The theaters have been closed for over a year and there have been no in-person classes due to COVID-19. However, despite these circumstances, many theater students at the University of Oregon have strived to make the most of their college experience, especially this year’s graduates.
With the intention of taking the stage or working behind the scenes in their future careers, these seniors have maintained a “the show must go on” mindset since the switch to distance education. However, it wasn’t easy, said UO senior Jessica Jaszewski.
“It was heartbreaking to know that our entire senior year where you do a show or have senior parties would be online,” Jaszewski said. “It was kind of like you lost a bit of your community because the theater is so person-focused. It was difficult.”
Elders Savannah Rogan and Dara Willmarth also spoke about how strange and scary the readjustment to online learning was for them.
“The drama classes on Zoom aren’t the best, but we did what we could,” Rogan said. “However, it will never be what it could have been and we missed out on a lot of the opportunities we should have had for this year.”
Willmarth said she was scared at the start of the pandemic because she didn’t know how it would affect her and felt that students were unsure whether the OU would stay online for the 2020-21 academic year.
“I was extremely frustrated and knew it would impact my education,” she said. Willmarth also said she was more concerned about how it would also affect the community favored by the theater department and the loss of ties with her peers.
However, faced with the obstacles created by online learning, seniors have been able to adapt to this new way of life and learn something new from their classes.
For example, Jaszewski and Rogan took a course called “Zoom Acting” led by UO Theater Arts faculty member John Schmor. In the classroom, they learned to prepare monologues for college auditions, to frame themselves in front of the camera, and to use lighting.
Willmarth also took a drama writing course where students wrote 10 minute plays and had the opportunity to produce them on Zoom. “It was very rewarding and exciting,” she said. “If we had been in person, I don’t think all of our parts would have been produced or some would have been cut. ”
There were also a few other notable benefits with theater taught or performed through Zoom.
“More people can see it. People who might not be able to attend a show in person,” Rogan said. She said she also noticed that students were more comfortable interacting with each other and presenting themselves in a virtual setting.
While Jaszewski did not appreciate the online learning, she said she was grateful that this framework allowed the department to have important conversations about diversity and inclusion.
“I really appreciated that it gave everyone the opportunity to safely get together and have a conversation that doesn’t normally take place in many theater or education departments, especially the predominantly white ones.” , she said.
She said she hoped these discussions would continue to help diversify the department and encourage people who belong to the theater to join.
As they begin to say goodbye to the OU, the seniors shared a common response to what they will miss most about being in the theater department: the people.
“It’s like a small family,” Rogan said. “It’s going to be weird moving forward without them.”
Willmarth said that along with her friends, she will also miss the teachers who supported her throughout her education.
Jaszewski has said she will miss the direct learning opportunities UO has provided her and the opportunity to try something new like a clown class or learn how to make props.
Elders said there are also many resources and organizations that they encourage theater students to join to meet new people or gain hands-on experience.
One example is the Pocket Playhouse, a student-run organization that allows students to produce their own work and collaborate with others. Jaszewski said Duck TV is a great resource for those looking to get into filmmaking and also recommends checking out the Absolute Improv Club on campus.
“There are so many opportunities,” she said with a smile. “You can be an actor and a playwright, or a director and set designer. You can do all of those things in the department and try them all.”
Theater is all about immersing yourself in a creative space to tell stories and connect not only with the cast and crew, but with the audience, Rogan said.
“I think the theater exudes compassion,” she said. “You have to see outside yourself to produce it, to be part of it or to look at it.”