Humber performing arts programs excel online despite COVID

by | Mar 5, 2021 | A&E, Headlines

Music and performing arts programs at Humber College continue to be administered online but the standard of delivery hasn’t wavered.

John Bourgeois, program director of the Acting for Film and TV program at Humber, teaches screen acting, notes the transition to an online environment for that course wasn’t difficult.

“Screen acting is what we see every night when we turn on our streaming devices. So, given that we’re working with cameras, making the adjustment to a webcam was not as insurmountable as it might have been,” Bourgeois said.

John Bourgeois notes that using the technology effectively was the first hurdle the faculty had to tackle. (Courtesy John Bourgeois)

The difficulties for Bourgeois appeared mainly when teaching concepts that involve movement such as blocking.

“There’s a limited amount of blocking that can happen when the student is in their bedroom or their living room,” he said.

Bourgeois’ year of teaching from home exposed him to different methods of focusing on actors’ faces rather than their bodies.

“It’s surprising how effective it can be when you’re working with a bunch of people looking into their webcams or laptop cams, you can isolate those people visually,” he said.

Bourgeois notes since teaching online, the industry also shifted to conducting auditions online.

“The industry has adapted very quickly. There are no more in-person auditions for actors, everything is through self-taping and submitting an mp4 or using a software platform and uploading a video,” he said.

Sharon Moore, a professor in the Theatre Arts Performance program at Humber who teaches movement training, found the shift to an online environment familiar since she taught rehearsals online in the past.

“I think the interesting process was working with the students. Finding a way to keep the rigour of our training in a small space,” Moore said.

She said the generosity of the faculty and the students attributed to making the online environment the best it can be at this stage.

Humber Theatre Arts Performance prof Sharon Moore said the teaching online was an opportunity to try new things. (Gary Ray Rush)

“We have a masterful faculty and they have produced methodologies that are successful in actor training. The students’ ability to be generous and forthright and very clear about what was working for them and what wasn’t working,” Moore said.

She notes teaching online has been effective for the students as they tackle training differently.

“I found personally that some students took more risks being in their own space than they might usually, because you’re trying to embody the material, but there is a group and an ensemble sensibility to our training,” Moore said.

Because there’s no need to travel, commute time is nonexistent and offers more time for students to be rested.

“No one had to take an hour or an hour and a half in some cases two hours of the day going and two hours coming back to the campus which means you can be more rested for your training,” Moore said.

She also found the feedback from students to be valuable, as they were flexible with their program being online.

“Some of their viewpoints changed significantly about what can be done digitally, also how they can take that into a live performance, or that they actually learned much more about themselves,”Moore said.

Tatiana Jennings, a Theatre Performance professor at Humber, agrees students have shown a great level of enthusiasm in their courses.

“Students have been amazingly brilliant. Their participation is inspiring to faculty,” she said.

Jennings attributes the program succeeding in an online environment for a year to the instructors finding new ways to teach their syllabus.

“We redeveloped things and adjusted to smaller assignments,” she said. “Everyone was open to new experiences and became more creative.”

Jennings said teaching online has allowed her to discover new things that she didn’t before.

“It’s very eye-opening. Seeing the commitment that the students have and the high level of enthusiasm, the faculty has learned a lot from them. We learn a lot from each other,” she said.

Jocelyn Gould, head of the Guitars Department at Humber College, says teaching improvised music has been difficult, but the students have made the most of being online.

“I’ve been super inspired by all the students and their willingness to make the best of such an unprecedented situation,” she said.

Jocelyn Gould, head of the Guitars Department at Humber College, has been amazed at how tech savvy the students have been. (Simeon Rusnak)

Gould found that digging into musical archives and listening to music with her students has been an aspect of online learning that’s worked for her.

“It has been really nice doing conscious listening and attentive listening together,” she said.

Heading into the fall, Gould hopes they can develop a hybrid form of teaching where ensembles can be played together in-person, and bigger classes can be administered online.

Bourgeois hopes to be vaccinated sometime in the summer and be back in his acting studio for the fall semester.

Moore and Jennings both hope to be back on campus for live training as the program has a commitment to that. In the meantime, Moore hopes for some cross creation or new programs to be piloted.