Theatre class adapts as arts courses move online

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ILLUSTRATION COURTESY PIQSELS.COM

By Ahmed Mohamed

UNIVERSITY CITY, SHARJAH – Teaching any university class online can be challenging, but teaching acting offers some special obstacles, as American University of Sharjah faculty member Mina Liccione can attest.

“Teaching acting online versus in the studio is a very different experience,” Liccione, an adjunct professor of theatre in the Performing Arts Program, observed in a recent email interview. “I needed to adjust a lot of the exercises in a creative way to ensure the students could still feel connected to the ensemble, as to feel confident enough to play, [to] step outside their comfort zone and portray different roles.”

AUS switched to distance learning last March in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Given the nature of many Performing Arts Program courses, many of which are studio-based, transforming them into online versions was a difficult task.

Liccione, who teaches comedy among other subjects, said that even though acting courses generally require physical attendance, online learning technology allows content to be delivered with room for adaptation of some standard acting exercises. 

She cited improvisation as an example. Rather than using physical activities, she said, she employed word games and utilized the comment or chat section of the online teaching software. 

“One of the simplest exercises we did was called ‘word association,’” Liccione said, “where I would say a word and the students would type in the first word that came to their mind associated with the word given. We would do a few rounds of this to help them all be in the moment, focus and also de-stress.”

Another exercise involved props. “I asked some students to bring in an item from home that was bigger than their hand, to use for class,” she said. The items included a water bottle, a pillow, a plate, and a pasta strainer. Then Liccione asked the students what each item could be other than what it was.

“In the comments they wrote their answers and either myself or another student would act them out with the prop,” she said. “For example, the water bottle was used as a microphone, telescope, large pencil, baseball bat, rolling pin for baking, Mama’s slipper for throwing [laughs]. Even though we couldn’t be in the same room, we all laughed together, used our imagination, played with physical gestures – all great warm-ups for acting students.”

Liccione acknowledged that the pandemic has had a bigger impact than initially expected on both students and faculty. She credits both for adapting to the circumstances, but also noted that some face especially high stress levels. 

“While this situation is very serious, I consider myself to be lucky to live through it,” said Liccione, adding that “this experience assured me that arts can be taught online.”