Theatre Erindale and the MiST Theatre echo with silence. At Sheridan College, acting rooms collect dust while the stages remain empty. COVID-19 has closed all on- and off-campus theatres, revamping learning to an extreme for this year’s drama students. As Theatre and Drama Studies (TDS) students adjust to the new reality of remote performance, many uncertainties linger.
Kenneth Johnson, a third-year Theatre and Drama Specialist, expresses his thoughts to The Medium and provides details on how his semester has changed. Being in a program linked with Sheridan College, Johnson doesn’t get to experience much of the dual-campus life nowadays. That’s because his acting classes, as well as all rehearsals, are moving into the virtual realm.
“It’s an interesting change,” says Johnson. “When entering the program, the faculty strongly discouraged rehearsing at home, but now this is going to be the new normal.”
Johnson states that, although it may be less time-consuming and more comfortable rehearsing at home, this change creates learning gaps within some of the program’s focal areas of study: on-stage and on-camera acting.
“Rehearsing and performing online sort of aids with on-camera work but doesn’t benefit the on-stage component,” says Johnson.
One of his major projects, which is usually staged at Theatre Erindale, will take place online this semester. Although there’s hope to stage their Classical show in person in January, all rehearsals will take place virtually. Through online performance, Johnson thinks he and his classmates will have time to explore acting on a more “internal” level, since they won’t have an audience to perform in front of directly. This helps with on-camera acting, but not so much for on-stage. For Johnson, his experience being in front of the camera gives him an advantage. But what does this mean for first-year students who may not have this experience? Kenneth imagines himself back in first year and considers how these changes will affect the program’s newcomers.
“There’s a reason why gap years are at an all-time high right now. But for TDS specifically, the acceptance rate is low,” says Johnson. “Although the learning experience will be different, it’ll give first years an opportunity to get more creative and involved in social-distanced ways. In a normal year, we’d spend around 13 hours a day on campus. The first years will appreciate having somewhat of a break this year.”
Rounding out the interview, Johnson spoke about theatre with a more general viewpoint. Artists have been mourning the loss of theatre since the pandemic hit. Yet, as far as many are concerned, theatre isn’t going to disappear.
“What’s everyone mourning about?” says Johnson. “Although it’s not ideal, now is a good time to think outside of the box and create theatre that gives the industry something fresh [and new].”
Now is the time for artists to create the unspeakable, to refurbish theatre for centuries to come. We need theatre. It gives us something to look forward to, keeps artists motivated, and encourages creativity for both performers and theatregoers. As the pandemic continues through its middle acts, a new chapter for the theatre industry begins. Art is essential for the human spirit, and COVID-19 can’t take it away from us.