Maintaining connection in theatre and art

Maintaining connection in theatre and art

by Griffin Giboney 

With the pandemic raging on, the CSU system made the difficult decision to have a primarily online fall semester for all 23 CSUs. This decision will likely disrupt the educational experience for many students, including the students in the theatre and art programs at CI. With two programs so dependent on in-person participation and interaction between students, there seems to be no way to create an equally engaging and fulfilling education to students, considering we will not all be on campus this semester.  

Many people in or aware of the performing arts theatre program and the art program are interested in how the professors plan to move forward with the primarily online fall semester, so The CI View reached out to professors in both programs to see what they had to say about the topic. 

Alison Perchuk, the Associate Professor of Art History at CI, assured us that the faculty are “working as hard as (they) normally do – indeed, even harder – to transform (their) in-person classes into an online format that will deliver… an equally engaging and fulfilling education for (their) students.” Perchuk also indicated that the faculty undertook “training in distance learning” over the summer in place of when they typically have time dedicated to their research activities.  

Even though Perchuk wanted to make it clear that the faculty is preparing and improving their curriculum, she also wanted to emphasize that “this is not… only about faculty,” but that their “work this summer includes advocation for students to be provided with the equipment and access that was lacking for too many students this spring.” This, of course, refers to the lack of materials such as computers and Wi-Fi, that are both extremely essential to a student’s success in an online college course.  

Perchuk mentioned that “seeing students sitting in their cars in parking lots so that they can access Wi-Fi, or connected via smartphones, or working at kitchen tables shared by siblings or children… reminded many (faculty members) of the challenges in infrastructure and educational access in the U.S. and compelled (them) to think differently about how (they) construct and teach (their) classes and evaluate (their) students’ progress with equity in mind.” 

When it comes to her art classes, Perchuk has “sought a two-pronged approach that will provide maximum flexibility for students enrolled in lower-division (art) courses while preserving the intimacy of discussion-based learning in (her) upper-division courses.” She also aims to allow students in lower-division courses to “work through material at a pace… that will support them in reaching their educational goals,” as well as keep her upper division courses “synchronous and discussion-based,” all while “recognizing that the lack of access to physical library resources… means that students (and faculty too) cannot engage in the same type of research as they can in normal times.”  

Lastly, Perchuk wanted to add that “many museums have used this moment to make their collections available online to an unprecedented degree.” She claimed it “would encourage any students to check out such sites” as “virtual museum visits… offer students the opportunity to learn about objects in a time and place that is most convenient for them.” 

We also reached out to Laura Covault, a Lecturer in Theatre at CI. Covault wanted to emphasize that the Performing Arts faculty at CI “are getting creative and getting educated” when asked how they are adapting to a primarily online fall semester and wanted to thank the University’s “amazing and supportive IT team (who) have really helped any (faculty members) who needed additional help and/or platforms that work best with the(performing) arts.”  

When it comes to creating a curriculum for students that will ensure their success at home, Covault believes that “empathy and flexibility are incredibly important right now.” She also emphasized that “many students are dealing with a lot of challenges such as juggling jobs and kids at home,” and that it is sometimes “not easy to get the work done.”  

Covault also feels empathy towards students who are dealing with “mental challenges that come with the pandemic,” and added that “there are times (she finds) it hard to get out of bed (herself) and (knows her) students are feeling the same way.” She also feels it is extremely important to “reach out to students and see how they are doing and be flexible about assignments and due dates,” and that “having a personal connection with students is vital right now.”  

Even though the fall 2020 semester at CI will be primarily online, Covault seemed extremely optimistic about the future of the Performing Arts Program. She added that there is “an incredibly talented and creative group of people at CI,” and that “there are some really exciting and innovative things happening this semester.”  

Covault also shared some exciting news that “the production class is creating an amazing performance piece in a collaboration of original orchestral music and theatre under the direction of Dr. Catherine Burriss and Dr. KuanFen Liu.” She also shared that “Ray McNamara is using a really cool app” to improve the virtual experience for his steel drumming class.  

She misses “being with students (but plans) to do warm-ups and theatre games (and) collaborate and get (everyone’s) creative minds going just like always.” She “can’t wait for the semester to begin.” 

While the situation we are all in is not ideal, it seems that the theatre and art professors at CI are taking the educational experience of their students just as seriously as they always do and are excited to get started and use their new knowledge of teaching a class online. Perchuk mentioned that “had students desired an exclusively online education, they would have enrolled in (online schools such as) ASU, Western Governors, or… University of Phoenix. Likewise, your faculty would have sought employment in such institutions.”  

While this is true, and while it is wonderful that the faculty is training for an online semester, what is reassuring about CI is that we will be back to campus one day, and that day will be well deserved. 

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