Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Creating community and showcasing student work with a virtual stage

Most years, the University of Redlands Theatre Arts Department puts on productions such as the 2019 performance of Sense and Sensibility (above). This year, faculty members and students have found ways to create meaningful work without a physical stage. (Photo by Charles Convis)

During a traditional academic year, the University of Redlands Theatre Arts Department produces four plays and offers classes on such topics as acting and set design. With a virtual fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty members and students have worked to create community and showcase student work without a physical stage.

In addition to producing plays, the department hosts the annual New Works Festival—an event that features scripts written by U of R students. This year, the department hosted the festival online and is planning for three productions in the spring.

Planning to present the New Works Festival in an online format has presented new possibilities, says Professor and Director of Production Trevor Norton: “Professor Abbie Bosworth worked with four student playwrights and a group of student actors to rehearse the plays online, then presented the show."

Festival performances included live discussions with the director and student playwrights.

Amidst planning for upcoming productions, professors have had to rethink their teaching methods and adapt them to an online modality. Professor and Department Chair Gregory Ramos is relying on various software for his course, Directing for the Stage.

“I’m using an online program that allows students studying directing to virtually block scenes and create floor plans,” he says. “Since we can’t be in the same time and space together, I’ll be using the software to demonstrate, then students will access it to create storyboards that chart the physical action through the scene they are directing.”

Norton has even noticed a few benefits to online courses. Students have told him they appreciate the instructional videos he created for his Scenic Design Techniques course because they are able to pause or revisit parts of the lecture. The fluidity and independence that students have found in this content delivery method enables Ramos to devote more class time to discussions with students.

Professor Craig Wells, who is teaching Acting Fundamentals, facilitated virtual show-and-tell sessions that encouraged students to get to know one another in a new way. “Acting encourages showing vulnerability, having empathy, using personal life experiences, and making connections to our scene partners,” he says. “We often have emotional connections to objects. How does the actor use a personal connection to an object as the inspiration to have an emotional connection to a prop in a play? This exercise, besides helping to establish a safe space in the online classroom, gets the students connected to their emotions, allowing them to be authentic and truthful in a virtual setting.”

Learn more about studying Theatre Arts at the University of Redlands.