Theatre students continue to develop their crafts online

Students from an SDA class hold up "Thank You" notes for their professor over a Zoom platform. Some screens have heart emojis.
SDA students, even online, have built a close-knit community with each other. (Ashley Tobias | Daily Trojan)

Adapting to the current world situation, USC students found themselves adapting to the realm of virtual education. Students studying in the School of Dramatic Arts were presented with unique challenges and changes that impact the way they learned theatre during these unprecedented times.

Coming from unique backgrounds in theatre before USC, each student’s experience with moving to online learning has been notably different. 

“Before coming to USC, I went to an art school in Orange County, California, so I was brought up on technical theater, so all the background things like lighting, costuming, [and] set design,” said Emi Yoshino, a freshman majoring in stage management.

While students like Yoshino come from a more technical background, theatre at USC also encompasses the performance side of the industry. 

“I started theatre when I was very young,” said Gry Nyström, a freshman majoring in theatre with acting emphasis. “I used to write my own plays [and] have my grandparents perform them. I would also perform in church. When I moved to Italy, I would perform both in school and outside of school. Whenever I got the opportunity I would just perform.” 

Despite originating from multiple diverse backgrounds and experiences both in life and theatre, students studying theatre at USC all encounter new experiences when they first embark on their collegiate journeys.

“My first acting experience led me to meet my roommates, which was crazy … In my one roommate’s directing class, you needed two actors to perform the scene … we Zoomed and we did a scene together, and it was the first acting thing that I had done in a while and also the second thing that I had done on Zoom, so it was really interesting to have that experience,” said Grace Langan, a junior majoring in theatre.

In addition to developing connections that last outside of the classroom, students are also able to form bonds and memories during class to last them a lifetime.

“The first thing I remember is doing our stage management cohort meeting, which happens every Friday,” Yoshino said. “All the BFA stage managers hop on Zoom, and we just chat about our shows and how school is going. It’s a cute little get together we all have, so we can all keep each other in check.”

Attending virtual college has helped theatre students to further develop skills that otherwise may not have been noteworthy in person. Yoshino discusses how communication has become a necessary tool for her online learning.   

“Just being on Zoom, and then working shows on Zoom, communication is like the only way to make it through,” Yoshino said.

Besides communicating, students have also noted that more personal life skills, such as time and schedule flexibility, have improved during their time in SDA.

“Doing things online, you have to be open to things not going as planned and changing things. I’m in one of the SDA shows right now, and you have to not look at the people that are in the scene with you so that it looks like you’re talking to them, and it’s very difficult because it’s unnatural, but it is a good lesson in flexibility,” said Aspen Somers, a freshman majoring in theatre.

Even during in-person classes, there are regular challenges – such as time management and focus – presented to theatre students. Being online often makes these challenges even more prominent.

“It’s just hard to be focused and feel like you have a connection with your scene partner when you’re staring at them on the computer and you have your dog barking in the background or the vacuum going or something,” Somers said.

With new online logistical challenges, being a theatre major isn’t a walk in the park. Students in SDA still must work hard on a daily basis to be the best version of themselves.

“It’s always a little bit nerve-wracking coming into such a great educational facility where there’s a lot of really talented people. I get imposter syndrome a lot,” Langan said. “It makes you get in your head a little bit more and question your choices and as an actor, which you kind of have to learn to set aside and not think about as much because it’s always going to be back there, but it’s just trying to remember that everybody’s here, everybody’s learning.”

Nonetheless, students in SDA are still having fun and making memories while putting on impressive productions, even over Zoom. 

Nyström recounts her experience working with Impulse Theatre Company, working alongside director Erika Bautista and playwright Michael Warker on a Zoom production of Warker’s one- act play, “Helpline.”

“This past show that we just put on has been super fun. We were able to incorporate everything that we’ve been doing within Zoom and just bringing it all to the table, working together with both the production team as well as the playwright,” Nyström said.

Additionally, USC provides its students with unique learning opportunities to pair with their involvement in the school community.

“We just started rehearsals for ‘White Plague’ two weeks ago. It’s been really interesting to work on because the director is a guest director, so he has a lot of experience outside of just working at USC. It’s really interesting to see how he has all these ideas for the characters you never really think of,” Somers said.

With shows like “Helpline” and “White Plague” having more structure, students are also involved in a diverse set of performance genres and productions. In addition to structured plays, there are also more collaborative opportunities for students such as sketch comedy productions.

“What’s interesting about the sketch comedy production is that we don’t know what roles we have … And I think that’s something that’s kind of cool because we don’t have assigned characters yet, it’s just working collaboratively to figure out what we want to do and what parts we want to do,” Langan said.

With productions, classes and other learning opportunities occasionally presented by individual professors, it is hard not to get excited as a theatre student at USC. Even online, students continue to foster positive learning experiences.

“I think the main thing is that we just keep finding the joy in the little things. It’s going to be difficult because we’re used to rehearsing all the time, and that’s a part of our personality and how we grow, and it feels kind of empty without rehearsals all the time, without acting and you kind of lose the sense of purpose.” Nyström said. “But I think the main thing is just keep going and find the joy in these classes that you have in order to develop.”