. No one likes sending frantic emails at 2 a.m. or staring at your grade wondering why your instructor took points off, so practice proactivity from the start. “Will you be graded on your ability to record and submit scenes or will they be live? Will you need to focus more on the written aspects of script analysis than physical acting exercises? Is it now more of an acting for film class?” said Dr. Bess Rowen, professor of theatre at Villanova University. Talk to your professors, ask questions and make sure you understand how they will grade you to avoid any uncertainty. Your theater classes will look different this fall than they ever have before, but you can still prepare for them ahead of time.
2. Find your space
When it comes to theater, you absolutely need a workspace where you can jump, dance, shout and move. Unfortunately, home often can’t offer a place spacious enough to do any of these things. Even so, you can find other ways to make your space comfortable for rehearsing, whether you decide to decorate, rearrange furniture or DIY soundproof walls. “Some people say they’re more comfortable at home, others truly are not more comfortable at home. Find your own space with which you can honestly engage the work,” said Andrew Smith, associate professor of acting at Carnegie Mellon University. To meet your full acting potential, you need to feel confident and secure. If you can figure out what that means for you and create a space that allows that, it makes a world of difference.
3. Create a ritual
In dorm rooms, small apartments and parents’ houses, designating a space entirely to acting can’t always work. Instead, change up your bedroom or your desk area to suit your emotional needs and signal that it’s time for class. “Create a ritual for yourself that allows you to transform this space from a living space to a working space,” said Smith. Try something as simple as draping a flag over your door or placing a plant on your desk when work time rolls around. Practicing this simple step helps you get into the right mindset for learning and performing.
4. Take advantage of your surroundings
Learning from home doesn’t need to put you at a disadvantage. Think creatively and you might find that a scene lends itself well to your bedroom, your kitchen or your backyard. “A student did the song ‘Worst Pies in London’ from Sweeney Todd and she could actually be in a kitchen cooking in a way that gave that song a whole different kind of dimension that was really fun,” said Scott Edmiston, dean of theater at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Try not to think of your home as a limiting space, but rather as a space full of opportunities for creativity.
5. Stay active
You can’t truly study theater while sitting down. Make it a priority to get up from your desk between classes. Try to replicate the old routine of running around from classroom to classroom as much as possible. “We are used to leaning back when we are online watching something. In drama classes, students will need to reframe the experience for themselves,” said Ana Cristina (Gigi) Buffington, associate arts professor at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Take lots of breaks. Stretch, walk around, dance, jog or jump—whatever works for you. Movement makes up one of the most important parts of drama, so don’t let it go away just because your classes take place on Zoom.
6. Use your skills for good
Remember that everything about remote acting classes is brand new. Not just to you, but to everyone. “If you happen to be technologically inclined and switched on by working virtually, let your professor know. Your expertise and creativity is something we can all benefit from,” said Buffington. Don’t be afraid to bring fresh ideas to the table to help make this experience as smooth and informative as possible. Online acting classes present a challenging learning process for everyone involved, so what better time to start collaborating than right now? Whether you possess experience in video editing, blogging or graphic design, any tech-savviness you built up outside of your acting classes can now come in handy.
7. Be present
When you go to your acting classes (virtually), focus on perceiving and experiencing what’s happening in the moment. “There are tons of things happening in the world right now, but acting is about being present and reacting to the immediate circumstances in the room. This is as true in an online setting as not,” said Rowen. Let yourself focus only on whatever scene you’re trying to perfect. Make an effort to connect with and listen to your classmates and your professor. Take it scene by scene, moment by moment. As hard as it can seem to eliminate distractions at a time like this, learning to do so will make you a stronger performer.
8. Get personal
Focus on the personal element of acting. Zoom classes give you the time and the space to get wrapped up in the texts you work with and truly connect with them. “To devote a semester of your attention to the text and how it feeds you, on your vocal flexibility, on your inner monologue and subtext—all this will strengthen your acting,” said David Jaffe, professor of theater at Connecticut College. Plus, acting in front of a camera—even a webcam—allows you to experience the intimacy of acting for film. Even though the physical side of acting can become an obstacle in the virtual classroom, you can dive deeper into analyzing the text than ever. Get to know the plot, get to know the characters and get to know yourself as an actor on a new and more personal level.
9. Take initiative
From a distance, professors can’t exactly stop you from faking it ‘til you make it even in a theater class. However, that doesn’t mean you want to coast your way through the semester without putting in the work (no matter how tempting it is). If anything, you’ll need to demonstrate a stronger desire and drive for learning than ever. “This demands you to take a much stronger intentional grab over your training. You can’t sit back and wait for teachers to do it. You need to grab the reins,” said Smith. So, embrace curiosity. Work outside of class time to hone your craft. Putting in the extra effort required to take control of your own training will wear you out at times, but in the long run, it pays off.
10. Embrace the challenge
As a centuries-old art, theater will stick around for much, much longer. Does that mean it will stay the same forever? Of course not. “We’re in the process now of finding some sort of new format that is both live theater and also embraces technology—if we keep our hearts and minds and spirits open to finding out in the 21st century new ways of making art and new ways of making performance,” said Edmiston. Stay open to change. As part of one of the first-ever semesters of remote acting classes, you also become a part of making history. You get to witness the creation of a new art form. Allow this new online format to challenge you, but also to excite you.